The Clinical Pharmacy Movement

By Dachelle Johnson, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Johns Hopkins Hospital

The profession of pharmacy has undergone many changes. The pharmacist is no longer confined to a strict dispensing role but now has multiple responsibilities including consultative services to health care professionals regarding general and patient-specific issues related to drug therapy. In preparing for these new roles, pharmacy education has changed as well. An article by John A Biles published in 1983 (JAMA. 1983; 259(9): 1157-1160) addressed the evolution of pharmacy in the context of the clinical pharmacy movement. This commentary and accompanying editorial (Lundberg GD. The Clinical Pharmacist. JAMA. 1983; 249(9): 1193) were interesting to me because it provided some insights regarding the history of my profession. As a clinician in training I found it fascinating to evaluate where the profession of pharmacy has come from, where it is going, and what education methods have been applied at different time points.

Clinical pharmacy services were developed in the 1960’s after extensive reports in the medical literature regarding drug interactions and medication errors. A group of “forward thinking educators” at the University of California, San Francisco, the University of the Pacific at Stockton, California, and the University of Southern California are credited with coming up with the concept of "the clinical pharmacist." In order to successfully prepare pharmacists for this new role, the pharmacy curriculum had to change. The degree program transitioned from a baccalaureate to a doctor of pharmacy. This transition is reminiscent of andragogy in that a subset of educators during that time did not feel as though the pedagogy methods were sufficient. The implementation of clinical rotations as a requirement for the Doctor of Pharmacy degree utilizes many adult learning principles. Learners are involved in planning there course of study by choosing which electives and rotations they would prefer, rather than a strict assignment. Also, self directed learning is important during clinical rotations. Learners must ask questions, identify their own knowledge and skill gaps, and utilize the resources available to make interventions and get the most out of their experience.

In addition to the new degree program and the additional clinical rotations, residencies and fellowships were implemented (residencies date back to the 1930’s but standards and an accreditation process was implemented in the 1960’s). These post graduate training programs act as a bridge from student to practitioner. In the setting of post graduate training, the learner (resident) also uses self directed learning skills.

Constructivism is another educational theory that has been applied in pharmacy education. The teacher (preceptor) facilitates learning, rather than transmitting knowledge. In accordance with the principles of constructivism, the preceptor explores inconsistencies between students’ current understanding and their experiences.

The profession of pharmacy has seen many changes and will continue to evolve in the future. As stated by Robert H. Ebert, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard University, “the future of the pharmacist lies in the direction of clinical medicine and the education of the pharmacist must reflect this need.” The newest change in pharmacy education is the increasing use of technology in the classroom. The number of pharmacy schools is increasing much quicker than the number of pharmacists pursuing academia as a career; this shortage makes web-based learning and distance education a potential solution.

One conclusion that Biles made in his commentary more than 20 years ago (and I agree with) - the future of the clinical pharmacist will be determined by an ability and desire to participate in patient care and relate effectively to physicians, nurses, and patients. Desire is not something that can be taught, but post graduate training gives the pharmacist the necessary tools. As the profession continues to change, the way we educate future pharmacists will need to change as well. The result is pharmacists who are better prepared to improve patient outcomes. As stated in our oath, “I will apply my knowledge, experience, and skills to the best of my ability to assure optimal outcomes for my patients.”

[Editor's Commentary: Its taken nearly four decades to transform pharmacy from a product-centered to a patient-centered profession. This transformation has required pharmacists and pharmacy educators to acquire new knowledge, skills, and - most importantly - attitudes. However, the clinical pharmacist isn't merely a fountain of knowledge (although, he or she should, of course, be knowledgeable) about drug products but rather a trusted advisor who evaluates data and synthesizes solutions that are most likely to succeed. This requires considerable judgment and wisdom. Wisdom requires more than knowledge, skills, and attitudes but also experience and maturity. Thus, the training of clinical pharmacists, similar to the training of physicians, requires an extensive period of time to acquire the "real life" experiences needed to become a fully developed clinician. Long ago pharmacists trained for many years as apprentices under the guidance of a more experienced practitioner. Perhaps pharmacy education is coming full circle? An excellent review of the history of the clinical pharmacy movement was just published: Clinical Pharmacy in the United States: Transformation of a Profession by Robert Elenbaas and Dennis Worthen. Check it out! - S.H.]