New pharmacy program enhances clinical skills

(Edmonton) A new University of Alberta pharmacy program will give students and working pharmacists the hands-on clinical skills they need to ensure patients receive the best possible care.

The Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences this fall launched the doctor of pharmacy program, or PharmD. The after-degree program will provide enhanced clinical training to pharmacy graduates with a bachelor’s degree, including many working pharmacists looking to upgrade their skills in light of the profession’s expanded scope of practice.

“Unlike a PhD, which tends to focus on research, PharmD is a clinical degree and it focuses on clinical expertise,” said Catherine McCann, the program director and a clinical assistant professor. “In order to do that, we have a large emphasis on experiential education through clinical rotations. It’s like a fast track for clinical experience.”

McCann said the same level of clinical expertise that would typically take a pharmacist with a bachelor’s degree five to 10 years to develop as a practitioner can be obtained during the 12- to 14-month PharmD program through high-level rotations working with patients in acute-care and community-based settings.

Rotations will give students experience working as part of a large team of health professionals such as physicians, nurses and physiotherapists in settings such as hospitals, primary care networks and family care clinics. They also have an opportunity to specialize in complex areas of practice, such as a family practice, intensive care or cardiology, said McCann.

Training reflects expanded scope of practice

Hazal Babadagli is one of 10 PharmD students in the inaugural class of 2014—all recent pharmacy grads. Babadagli said she jumped at the chance to enhance her clinical skills given the broadening scope of pharmacy practice, which in Alberta now includes prescribing some medications, administering injections and vaccines, and interpreting lab tests.

“The Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is one of the best in Canada. I felt the U of A and PharmD was a perfect match for me. I can enhance my knowledge and education now and give myself an early start in my career,” Babadagli, 23, said of her plans to work with patients in a clinical setting.

Hugo Leung, an Edmonton-based pharmacist and U of A alumnus, embraces the opportunity to work alongside PharmD students as a mentor during their rotations, helping them expand their skill sets and, ultimately, help more patients lead healthier lives.

“Pharmacy really is changing,” Leung said, noting the profession is moving away from the traditional role of passive pill dispenser. “Now, you’re expected to be a full clinician, valued for knowledge and decision-making, someone who can work with patients at a more fundamental level to help them make good choices for their health. It’s not just about digesting science, it’s translating that science in a way that patients can understand. It’s a very different skill set.”

McCann said the move to PharmD is part of a larger nationwide push toward more clinically focused training given changes to the profession. The faculty plans to expand the PharmD program next year with a mix of recent graduates and working pharmacists—a move she added reinforces the U of A’s reputation as a national leader in pharmacy education and training.

“We’re the only profession that spends our entire educational career learning about medication. While other health professions are involved in medication use, pharmacists take a holistic view of a patient’s medication regimen,” she said. “Patients in Alberta deserve to have someone who has oversight on their whole medication regimen.”