Student Pharmacists’ experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic

Intern Pharmacist Edel Burton discusses below, the impact of Covid-19 on learning. The APPEL Experiential Learning Placement Programme is a period of discovery, development and decisions. The Pharmacy Class of 2020 will forever be known as the first student pharmacists of the 5-year integrated Masters Programme. I never thought we would also be known as the student pharmacists of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

I started my journey as a student pharmacist on 6th January this year. My experiential learning placement was a split placement between the Mater Private Cork, and McCauley’s Pharmacy, Mahon Point, Cork. This placement was unique, as the pharmacy serviced the Mater Private Cork. Thus I had the benefit of experiencing both the community and hospital settings on a weekly basis.

Queues down the shop and out the door, constant requests for hand sanitizer and worried patients seeking reassurance epitomized the effects of COVID-19 on community pharmacy for me. As a student pharmacist, I strove to follow the example of my Pharmacist colleagues, remaining professional and offering reliably sourced information and advice. It was a time when I had to rely on every skill, behaviour and Student Pharmacists’ experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic Intern Pharmacist Edel Burton and Senior Pharmacist Barry O’Sullivan discuss the impact of Covid 19 on intern placement competency I had learned during my pharmacy education. A time when I had to deliver care, empathy and understanding as always, but at a distance.

As of 30th March 2020 the Mater Private Cork opened its own Pharmacy Department. So, my experience of COVID-19 is now only from a hospital perspective. I now wear scrubs and a mask each day on placement, I am in different locations to some of my Pharmacy colleagues and I avoid restricted areas of the hospital. I no longer interact with patients, I fill out a COVID-19 screening form each morning upon entering the hospital and have been trained in the donning and doffing of Personal Protective Equipment. A lot has changed in how we practice in the last few weeks. However the Core Competency Framework hasn’t changed, the Code of Conduct hasn’t changed, and my passion for pharmacy certainly hasn’t changed. Patient centred care is still at the root of pharmacy. As my Senior Preceptor has taught me well; circumstances might change and you might have to adapt your processes, but the rationale, logic and goal behind them remains constant.

The hospital’s patient profile has changed. Pre-COVID it was an acute hospital, with a high turnover, mainly caring for surgical and cardiac in-patients. Now the Mater Private Cork is accepting patients with a range of conditions, requiring longer term care. That has affected the medications we keep and increased our transfers from other hospitals. I am trained in Basic Life Support, have worked with the Nursing Department to put together folders on critical care medicines for each ward, and am currently completing an online course in Critical Care Medications.

Some elements of my daily routine have been removed and replaced by other tasks, due to the current situation. This is a challenging time for our country and the world we live in. As a student pharmacist it is a challenge, but also a privilege to be able to work in this climate. I have truly seen that regardless of the situation, the health, wellbeing and safety of the patient is always our primary focus.

Preceptor Perspective

As a Senior Preceptor, I believe our duty of care to oversee the professional development of the student pharmacist extends past the hours allocated and indeed past the experiential learning time with them. Senior Preceptors need to ensure we are fostering the next generation of Pharmacists to deliver a level of patient care and interdisciplinary support to our fellow Healthcare Professionals, better than we currently provide. We should always seek to be better at everything we do. Our patients deserve that.

The APPEL placement programme can be a potentially stressful time, away from their peers and familiar surrounds in University; student pharmacists must develop their skills quickly. Adding to this were two significant changes in the planned experiential learning program for Edel. A change in placement provider and a global pandemic were certainly not in the placement training plan drawn up for Edel.

Like her peers, Edel, has been a crucial asset as the pharmacy profession tooled up for whatever COVID-19 may bring. Apart, but together, in their efforts.

During this time of flux and uncertainty, the Pharmacy Department of the Mater Private Cork was born. The transition period saw a lot of planning and an innumerable amount of tasks to be carried out to ensure turbulence between the end of the external contract and commencement of the internal function was kept to a minimum. Edel was central to all this.

Additional to CPD cycles, core competencies and associated study, it was prudent to add one more item to Edel’s daily workload. We called it her decompression time. Defined down time each day after work where she sets aside the notes and tends to her own well-being. Simple things like a family walk or Zoom with friends can very useful in dissolving the stress of COVID-19, PPE, infection control protocols and so on. In some ways the current crop of student pharmacists are getting a learning experience far more complex than they could have foreseen at the outset, apart but together, they should be proud of their efforts.

Barry O’Sullivan MPSI MBA Senior Pharmacist, Pharmacy Department, Mater Private Hospital, Cork

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