Note: this article first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of PittPharmacy, as the second in a two-part series. The first part can be found here.

Part 2: Personalizing Education

PittPharmacy is providing students with a personalized education that will efficiently prepare them to innovate, lead, and identify opportunities to improve health using the clinical and research principles of the pharmaceutical sciences. We believe that personalized education will enrich individual student experiences and will better prepare them for success as they navigate the rapidly changing health care landscape and postgraduate environment.

Educating students to lead a profession that fuses patient care, technology, and business is no small feat. As students personalize their education, they will be able to work with their unique talents, hone their skills, and out-compete others for positions. PittPharmacy accomplishes this personalization through an education that assures excellence in the basics of general practice and offers the opportunity to experience intense, focused training personalized to individual students’ interests, skills, and talents.

Personalizing through Areas of Concentration

ARCO_enrollmentToday, the School of Pharmacy offers six Areas of Concentration (ARCO) that provide students the opportunity to learn through focused electives, experiential rotations, and a mentored project. Two of the Areas of Concentration come
together through stories of two alums—Patrick Pugliese, PharmD ’11, and Brandon Antinopoulos,’14.
One of the first ARCOs PittPharmacy established is Pharmacy Business Administration. The experiences that Pugliese had in a particular elective have lingered long after graduation. The course, taught by Gordon Vanscoy, associate dean for business innovation and an associate professor in the department of pharmacy and therapeutics, follows the health care dollar from the patient through the health care system, pharmacy benefit manager, retail chain, and into the pharmaceutical industry. Building on business management concepts taught in earlier courses, the elective offers a structured understanding of the business of medicine in health care via an executive boardroom format.

Pugliese states that “It was a different way to learn, for sure, and very welcomed after the fact-based curriculum to sit down and talk, absorb, and have more of a free-flowing classroom. Vanscoy brings pharmaceutical and other health care executives to the course to speak with the students, a feature that left a lasting impression. He also recalls the one-on- one discussion he had with the soon-to-be chief executive of what is now CVS Health, Larry Merlo. “The conversation was incredibly valuable.” Pugliese says. “Pharmacy is still very much a business at the end of the day.” Pugliese now manages Pitt’s University Pharmacy (formerly known as Student Health Pharmacy), where he is planning several innovations that cater to his unique patient base.

The ARCOs and electives offer small group settings for personalized learning and interactions with faculty and leaders in the profession. Antinopoulos personalized his education in the Community Leadership and Innovation in Practice ARCO. Through CLIP, students develop innovations to that will potentially improve patient care in community pharmacies and have positive financial impact.

While he was a student, Antinopoulos and three colleagues received mentoring and won the Achieving Independence Competition at the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association. Today, Antinopoulos is continuing his skill development through a community practice residency. The cycle is created. His mentor is Pugliese, with whom he continues to explore innovative concepts.

The four other ARCOs are Research, Global Health, Pediatrics, and Pharmacotherapy Scholars. With each come dozens of stories of personalized education. This fall, 77 students are enrolled in ARCOs.

Creating a Personalized Curriculum

Lauren Cirrincione in the personal protective equipment necessary for Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) laboratories, used in TB research.

Some students choose to personalize their education through approaches other than ARCOs. A network of supportive faculty helped Lauren Cirrincione earn a research internship with the prestigious Howard Hughes program. As a P1 student, Cirrincione’s work with Bhutanese refugees receiving tuberculosis (TB) treatment at underserved clinics led to her interest in developing safer anti-TB medications through research. When she enrolled in the Research ARCO, Tom Nolin, PharmD, PhD, advised her how to develop her research skills. She took a special topics course in Kerry Empey’s PharmD, PhD, lab, focusing on infectious disease and biosafety-level laboratory work. The experience was so rewarding
that she pursued a second special topics research course with Nolin. These research experiences gave Cirrincione a competitive edge and she was elected as one of 12 students globally to spend 10 weeks in Durban, South Africa, investigating factors that contribute to antibiotic resistance in TB. James Pschirer, PharmD, director of experiential learning, helped Cirrincione register this summer experience as a P4 rotation. The community of faculty willing to encourage and develop a student’s curiosity helped her to personalize her PharmD experiences and achieve her goal of participating in TB related research.

Students and faculty share a commitment to personalizing education. The number of student codesigned individualized electives, which they develop with faculty mentors as surged. In just the present fall term 40 percent
of the eligible students are enrolled in their own personalized courses, which range from examples as diverse as drug-induced delirium in the intensive care unit, vaccine and immunization research on respiratory syncytial virus,
stroke prevention, and formative assessments in education. Extracurricular learning is an avenue pursued by students who compete for programs like the Schweitzer Fellowship Program, highlighted in the last PittPharmacy magazine.

Other examples include competitive student programs including fellowships through the Howard Hughes Medical Foundation, Jewish Healthcare Foundation, and the Paul Ambrose Scholars Program.

Changes our Infrastructure to Support Personalization

Analyzing an attenuated strain of TB using fluorescent microscopy.

Both course numbering and tuition structure put caps on learning for many students. We have taken off the lids! A year ago, we changed our tuition structure so that students pay a set amount of tuition per year and can take additional courses during the summers or the school year  without additional tuition. This has solved a dilemma for students who would tell us they wanted to take additional courses and didn’t because they did not want to pay the overload tuition.

Because of an artifact in our course numbering system, students were limited in the number of semesters they could take their own personalized courses. Once we understood the implications, the staff changed the numbering structure to allow students to continue a line of inquiry over the course of several semesters.

Planning a Personal Path

Right from the first semester, students meet with alumni through Career Roundtables and learn of paths that others have taken. All P1 students write a paper describing why and how they will personalize their own education and develop their career goals, tentative though they may be at the beginning. Students document and highlight their educational growth via a schoolwide electronic portfolio system. From critical thinking to medication therapy management, the portfolio measures student development in each of the school’s 13 curricular outcomes. Beginning in their P1 year, students submit evidence of their achievements in each area through activities such as reflective journaling, poster submissions, service learning, or a research paper.

Faculty members review the portfolio with students twice a year, focusing targeted feedback based on the students’ personal goals. “The portfolio allows students to tell their personal   about their development in becoming a pharmacist,” says Susan Meyer, associate dean for education. By the P2 and P3 years, students use the portfolio as a multimedia CV built around their specific career goals. Alumni and preceptors review the portfolios at this stage, allowing students to practice how they will present themselves as candidates for employment or residencies and identify areas for improvement.

Ravi Patel, who graduated in 2014, credits the school with providing the resources to make his “ideas a reality” and encouraging his personal growth. “At Pitt, I’ve had the chance to carve out my niche rather than finding it,” he says.

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