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Pharmacy students encouraged to be professional at all times

by Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu - February 4, 2008


Nearly 100 future pharmacists last week donned for the first time the white coats symbolic of the health care professions, and solemnly swore to pursue the highest professional standards in their career.

The students, in their third year of pharmacy school, are embarking on their final semester of class work before beginning a series of clinical placements.

They assembled in Rome Ballroom Jan. 29 for a ceremony attended by faculty, staff, family members, and other pharmacy students.

“This event symbolizes the formal entry of our third year students into the profession of pharmacy,” said Robert McCarthy, dean of the School of Pharmacy, during the ceremony.

“The white coat ceremony is a reminder of what we expect of them as UConn students, and what their patients will expect of them as their pharmacists.”

The white coat ceremony is a well established tradition at medical and pharmacy schools around the country.

But at UConn’s School of Pharmacy, it is not an isolated event. Instead, it is part of an ongoing emphasis on professionalism that permeates the School.

Students spend four years in the School, entering in their junior year after two years of pre-pharmacy course work. After two more years of college in this professional program, they receive a baccalaureate degree in pharmacy studies.

They then continue for an additional two years to earn the Pharm.D. degree, the only degree eligible for licensure and to practice as a pharmacist.

Andrea Hubbard, associate dean of pharmacy, says, “We have a program in each year with a symbol to represent and remind students what a health care professional is and how they can live like professionals every day.”

In the first year, when they are still new to the School, the P1 students – with the help of third-year, P3 students – collectively compose an oath agreeing to appropriate academic and professional conduct, as part of a course titled “Pharmacy Care.”

Elements of such conduct, Hubbard says, include not talking or answering phones during class, and arriving to class on time.

Students are also encouraged to dress appropriately, especially when representing the school off campus, and to show appropriate demeanor when talking with a patient or another health care professional.

“We try to instill professionalism in our students from the very beginning,” says Hubbard, “so when they graduate, they will be ready to go out into the workplace.”

The School places a broad interpretation on professionalism. It includes, for example, being involved in student pharmacy groups, both local and national, and working to promote pharmacy through community and School outreach activities.

In addition, those students who are awarded School of Pharmacy scholarships are required to attend a scholarship convocation, at which they receive their scholarship from the donor and express their appreciation.

“Professionalism to a pharmacy student encompasses many things,” says Jennifer Colby, a P4 student.

“As a student in the classroom, professionalism involves honesty, and respect for fellow students as well as for professors. For me, it involved attending class each day, completing any advance work, and essentially being ready to listen and absorb lecture material.”

At the end of the P2 year, just before they receive their bachelor’s degree, the students are invited to a special breakfast where they are given a School of Pharmacy pin attached to a card with an inspirational saying to encourage them to think and act as a professional.

“We also request that they wear the pin on their graduation robe,” says Hubbard.

Colby says, “The different ceremonies are important milestones in pharmacy education. Each one brings students closer to becoming a pharmacist, and I believe they help to remind us to always remain professional.”

The white coat ceremony comes in the middle of the P3 year, at the start of a transitional semester during which students take two pharmacy laboratories dealing directly with developing skills to interact with patients.

Kristen Bielik, a P3 pharmacy student who just received her white coat, says “Professionalism is important because of the career we’re entering. We have a lot of responsibility on our shoulders; people’s lives are in our hands. We have to be prepared to act as professionals.”

Adds Anna Kirejczyk, also a P3 student, “Professionalism is about being responsible for our actions, and setting a good example to others. For example, we don’t wear jeans to class. It’s part of the grade.”

During the white coat ceremony, which was sponsored by the drug store chain Rite Aid Pharmacies, each student received his or her white coat from a faculty adviser, together with a bag containing some of the clinical tools they will need during their rotations – a stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff, and a diabetes testing kit.

During their final year, P4 students are placed in a series of nine different clinical settings, or “rotations,” ranging from institutional and community pharmacies to long-term care facilities and the pharmaceutical industry.

“Now, on rotations, professionalism is something that I think about every day, interacting with patients and other healthcare professionals,” says Colby, the P4 student, who will graduate in May.

Wrapping up the white coat event, the dean led the students in the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy’s “Oath of a Pharmacist,” in which they vowed to “devote [their] professional life to the service of all humankind through the profession of pharmacy” and to “maintain the highest principles of moral, ethical, and legal conduct.”

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