Shaping a pharmacist’s formative years

Pharmacists undertaking postgraduate diplomas need adequate support throughout the course, and tutors should be familiar with practice-based assessment.

Pharmacists who choose to undertake a postgraduate diploma during their foundation years of hospital practice will often have tutors assigned to them at work. The relationship between the tutor and the student should be considered a partnership — the student needs to take overall responsibility for their learning and the tutor provides guidance and support when required.

Although the roles and responsibilities vary depending on the university, diploma tutors will usually be expected to facilitate relevant experiences to satisfy course requirements and provide feedback on students’ progress. Tutors may also be expected to conduct workplace-based assessments (WBAs).

Information required

There is guidance available from the pharmacy regulator, the General Pharmaceutical Council, for those who tutor preregistration trainees. Since there is no such nationally agreed resource for practice-based diploma tutors, requirements are set by individual universities. In general, diploma tutors are expected to be specialist hospital pharmacists with at least two to three years’ experience post registration (band 7 or above). Ideally a tutor would also possess at least a postgraduate diploma in clinical pharmacy (or equivalent qualification).

Practice-based tutors should expect to receive some form of training from the university to address some of the skills required for the role and explain the course structure. There is usually access to a university-based tutor who can mark earlier assessments. Employers will generally grant the tutor time to provide the necessary support to their students. Organisations may also consider allocating a second, more experienced tutor who less experienced tutors can approach for help if needed.

Making assessments work

Accompanied ward visits are essential to help develop foundation pharmacists’ practice. There are several diploma course providers that use the following validated WBAs:

  • Mini-clinical evaluation exercise (mini-CEX)
  • Case-based discussion
  • Medication-related consultation framework

These are aligned to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Foundation Pharmacy Framework.

The pharmacist’s record of in-service training assessment can be used as a mini appraisal and works well to summarise the progress made at the end of each rotation or module.

Tutors should ensure they and their students understand clearly the purpose of the WBAs before undertaking them. WBAs should be conducted at regular intervals to allow the foundation pharmacist sufficient time to reflect on the feedback and use it to improve their performance. Completing them all in a small space of time either at the beginning — “to get them out of the way” — or at the very end of a module reduces their educational impact and risks the WBAs becoming a box-ticking exercise.

If foundation pharmacists are undertaking rotations lasting three or four months, completing at least one of each of the WBAs per rotation is a reasonable expectation. Tutors should try to adapt WBAs for different situations. For example, mini-CEXs are often used to observe how a practitioner reviews a new patient on the ward. This type of WBA can also be used to assess how practitioners deal with complex queries raised by ward staff (such as administration of medicines for a patient with swallowing difficulties) or how they find out the necessary details to complete a medicines information query.

Case-based discussions do not have to be restricted to patients that the student has been caring for on their ward. They can also be used to facilitate discussion about a challenging enquiry dealt with on-call, or a complex medicines information enquiry where there may not have been a clear answer.

Feedback for WBAs needs to provided promptly (ideally the same day) since the student’s recollection of the events of the WBA will diminish quickly, which will make it more difficult for him or her to reflect on feedback effectively. Tutors should ensure that all sections of any feedback form provided are completed with specific details. For example, rather than stating that the practitioner’s clinical knowledge was generally good, the tutor should highlight the therapeutic areas where knowledge was found to be particularly good.

Practice-based tutors can help students use the Foundation Pharmacy Framework by identifying where their strengths lie and advising whether upcoming rotations can be used to address their areas for development.

Advice on how to use the different WBAs is available on the Joint Programmes Board website.

After the diploma

Upon completion of a PGDip, some pharmacists will continue their studies to complete a Masters degree (MSc) or equivalent. These individuals will need their practice-based tutor to have research experience (MSc or above) and will also require support from an academic supervisor.

Gareth Nickless is lead clinical liaison tutor for the postgraduate diploma in clinical pharmacy at Liverpool John Moores University.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 19 July 2014, Vol 293, No 7819;293(7819)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.103847

You may also be interested in