Why Pharmacy Simulator?

Information for Faculty/Staff at educational institutions.

Why do we need Pharmacy Simulator?

To prepare students for professional practice, we have always run classes with a mixture of learning opportunities, typically taking the form of either pen-and-paper based scenarios or role-play, in general terms:

  • Pen-and-paper based scenarios – where the student reviews a patient scenario then completes some form of rubric indicating what questions they would ask, and what actions they would perform. The rubric is assessed by a teacher.
  • Role-played scenarios or “standardised patients” – where the student interacts with either a staff member or another student to perform a mock patient encounter. The student is assessed by an observer or the patient actor.

These exercises have always been effective tools for preparing students for practice, and the feedback students receive from these exercises is highly valued.

There are some critical issues with these approaches however, which Pharmacy Simulator aims to overcome.

Issue 1 – Timeliness of feedback

It is ideal to provide feedback immediately after the exercise, generally in the form of a “de-briefing session” after each simulation. In some classroom settings this is achieved, and the students benefit accordingly as they can contextualise their errors and ideally action a fix immediately. In practice however, there is often a delay of days or even weeks where students must wait for a marker to review their scenario notes, or review and annotate a video recording of the simulated session.

In Pharmacy Simulator, students are always given detailed feedback the moment the scenario is completed, and are immediately prompted to try again and remedy their mistake.

Time ticking down

Issue 2 – Number of repetitions

To achieve mastery over any new skill it is important to do many repetitions. So long as students must depend on another human in order to practice, they are fundamentally limited in how many repetitions they can complete.

Consider a classroom setting with 20 students and 2 teachers – a nice ratio! If we depend on the teachers to play the patient, each student is afforded a maximum of 6 minutes of one-on-one time with a teacher. And that’s if we assume the teachers don’t have anything else to do in that 1 hour session!

Working hard on a problem

To improve on this, classes are often structured so that students take turns role-playing with each other. This is a valuable exercise in itself, and affords each student up to 30 minutes of playing the patient and 30 minutes of playing the pharmacist each. This is great in its own way – but the depth and quality of the exercise can suffer, because students are sometimes not skilled or experienced enough to do the role of the patient justice – they’re less able to improvise, adapt, or otherwise make the scenario “interesting” than the teacher or other professional standardised patients can. It can also potentially become boring for the stronger students, if they are paired with a weaker partner.

To solve this problem we could, in theory, simply schedule more classes or hire more actors. But this isn’t viable in practice, due to the high cost of staff and facilities, and the risk of students becoming overscheduled.

Pharmacy Simulator solves this problem in a scalable way. Students can play as many scenarios as they like, and repeat them as many times as they like, until they’re satisfied that they’ve learned everything there is to learn. They’re not restricted by class hours or lab access in any way, since they can fire up Pharmacy Simulator any time, any place, on their home computer, laptop, or phone.

If you want your students to have more opportunities to role-play as a pharmacist, but you cannot afford to schedule more classes – Pharmacy Simulator is the ideal solution.

Issue 3 – Repeatability and standardisation

This issue is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is a feature of the standardised patient approach that the actor can improvise/ad lib and adapt. But when we consider assessment, it is potentially unfair that different students may have a variable experience - students sometimes complain that their scenario was harder than another’s. Teachers are also sometimes frustrated when an actor goes too far off script and inadvertently deviates from the intended learning outcomes of the exercise.

With Pharmacy Simulator, the scenario you (or another contributor) writes is the scenario the student gets – every time. Importantly, there’s still scope to implement variation to test the student’s depth of understanding – our scenario editing tools encourage scenario authors to quite rapidly create alternative versions of their scenarios, with minimal additional effort, by cloning and modifying key discrete elements of the scenario, rather than having to start from scratch.

A rocket factory

Some concessions and warnings

Pharmacy Simulator is an invaluable tool for ensuring that your students have sufficient opportunity to role-play as a Pharmacist, but it is of course not the only tool. Traditional techniques are tried and tested and have their own strengths. We see Pharmacy Simulator as a complementary tool, that can be used in addition and as a supplement. Our data shows that for some learning objectives it is possible to replace a scheduled classroom experience with a student-driven Pharmacy Simulator exercise, so it is certainly possible to make cost savings in this way. However, we would never advocate for the total removal of classroom activities. It is always going to be important that students gain experience with counselling using natural language and in front of peers, and Pharmacy Simulator will never be a complete substitute for those experiences.