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Pharmacy law & ethics (PLE) is arguably the most important aspect of the Kingston University MPharm course for future pharmacists. Understanding the laws governing the sale and supply of medicines and embracing the Code of Ethics set out in the Medicines, Ethics and Practice (MEP) guidance are important not just for ensuring best possible care for patients and the public but increasingly the pharmacist, as ethical decisions can lead to future litigation and discipline. The RPSGB echoes this message by requiring that separate PLE examinations be passed at a minimum of 60%, in comparison to the 40% pass mark for other pharmacy modules such as chemistry and pharmacology (1).
Despite the emphasis placed on PLE teaching by the RPSGB, there is little in the way of a structured curriculum or syllabus for schools of pharmacy to utilise when teaching students. An attempt to pool teaching expertise and techniques was attempted by the APPLET collaboration scheme but this has not been updated to include new content since 2007 (2). Furthermore many PLE lecturers have no formal teaching qualifications so are essentially left to develop their own PLE curriculum to suit the university and other teaching staff. PLE lecturers who are practising pharmacists are obliged to develop their teaching as part of their continuous professional development (CPD) requirement, and in this unique situation where there are no available benchmarks to compare course content or pass rates, novel investigative studies are required to examine how the Kingston University MPharm student cohort perceive PLE teaching so that continuous development of the curriculum and level of learning are achieved.
I have attempted to search the available literature to find existing studies which can be of use in evaluating students' thoughts of the PLE experience at Kingston University. Although there is much literature available on assessing general university student attitudes and opinions, there is less available regarding the medical professions, and none that I am aware of regarding the evaluation of law and ethics in a UK university. For this reason, background research has focused on examining similar studies carried out in pharmacy student cohorts around the world, which would have to be modified to suit the requirements of this particular intended study.
Many studies have been conducted to determine the psyche of the pharmacy student, with a variety of interesting findings. Some theorists have proposed that changes to society and the higher education model in the United Kingdom have led to changes in student attitudes; one study found that an equal number of American pharmacy students agreed and disagreed with the statement that because they paid fees to go to university, it is mostly the lecturer's responsibility to ensure that the student is learning and getting their money's worth (3). This attitude may gradually increase in prevalence as tuition fees are set to increase, and as more overseas students paying high fees attend Kingston University, so the expectation of a high-quality education will also rise. The agreement of this statement could be investigated, as...
It may be feasible to suggest that as a student progresses through an academic course, their mastery of course content will also increase. However an American study found that as pharmacy students progressed through their course, their academic mastery was outweighed by the increasing workload, and the main factor for decreased performance in the 2nd year exams versus 1st year exams was because students could not allocate enough time to study for all of their modules (4). This may be of significance when considering that different schools of pharmacy in the United Kingdom arrange their module content differently, and it could be worth investigating if some schools teach PLE in a year or semester when the burden of coursework from other modules is lower.
The Archer's motivation survey was developed to investigate motivation for learning as either performance oriented (learning as a means of achieving praise or success) or mastery oriented (learning to achieve understanding or mastery of content) amongst university students (2). It is hoped that medical professionals show traits of mastery orientation, as this includes self-directed learning without the need for external motivation from peers or colleagues, which is useful if a professional is to undertake CPD of their own accord. For this reason the modified Archer's health professions survey has been validated as a tool for use in examining medical, nurse and pharmacy students (6). The list of 68 Likert response questions examines not just motivation but also study strategy, time management and students' perceptions of requirements for success. By further modifying the questions contained in this tool which have provided a basis for over 200 further studies in healthcare students, it would be possible to build up a broader and more complex picture of how the Kingston University pharmacy student cohort consider PLE teaching and examination in general.
The ideal solution would be to survey a group of Kingston University who have already undertaken exams in PLE, especially students who have initially failed and passed during reassessment, as they will be aware of what skills and strategies they needed to undertake to ensure that they obtained a pass on the second attempt. These students' responses, if accurate, should indicate the skills required for newer students to pass these PLE examinations. I would like to survey students who are in their fourth year of study on the MPharm course - studies have indicated that student recollection, especially recollection of events associated with exams, is not equivalent to data collected at the time of the event (7). This does suggest that data collected from students after the event would be less reliable than that collected at the time, however it should be more reliable than that collected from graduated students. It is also more likely to be relevant to what is being currently taught, and respondents will be easier to trace for follow-up.
The aim of this piece of work is therefore to explore the opinions and attitudes of fourth-year pharmacy students who have already passed several PLE modules, to determine what knowledge and techniques have been and should be applied by students who wish to graduate from the Kingston University MPharm course.
The proposed methodology for investigating these opinions is firstly a multiple choice questionnaire, assimilating a range of questions in Likert response format aimed at ascertaining quantitative data on students' approaches to learning course material, exam preparation, time management, study strategies and perceived contributions to success/failure of previous PLE examinations. Once data has been collected and processed in a suitable statistical software package, emerging themes will be incorporated into a series of semi-structured group interviews of fourth-year students. The aim of these focus groups will be to attempt to explain any statistically significant findings from the questionnaire, and to further explore themes on students' thoughts on PLE teaching and examination.
Any fourth-year students who have previously passed PLE exams are eligible to be selected to complete the questionnaire and/or be involved in the focus groups. To maximise the potential response rate of the questionnaire, an electronic version will hopefully be produced and securely e-mailed to fourth-year students to allow them to complete the survey anonymously and in their own time, eliminating barriers such as having to post completed response forms back and allowing for a more truthful representation of students' perceptions of PLE teaching and examination. The questionnaire will be produced by integrating sets of questions from previously validated pharmacy education surveys alongside novel questions to measure variables specific to PLE modules, producing a user-friendly and intuitive online completion system, and finally validating both the survey content and the online system using a group of fourth-year students.
The proposed agenda for this study will be to have the questionnaire produced, validated and ready to be delivered to the cohort by the end of the January exam period. This would be the ideal time to deliver it as students will have a reduced workload and the response rate is likely to be higher.