Published on November 9, 2020 by Sarah Waller  
Student pharmacist on phone
This picture was captured before the onset of COVID-19.

Each year, third-year Doctor of Pharmacy students in Samford University’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy spend a week in a community pharmacy setting as part of an introductory pharmacy practice experience (IPPE) course, participating in direct patient care by administering vaccines and medication therapy management.

This year, the students collectively administered 6,000 influenza vaccines and completed nearly 500 medication therapy management encounters. But, unlike in previous years, these services were performed through telemedicine and other social distancing practices.

“While this year’s course came with its challenges, it also provided our students one-of-a-kind experiences,” said Dee Thomason, professor and assistant director for experiential education. “They spent a week fully immersed in a community pharmacy—maintaining all safety precautions required by Samford and the clinical site—serving patients and their communities.”

Prior to this IPPE course, students completed two APhA certifications in preparation: a medication therapy management certificate and a pharmacy-based immunization certificate. But knowing telemedicine would play a more central role this year, faculty developed a new simulation experience with Samford’s Experiential Learning and Simulation Center, allowing students to engage with a standardized patient via a secure video—prior to the IPPE course.

“With the ongoing pandemic, we knew that students would mostly engage with patients over the telephone or through a HIPAA-protected video chat,” Thomason said. “To prepare them for this, we developed a simulation experience, using video and a protected server here at Samford, so students could get used to interacting with patients through the computer instead of face-to-face.”

While most medication therapy management encounters did occur virtually, students still had to engage with patients in person to administer vaccines. And to do so, students wore personal protective equipment and limited their exposure to patients. New measures, like drive-thru vaccine clinics, made this easier.

“Vaccinations for influenza are highly important because we want to ensure we have enough immunity of influenza, which is the flu, to prevent the illness from overwhelming the hospital systems,” Thomason said. “Social distancing practices, like drive-thru vaccine clinics, helped keep our students and their patients safe. With a drive-thru, students were able to vaccinate patients while they wait in their cars.”

For many students, the week of experiential learning proved to be incredibly meaningful. In feedback provided to faculty following the course, one student said, “[My preceptor] was really great about making sure I was always learning, even if it was through a drug interaction or going through certain disease states and those medications associated with it… After this week, I have learned so much, and I am confident that I will be able to apply these things as a student pharmacist and into practice.”