Sustainable Pharmacy Education in the Time of COVID-19

Kayley M. Lyons, PharmD, PhD; Arthur Christopoulos, PhD, BPharm; Tina P. Brock, EdD, MSPharm


Am J Pharm Educ. 2020;84(6):8088 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Pharmacy schools and colleges worldwide are facing unprecedented challenges to ensuring sustainable education during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The experiences of pharmacy educators in the Asia-Pacific region in delivering emergency remote teaching, ensuring purposeful experiential placements, supporting displaced or isolated students, and communicating with faculty members, staff members, and students are discussed. The role of this pandemic in accelerating opportunities for new models of pharmacy education across the world is also discussed.


Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in late 2019 (COVID-19), each day has brought breaking news about the disease, updated case numbers, and intense government announcements. These stories vary by global region but suggest a united concern for health care workers, the decisions they have to make, and the availability of vital resources to support their work (eg, personal protective equipment, medications, and ventilators). Personally and professionally, pharmacy educators worldwide have cycled through periods of stress then resilience, fear then relief, pessimism then hope. We have come to realize that there is only one "known": we cannot precisely know what will happen. An editorial by Brazeau and Romanelli advises pharmacy educators to look for opportunity and purpose amid this adversity and, in some instances, tragedy that may surround us.[1]

Looking for opportunity and purpose, however, requires educators to approach work differently. In schools of pharmacy worldwide, we are used to long-term planning and staged implementation of major teaching initiatives. We ask each other, "what do we want our graduates to be able to do at the end of the program?" and "How can we support the use of medicines and health technologies over the next 20 years?" The best curricular teams are full of thinkers who begin with the end in mind and then work methodically to forecast, plan, and design for the future. We equally excel at identifying best practices and productively critiquing each other's work until it is near what we believe is perfect. However, crises like the current pandemic challenge traditional approaches to long-term planning, staged implementation, best practices, and near-perfect work. To fulfil our responsibility to each other, our students, and the patients they will serve, we must be agile and connected.

Because of COVID-19, many universities have transitioned to emergency remote delivery of courses (ie, mostly online and with no face-to-face interactions). At Monash University's Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, we were fortunate in some aspects and challenged in others to achieve remote delivery. First, similar to other programs worldwide, we had recently undergone a curriculum transformation that included increased active learning, a focus on skill development, more experiential placements, and a required research project. Although these higher-yield learning approaches were crucial, they were more difficult than lectures to adjust quickly to remote delivery. Second, in the southern hemisphere, our first semester begins in early March. Therefore, our pharmacy students had only one day of face-to-face instruction on our campuses before the restrictions were implemented. Third, a relatively uncommon aspect of the Monash program is that we teach across two countries (Australia and Malaysia) and, hence, are governed by two professional accrediting bodies (ie, the Australian Pharmacy Council and the Malaysian Pharmacy Board). We follow a needs-based model where the unit coordinators (the equivalent of course directors in the United States) from each campus collaborate via Zoom (Zoom Video Communications, Inc., San Jose, CA) to create instruction and assessments for both cohorts.[2]

As some have suggested that COVID-19 has turned our world "upside down," we write this piece to share perspectives from "Down Under." Specifically, we outline ways that we have used sustainability principles to deliver emergency remote teaching, ensure purposeful experiential placements, support displaced or isolated students, and communicate with faculty and staff members and students in the Asia-Pacific region. We also discuss how this pandemic accelerates opportunities for new models of pharmacy education across the world.