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University of Wisconsin-Madison

Creating a Stronger Sense of Community for PharmD Students During COVID-19

Portrait of Assistant Professor Marina Maes
Assistant Professor Marina Maes in the School's Pharmacy Practice and Translational Research Division.

Pharmacy Family Program pilots this year with School of Pharmacy faculty and Doctor of Pharmacy students

By Tristan Dooley

This fall, the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy will be launching the Pharmacy Family program to foster connections between faculty/instructors and PharmD students through small group interactions. In this pilot program, faculty and instructional staff will be assigned to a group of approximately 12 students and will meet with them a few times throughout the school year. The program includes all PharmD students, with every “family” including students from each year of the professional program.

“This is something that I’ve been interested in since starting at the School of Pharmacy, given my prior experiences as a student and pharmacy resident at different institutions that had similar programs,” says Assistant Professor Marina Maes in the Pharmacy Practice Division. “The pandemic has prompted me to start working on this earlier given the minimal face-to-face interactions we may have over the course of the next semester.”

The current plan is for the pharmacy families to have two meetings each semester (although more frequent communication is encouraged), with each meeting focusing on a theme. The theme for the first meeting is getting to know your pharmacy family, and the second meeting will focus on wellness. The aim is to make students feel more comfortable in the School and give them an opportunity to talk about their experiences in the PharmD program. “We envision this also as a forum where students can express their thoughts and feelings on things that are going well and opportunities for improvement within the School,” Maes says.

“The Pharmacy Family program is intended for all PharmD students to have an opportunity to connect and interact and form relationships outside of student organizations and courses.”
—Marina Maes

This new program also provides an opportunity for faculty and instructors to interact with their students outside of class. “While faculty are connected to students in many forums, including their courses, advising student organizations, serving as mentors and project preceptors for individual students, it is also important that students feel supported by faculty in a broader sense,” says Maes. “The Pharmacy Family program is intended for all PharmD students to have an opportunity to connect and interact and form relationships outside of student organizations and courses,” she explains.

Maes, whose teaching falls within the third year of the PharmD program, is excited for the interaction this program will provide. “This is an opportunity for me to meet and connect with students earlier in the curriculum, and I think that I will gain a lot of insight into students’ perspectives across the curriculum, which will help me to better serve students in my specific area of teaching.”

Throughout the planning stages, there has been strong faculty support for the program. “Faculty have been very supportive in moving forward with the implementation of this program. I think everyone sees the value in this for students, faculty, and the School of Pharmacy,” comments Maes.

While distance learning makes this an ideal time to start the program, the hope is that this program will endure for years to come. “The ultimate goal would be to continue this program beyond this pilot year. By doing so, PharmD students would maintain their Pharmacy Family group throughout their time at the School, and then we would graduate the fourth-year pharmacy students and add new first-year pharmacy students each year,” says Maes. “These relationships that start early in pharmacy school could be very impactful for students throughout their time at the School of Pharmacy.”