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Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Pharmacy
Pharmacy School in a Virtual World

by Sara Gardner, P2, President-Elect, SIUE School of Pharmacy

The unprecedented pandemic of SARS-CoV-2 has altered the lives of people worldwide in more ways than can be counted. Everyone can provide a different perspective through their unique experiences during this pandemic, and an interesting perspective to consider is that of pharmacy students and faculty members. I spoke with a student from each class at the SIUE School of Pharmacy, as well as several faculty members, about their experiences with navigating the academic world of pharmacy in the time of COVID-19. 

The P1 students at the SIUE School of Pharmacy have had very different experiences with applying to pharmacy school than previous students who had traditional application experiences. I asked Angela Whalen, a P1 student, if a virtual interview day made her more or less nervous than a traditional interview day would have. Angela said that she would have been nervous either way, but her interview day was her very first experience using Zoom, which added a little bit more pressure. Despite feeling nervous, Angela handled her interview day well. She said, “My interview went very smoothly! The faculty and staff were wonderful, and they all made me feel confident and at ease. I could not have asked for a better experience.”

The P2 and P3 students at SIUE have a bit of experience with virtual learning under their belts, as they spent most of the 2020 spring semester learning remotely. The P2s are enrolled in a Physical Assessment course this semester and were able to visit campus in small groups to practice blood pressure and heart rate screening for this course. Deborah Lindquist, a fellow P2 student, said that in order to successfully transition to online learning, she has tried to create a routine at home, including waking up at the same time every day, and assigning certain times of her day to studying. “A perk of online learning is that I don’t have to wake up as early and pick out a coordinated outfit! A downside is that I’m not getting as much movement in my day as I used to when we went to class in person.” Deborah said meal planning and taking short walks between classes have helped her feel less stressed. She also recommends setting up Zoom social calls with friends to help feel connected. Renae Oelrich, a P3 student, said she feels she has more independence with her schedule, but she also realizes that it takes more discipline to watch lectures when there are distractions at home. Renae said, “I also really like being at home with my dog, and he loves it, too!” She is taking an elective course that meets on campus every other week and has also taken exams on campus.
While the time that P4 students spend on campus is already limited, APPE rotations have also been impacted by COVID-19. Kristen Ingold, a P4 student, completed a virtual infectious disease rotation, in which students worked-up patients on their own time, and met online to discuss recommendations and plans. She also listened to journal clubs and case presentations hosted by hospital staff during lunch hours. Kristen is currently on a general hospital rotation, and she is working on-site, experiencing opportunities mostly as normal. When asked if she has any advice for her peers on being successful with virtual learning, Kristen said, “Attend the live lectures and participate when you can. Virtual learning can be uncomfortable and is new for the instructors as well. Ask questions, show your face on camera, and obtain the most out of the learning that you are paying to receive.”

Pharmacy school students are not the only ones whose academic experience has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; faculty members have clearly felt an impact as well. Dr. Lisa Lubsch, a clinical professor at SIUE SOP, said “Our faculty have worked so well together by sharing knowledge and experiences to advance our use of Zoom, and enhance our teaching online. I do miss in-person lab, but we have adjusted.” A positive of virtual education for Dr. Lubsch is the time saved on her commute, allowing her more time to complete other work. Dr. Jingyang Fan, the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs and a clinical professor at SIUE SOP, says that since most of her work is behind the scenes to support the faculty, she is familiar with working from home. When asked if she has noticed any positives to virtual education, she said, “With online synchronous classes, students can join us from anywhere with decent internet. In a way, it has made their lives more flexible. In addition, faculty are able to use different instructional technology that they normally wouldn’t with on-ground classes.” Dr. Fan recommends that faculty learn to use technology to enhance teaching, and to be understanding without compromising the quality of education that SIUE provides.

Despite the challenges that students and educators are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been inspiring to see how crucial the field of pharmacy is, particularly during our current state of affairs. Pharmacy students and faculty are a motivated bunch, and virtual learning gives us yet another opportunity to become resilient and trusted health care providers.



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