An evaluative study of student pharmacists’ oncology/chemotherapy knowledge from didactic curriculum and experiential experiences from six colleges of pharmacy
Purpose: With the rapid growth of oncology therapies including ambulatory care, the need for pharmacists to understand chemotherapy-related issues is critical. The FDA has approved more oral oncology agents in recent years and patients are being treated as outpatients. These changes are challenging pharmacists to have a better understanding of treatment modalities. The concern is whether the advances in oncology are being adequately addressed in the curriculums of colleges of pharmacy. This study was designed to survey student pharmacists about the level of knowledge they obtained through didactic curriculum as well as IPPEs, APPEs, and internships related to oncology modalities.
Methods: This evaluative study was approved by the Institutional Review Board. A twenty-five question survey was designed by a student pharmacist and a pharmacy faculty member. The survey was pilot tested and sent out to six accredited colleges of pharmacy from four different states. The questionnaire responses were on a 11-point sliding scale with lower numbers including zero showing disagreement and higher numbers representing agreement. The survey was delivered using Qualtrics and the data were analyzed using SPSSx software. Inferential and descriptive statistics were used to analyze the data. The primary outcome variable was to determine at what point in their education they learned about oncology therapies. Secondary outcome variables included comfort level of a patient-professional interactions when discussing oncology/chemotherapy and exposure to oncology topics during experiential experiences. The survey obtained information from students in all four professional years of pharmacy school. Students were queried as to when they would like to have oncology introduced into their curriculum as well as experiential experience.
Results: The survey was completed by 403 students from 6 colleges. The responses were broken down and analyzed by professional year in college. There was approximately a 4-5 point increase from professional year two to professional year three in the student’s general understanding of chemotherapy. The average score regarding knowledge from IPPEs was 1.7 for community and 4 for institutional. Students in their fourth professional year responded with a 5.9 out of 10 for exposure and knowledge of oncology/chemotherapy gained from their APPEs. Students in their fourth professional year also expressed a score of 5.8 pertaining to their ability to identify side effects of chemotherapy and a score of 5.4 in their ability to counsel a patient on the side effects of their chemotherapy. Students from all professional years gave an average score of 6.4 stating that they think pharmacy colleges should introduce oncology/chemotherapy earlier in the curriculum and a 7.2 out of 10 recommending more required information on oncology/chemotherapy/radiation therapies as a part of their APPE experiences.
Conclusion: Student pharmacists are receiving very little exposure to oncology-related topics during their experiential experiences. Most students do not receive didactic oncology knowledge until the third professional year. Students did respond that they were not as comfortable with oncology-related topics especially the ability to identify adverse events and counsel patients. Even following their APPEs in their last year, students responded that they are still not as comfortable with these topics. Colleges may need to consider incorporating oncology-related topics earlier and provide more exposure during the experiential. This would support the need for additional training for pharmacists working with oncology patients.