PCP Unveils Nation’s First Competency-Driven Pharmacy Curriculum

Written by John Patten
Published on August 29, 2016

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While the stone façade of Philadelphia College of Pharmacy may make the school appear unchanged, the incoming class will encounter a remade and reinvigorated educational environment delivering the nation’s first competency- driven curriculum for pharmacy students.

The class will be the first to participate in PCP’s Ready+4 curriculum — a complete rewriting of assessments and courses aimed at ensuring that graduating students’ core competencies will make them ready for the patient-centric medical environment they will face after graduation.

“It’s really rebuilding the whole core of our curriculum,” said MARVIN SCHULTE, PhD, chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

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Dr. Schulte added the planning started over four years ago as school administrators and faculty began discussing how to incorporate updated standards for pharmacy schools from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy’s Center for the Advancement of Pharmacy Education (CAPE). The new standards are aimed at enhancing the knowledge and skills new pharmacists will need to succeed in medical systems in the coming years.

Ready+4 graduates will be better prepared to confidently interact with and provide patient-focused care from the first day in any postgraduation position, said DIANE MOREL, MS, PhD, assistant dean of curricula and assessment at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy.

According to Dr. Morel, the Ready+4 curriculum integrates delivery of the core pharmaceutical sciences and therapeutic approaches/clinical reasoning right from day one in the professional phase of the program. This is in contrast to the traditional model “when everything is siloed in separate courses, and at the end, everything is expected to magically come together,” she said.

“In the past, we were expecting students to reach a level of sophistication but were not teaching them or modeling how to do that — now we will,” she said. 


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“Most curricula are focused on knowledge acquisition and problem solving within disciplines,” Dr. Schulte said. And though students graduate with a solid understanding of the science, “it isn’t really the kind of integration you use on the job.”

Not only will content in the new curriculum be delivered in fully integrated (science and practice) fashion, but delivery will utilize modern pedagogy in focused modules that facilitate students’ processing of and actualization of new knowledge, skills, and behaviors to “become” pharmacy professionals.

Incoming students will complete a two-year pre-professional program focused on hard science and social science (the Ready part of the program), followed by the four-year professional development curriculum (the +4 aspect) built around what JENNIFER REINHOLD PharmD’07, BCPS, BCPP, called “measurable abilities.” While science is always at the heart of the programs, Ready+4 increases students’ education in professional development and professional practice skills from the first year. Each year is organized around elements of core knowledge and competency-building practicums. The first year of the four-year professional program — Foundations of Science and Practice — includes courses in practice skills, pharmacy practice experiences, professional orientation, and interprofessional education. The second year is titled Cultivating Science and Practice and extends the focus on practice skills. Evolving Practice, the third-year curricular theme, adds entrepreneurship and applied professional behavior and communication to the increasing elaboration of practice skills.

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“If one looks closely at our current curriculum, we really do not have a four-year professional curriculum because of multiple nonprofessional courses that are included in the first year professional curriculum,” noted CATHY POON, PharmD, chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Pharmacy Administration. Including practice-oriented or experiential education during the first year of the professional curriculum was not possible because of this structure.

The Ready+4 curriculum is topped by students’ in-field experiences in the Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE), adding real-world experiences and professional connections with 36 weeks of rotating placements in various healthcare systems and in various areas of practice. The theme for this final year is “Pharmacy Proven Everywhere,” acknowledging the current USciences marketing campaign and historic contributions to pharmacy education. 

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“It’s during the APPE rotations that student pharmacists have the knowledge and application experience to really show how well they can function in a pharmacy environment,” Dr. Morel said. “APPEs are the place for student pharmacists to develop confidence in their readiness to practice.”

Dr. Poon describes the approach of Ready+4 as coupling students’ opportunity to first acquire knowledge in structured, classroom-like settings with practice in “structured” clinical laboratories, then reinforcing that knowledge and related skills in experiential—“real life”—settings.

“And finally and most critically, [they] bring their experiences back to the classroom to enhance more learning,” she said. “[The] best way I describe this is [as] an upward ‘spiraling effect.’ This approach will allow students to experience patient and therapeutic issues and concerns in a variety of contexts.”

Development of Ready+4 was commenced by a panel of faculty and department administrators launched shortly after Dr. Schulte joined the faculty. While reworking a curriculum can often begin by considering what existing coursework to use, Dr. Schulte said the committee started development from a different point.

“There has been a sense from students that we were looking to weed people out, not helping them to prepare for their chosen profession,” Dr. Morel said. “We actually talked a lot to our students about the intensity and the siloed nature of the curriculum as it has been taught.”

Crucially, the use of competency assessments provides faculty with information they can use to address student weaknesses before these weakness affect progression. Students will also be afforded opportunities to address competencies they have failed to meet in alternative ways instead of simply repeating a class. The effect will be to keep more students on track to a six-year graduation.

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“I am excited about the competency-driven curriculum and the opportunities to integrate and reinforce critical concepts, to adopt application learning approaches as early as possible in the curriculum, and to incorporate interprofessional education to create team-ready, patient-centric healthcare professionals of the future,” Dr. Poon said.

School officials aren’t alone in their excitement about the initiation of the first competency-based curriculum. Dr. Morel said the school has recently presented the new curriculum at the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy conference and their approach to curricular redesign at the Lilly International Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning Conference.

Dr. Reinhold recalled the positive reaction from the school’s liaison to the professional accreditation agency when reviewing Ready+4. “When we talked about it, he was very excited,” she said. “That was very encouraging.”

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Categories: The Bulletin, Academics, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Pharmaceutics, Pharmacology and Toxicology, Department of Pharmacy Practice, Pharmacy, Pharmacy Administration, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Pharmacy, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy Homepage

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