Back to the Classroom with Makerere University Pharmacy Students

This in not an official U.S. Department of State (DOS) blog and the views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the DOS. 

I’ve been having a great time so far in Uganda.  It has been wonderful to see so many old friends and everyone is as pleasant, gracious, and as friendly as I remember.  Whenever you walk into a room or place of business someone always says “You’re Welcome”.

The 3rd Year Pharmacy students are engaged in the task of developing learning objectives for their weekly topic

The 3rd Year Pharmacy students are engaged in the task of developing learning objectives for their weekly topic

I spent Tuesday sitting in on the the classes of 3rd and 4th year pharmacy students. Makerere’s pharmacy school uses the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) format for teaching the majority of their curriculum.  Although I observed this when I was here in Fall 2012, it still amazed me today.  Their semester is split in blocks of topics and today the 4th
year students (4Y) (this is the last year of pharmacy school) were starting a module on Industrial Pharmacy.  The 3rd years (3Y) were on the second session of a module on   Pharmaceutical Biotechnology and Industrial Microbiology.  The foundation of the PBL format is self-directed learning.  The students are split into small groups of around 8-10 students for each tutorial session.  When students to walk into the class on the first of 2 sessions during the week, they receive a short vignette that outlines a problem related to the topic for that week. For example, the scenario for the 3Y’s involved a pharmacy student who was going to be working as an apprentice in a biopharmaceutical firm that made vaccines and utilized gene therapy.  The vignette explained that his supervisor told him to learn all about vaccines and genetic engineering to become prepared for the work ahead.  The task of the 3Y students was basically to figure out what he needed to learn and as a group, develop the learning objectives for the week.  Before the final session of the week on Friday, the students will investigate the objectives on their own, learning the content so that each objective is fully covered. They use many sources of information to do this and then when they meet again as a small group, they have a 3 hour session where all of the content is discussed with the discussion being led by the students.  Each tutorial group also has a faculty facilitator called the “tutor”.  This instructor lets the students work out all of the issues on their own, only guiding the comments when details are missed or the students are heading in the wrong direction. One of the really interesting things about this method of teaching is that it involves very little traditional lectures. Instead, the content is almost entirely self-taught by the students to each other. If, though, they feel they need more guidance, they are always welcome to ask for a lecture from the faculty to get a better grasp of the material. The decorum of the tutorial sessions is quite formal. At the beginning of class, a “chairperson” and “scribe” are chosen. The Chair leads the discussion and is responsible for making sure that everyone gets a chance to provide input and also mediates any conflicts. The Scribe writes all the notes on the white board as you can see in the photo. At the end of the session, the students evaluate their own performance verbally in front of the group and discuss how well they performed. Then they give themselves a grade on their performance.  The facilitator also grades the performance of each student. I was given the leader guide before class so I could follow along and I was quite impressed with the amount of preparatory work the students had already done on the topic and how well they were able to come up with almost the exact objectives they were supposed to. The content was very detailed and is not something that Wilkes pharmacy school emphasizes to this deep level. To contrast, Wilkes, and most USA pharmacy schools, place a much greater emphasis on the clinical or therapeutics aspect of pharmacy practice. (This is the study of how drugs are used to treat patients and how to manage drug therapy overall to ensure the best patient health outcomes.)  One of the reasons that Ugandan pharmacy schools teach topics like Industrial Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology and Industrial Microbiology is that they rely on graduates with a pharmacy degree to work in their growing pharmaceutical industry.  In the USA, students who want to go into the pharmaceutical industry usually either go on for a PhD in one of the pharmaceutical sciences and can then work in drug development or they study a basic science like chemistry and are trained on the job.  There are a few programs also that offer a Bachelors degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences also.

I’ll end this post with an interesting picture:  Can you believe this construction project is using WOODEN SCAFFOLDING?  Stay tuned tomorrow to hear about my day with the Institute of Hospice and Palliative Care in Africa and the Palliative Care Unit at Mulago National Referral Hospital.

DSCN6169-Wooden Scaffolding

About kbohan

Professor and Founding Chair, Department of Pharmacy Practice Binghamton University School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Binghamton, NY USA
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