Pharmin' for evidence: An evidence-based curriculum

Student Pharmacist Magazine

Evidence-based medicine is a critical component of what drives pharmacy. Typically, when a pharmacist is presented with a problem that doesn’t have a “textbook solution,” the pharmacist turns to the literature. This practice is necessary for atypical problems presented at pharmacies, yet I have interviewed many candidates for admission into the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy who said they would first refer to the pharmacist without first conducting a literature search to find the solution.

At Michigan, student pharmacists are trained in evidence-based medicine courses to ensure efficient navigation and understanding of primary literature. As part of the sequence, students first learn evidence and then evaluate evidence-based medicine studies. The last step is to develop a research project to create new evidence. Students are required to
conduct their own research project and thus, have an opportunity to present evidence in a pharmacy topic of their choice—the PharmD Investigations (PDI) project.

Science Day

Science Day was implemented in January 2014 as a way to connect students to faculty mentors and projects. Science Day was also designed to give students the opportunity to present their research findings to the entire college of pharmacy community and gain further insight into the steps it takes to get from an idea to a poster. There is also a “speed-dating” component in Science Day, where students are paired with various faculty members to meet, network, and potentially establish student–mentor pairs for their PDI projects.

The departments of medicinal chemistry and pharmaceutical sciences also attended Science Day to offer their support and research projects to students. In total, Science Day 2014 had more than 500 participants and nearly 120 PharmD students, PhD students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty members presented their research. 

The project

The PDI project is a unique component of the Michigan curriculum. Once the students find their area of interest and identify a research topic, they begin the research process by composing their research proposal for Internal Review Board approval before proceeding to the data collection, analysis, and conclusions. “Students receive a fantastic mentored experience in critical thinking and communication when they complete the PharmD Investigations series,” said Bruce Mueller, PharmD, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs.

Formulation of a hypothesis and development of the experiment to test the hypothesis requires students to take part in research and provides an opportunity to make evidence for practitioners to use. This scientific approach to learning and patient care prepares future practitioners to decide whether an article’s findings may be applicable to a patient at hand. “After all, research usually asks the question, ‘How can I make this better?’ Our graduates need to ask that same question in any job they take after graduation,” Mueller added.

Student perspective

I was drawn to the PDI component in the Michigan curriculum after researching PharmD programs. The PDI project fulfilled my intellectual curiosity while I pursued my passion in pharmacy. In addition to the research process and the creative thinking involved, it also provides an opportunity to work closely with and develop a strong professional relationship with faculty.

Whether or not a student had already identified their faculty mentor, Science Day was a unique opportunity to meet other faculty in a professional, yet relaxed setting. Personally, I enjoyed talking to faculty about their research, and to students about their research and their thoughts on the process they went through. I received useful advice from upperclassmen after their poster presentations.

Third-year PharmD candidate Maahin Mahmood agreed with my assessment. “Science Day was a great way to see the different types of research faculty members did. The best part was the room set up to talk with faculty in a personal individual or small group setting,” Mahmood said. “It really allowed me to get to know my professors better and also narrow down exactly what I wanted from my mentor and my project.”

All of these experiences are great opportunities for students. In a more permanent perspective, with the hard work students put into PDI projects, students are encouraged to share research findings in journals with others to improve health outcomes and the knowledge of the greater science community.