April 1999
High marks for U of T’s PC training
Both pharmacists and pharmacy students are giving high marks to a unique program at the University of Toronto that gives pharmacy students first-hand experience practising pharmaceutical care(PC).

The Structured Practical Experience Program (SPEP) is designed to enhance patient care skills–and that extra skill is putting graduates in high demand, says Lesley Lavack, assistant dean at the university’s Faculty of Pharmacy. “What sets it apart from other programs is that it provides practising pharmacists [with] a chance to brush up on their PC skills, as well.”

The faculty developed SPEP as part of a revised curriculum in 1997, in recognition of the growing need for patient-focussed services. Before completing their degree, fourth-year pharmacy students are required to spendeight weeks practising PC in a community pharmacy and eight weeks in an institutional setting. Instead of just counting pills, students are required to identify, prevent and resolve drug-related problems, develop patient care plans and conduct follow-up sessions. “We are preaching and teaching pharmaceutical care,” says Lavack. “We want students to focus on how their patients receive care.”

Angelo Arciero, a 1998 graduate,says the SPEP program gave him a chance to “develop the tools I required to practise pharmaceutical care successfully in both types of settings.” He completed his first rotation at Brown’s Guardian Pharmacy in Walkerton, Ont., followed by a rotation at Toronto’s Baycrest Hospital. There he created a drug regimen for new patients in a long-term care setting. The training has paid off for him:now a clinical consultant for Queensway Centre Pharmacy in Toronto, servicing long-term care facilities, Arciero ispaid for patient consultations.

The training has also helped pharmacists who are involved in the program as teachers. Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist and teaching associate Paul Murphy says the program persuaded him to continue practising pharmacy. Dissatisfied at applying only the “mechanics” of pharmacy, the 30-year veteran began his career in Britain, but came to Canada searching for a more professional role. “I probably would have given up the profession if it hadn’t been for the SPEP program,” says Murphy. “Working in pharmacy is exhausting, it’s frustrating, and if it’s not satisfying you are just not going to stay with it.” Murphy says the program “struck a chord,” teaching him more than he haslearned in the past 20 years.

Having a student on staff for eight weeks also helps pharmacies develop programs that they might not otherwise have had the time–or energy–to put into place.Teaching associate and pharmacist Lesley Paul saysthat, thanks to the student in her pharmacy, she was able to implement a patient call-back program, private consultations and clinic days at the Stuart Ellis Pharmacy in Collingwood, Ont.”I saw SPEP as an excellent way to further my practice, as well as help out with the future of pharmacy,” she says.

Still, going through the program doesn’t automatically mean students will graduate to a perfect PC world. Paul emphasizes that whether or not students are able to put their knowledge and skills into practice once they complete their education really depends on a number of variables, including support from the pharmacy’s management staff, technicians who are trained in helping pharmacists implement PC techniques, time constraints and teamwork.

Now in its second year, SPEP employs more than 300 pharmacist-instructors in community and hospital settings. Pharmacists with a keen interest in PC can apply to the University to become an off-site “teaching associate.” Pharmacists selected for the programmust complete a four-and-a-half-day PC course and assess students at two, four, six and eight weeks during each rotation.

The University is tracking the success of its students with the hope that practising pharmaceutical care–and getting paid for it–will eventually be second nature.

For more information on the program check out SPEP’s website at http://spep.phm.utoronto.ca.