As the COVID-19 pandemic uproots life for many pharmacy students across the nation, faculty and staff at the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences have met the challenge head on through technology and innovation. “The cancellations in some rotation sites has meant that faculty have had to get creative in a very short period of time,” said Taylor Bertsch, clinical assistant professor for pharmacotherapy at CPPS, who coordinates virtual rotations for students amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following mandated stay-at-home orders, students quickly adapted to learning from home while juggling part-time jobs at pharmacies, rotations, and other family commitments. Behind the scenes, college faculty and staff quickly went to work using technology and partnerships with local providers to ensure that students continue to meet and exceed quality academic standards.
“The team has explored a lot of efficiencies through technology in the last two years and that has allowed us to react and adjust in a way that is not as challenging for our students,” said Anjie Bertramson, Director of Experiential Services at the college. Bertramson says that preparation was the key to their success. “Students have been impacted on so many different levels, but I’m so proud of the way they have reacted. Many of them want to be out at these sites to help patients right now,” said Bertramson.
The faculty and staff have been in overdrive to solve the onslaught of roadblocks facing students as they prepare for rotations across the country. Rotations require in-person fingerprinting, applying for intern licensing from different states, and securing accommodation for the duration of the rotation. “COVID-19 has disrupted what was already a challenging process,” said Bertramson who has been in touch with various state pharmacy boards trying to decode the latest language on applying for intern licensure. “Now we have to think about whether or not students need to be quarantined for 14 days before they start their rotation because many of our students have rotations in other states with their own set of rules for slowing the spread of COVID-19.”
“My main goal was to give them as much patient care experience as possible. They are very eager to go out and help patients in any way.”
Faculty also quickly adjusted to create hands-on experiences for students displaced from clinical rotations. Nicole Perea, clinical assistant professor at the college, teamed up with CHAS, a health care provider in the Inland Northwest to offer telehealth services to patients. Students were asked to review patient medication and recommend any gaps or overlaps in therapy with supervision from an on-site preceptor. “My main goal was to give them as much patient care experience as possible. They are very eager to go out and help patients in any way.” Along with managing medications, students are also triaging potential COVID-19 cases. Though the flow of incoming patients with COVID-19 has remained minimal, the experience has been invaluable for student pharmacists and what they can expect in future practice.
Megan Undeberg, clinical associate professor, has also recreated the institutional experience. In normal circumstance, Undeberg leads students in patient rounds with medical students at the Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane. Shadowing Undeberg, students would analyze patient charts each morning, and report to Undeberg. Due to site closures, she has had to recreate the experience online by evaluating patient cases via Zoom discussions. “I try to recreate the emotion of feeling overwhelmed and a bit of pressure, because this is what they will face in real life,” said Undeberg of her case studies. “I tell my students that their rotations are like having training wheels on the bike. My goal is to get those training wheels off,” said Undeberg.
I tell my students that their rotations are like having training wheels on the bike. My goal is to get those training wheels off.
These are just a few of the faculty and staff working in the shadows to move forward the college’s mission to deliver quality experiences under the current health crisis. “While I cannot say enough of how proud I am of how our students have adapted during these challenging times, the unsung heroes are the team of people who move this college forward,” said John White, Pharmacotherapy Department Chair. “Lauren Marcath, Nicole Perea, Taylor Bertsch, Kyle Frazier, Megan Undeberg, and Anjie Bertramson, have been working day-in and day-out to turn this unprecedented pandemic into a valuable learning experience for our students. We also owe a special thanks to all our preceptors who have been incredibly flexible and committed to finding alternative learning options for our students.”