My philosophy of teaching and education is one that focuses on the student. In my experience, I promote this philosophy of teaching in a number of ways. Foremost, I put the students first and try to develop a relationship with them. By genuinely caring about and listening to my students, I develop a two-way highway of information between my students and myself. This approach allows me to gauge the development of their learning and thinking and to gauge, through their feedback, the development of the exchange of information. In this way, I can continuously improve the quality of my teaching.
Since arriving at UW-Madison, I have taught professional and graduate courses in the Doctor of Pharmacy program. One of my goals for the pharmacy students is to empower them to be agents for change. The profession of pharmacy is changing every day. With those changes comes uncertainty. Although it is easier to accept the status quo and to think in the same proverbial box as every other pharmacist, it will take innovators and leaders to make the field of pharmacy better for pharmacists and their patients. One of the areas of growth and responsibility for pharmacists is in the area of patient safety.
In the Safety and Quality in the Medication Use Process course 729-608 (required course in the 3rd year pharmacy curriculum), I focus on teaching students to think beyond the current roles and responsibilities of pharmacists and encourage them to envision a time when pharmacists will be considered the patient safety leaders in their health systems. My teaching focuses on introducing theories and concepts that have been widely studied and applied in other health care disciplines but are in their infancy in pharmacy. Unlike many pharmacy classes, I de-emphasize the need to memorize information. Instead, I encourage students to apply new concepts, such as human factors engineering and health care quality, in real life scenarios. First, I evaluate student performance on exams using short answer questions, recognizing that when students graduate, they will need to apply knowledge and develop coherent answers to the questions that they are asked, rather than recognize the correct answer as they need to do on multiple-choice questions. Second, students are assigned to groups in which they are asked to partner with a practicing pharmacy to assess current patient safety strategies, identify a need, implement, and evaluate a patient safety intervention. Although it is difficult logistically to manage the number of field projects in this course, the project provides a much richer experience for students as opposed to contriving cases that are as complex and detailed as in the real world. Lastly, I feel very fortunate that I teach students in the area in which I conduct research. This allows me to introduce my own research, as well as current and credible literature, that add depth and application to the content that I teach.
At times, students have not understood the relevance of learning about safety research in aviation or surgery, for example, to their current paradigm of how they will practice pharmacy. I am happy to learn that a number of students have written unsolicited emails back to me in the year or two following the class to describe how prevalent the subject of patient safety was in their practices and how impressed their employers were when they confidently jumped into projects to improve patient safety. Also, I have been approached by four students asking to conduct safety-related research projects with me for independent study credit. Five students have asked me to serve as their advisor for the graduate certificate in patient safety, managed through the Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering at UW-Madison. Finally, I received the School of Pharmacy Teaching Innovation Award to develop the multi-disciplinary approach used in teaching the course.
Another goal I have for my students is for them to develop independent thinking and learning beyond the scope of the classroom. This is best exemplified by the way I mentor my graduate students and community pharmacy residents. When I start working with graduate students, I encourage them to think about research topics that are meaningful to them. Graduate students are responsible for identifying gaps in the literature and describing the rationale for their project. With continual encouragement, they refine their research question through a process of discussion, more literature searching, and articulating their ideas in writing. In addition to opportunities to present their work in graduate seminar, I encourage my students to present their work at national meetings where they must think on their feet and answer questions from other researchers who will not know the details or nuances of their work. In order to ensure a positive experience, I spend significant time with them practicing their presentation and role playing potential questions. Olufunmilola Odukoya, my first graduate student who is finishing her dissertation this summer, is an example of an individual who has grown tremendously in independent thinking. Our work together has now resulted in seven peer-reviewed publications, and three presentations and four posters at national meetings (including the American Pharmacists Association Postgraduate Best Poster Award).
While I recognize the impact that I make in teaching students theoretical concepts, it is also important to me that I make an impact on students’ ability to achieve other goals as well, such as having a family and dedicating time to other satisfying pursuits. I do this through relationship building, informal mentoring, and role modeling. Successful students need to know how to do their future job (whether that is to be a pharmacist or researcher), but they also need to know how to manage their time, prioritize responsibilities, and make tough decisions when it comes to balancing their work and home life. As students start to think about transitioning to the next phase of their career, they seek guidance that goes beyond the didactic material to include these types of life skills. So, it is important to me that I make myself available to both pharmacy and graduate students to encourage these types of conversations through potlucks at my house, informal chats in my office, and opportunities to speak at graduate seminar and student organization meetings. Because my teaching philosophy is based on mutual collegial respect, I am not afraid to talk about mistakes I have made and what I would do differently if I had a chance. Other common topics include how I seek my own mentoring, how I worked my way through difficult and scary decisions, and how to identify and be at peace with my own measures of success (rather that someone else’s measure of success).
Lastly, my teaching philosophy embodies a spirit of continuous quality improvement, a drive to always think critically about what and how I teach, and to think about ways to improve. When I was invited to contribute to the Safety and Quality in the Medication Use Process course, the course included thirteen lecturers who came from diverse backgrounds and had different expectations for the students. This lead to significant repetition in the course and made it difficult for students to recognize what content was important and how to integrate the information that was covered. The course also included a longitudinal case in which students applied concepts. The case could not include all of the details and nuances necessary to fully capture the multi-dimensional nature of medication safety, and students were not experienced enough to make reasonable assumptions about a particular setting or situation. In the five years that I have contributed to the course, the other co-coordinator and I have sought to improve the course through a number of changes. First, in order to provide more continuity, the number of guest lecturers in the course was decreased to three individuals. Second, the longitudinal case has been replaced by a field project in which students can visualize the contextual factors in their partner pharmacy, rather than make assumptions. Third, we have revised the material to be less focused on safety strategies in different pharmacy settings, and more about the theoretical underpinnings of why people make mistakes and the contributing factors that help or hinder medication safety. Students can then apply those concepts to whatever setting they find themselves in after graduation.
Moving forward, per the students’ request, we are investigating the feasibility of converting our lecture format to more of a small discussion format, possibly blending face to face interaction with some streaming video.