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Two New Big Rapids Campus Labs Will Help Students Develop Cognitive Clinical Skills

labsIt takes more than an extensive knowledge of chemistry and medical principles to become a great pharmacist — it also takes the development of the technical skills and rigorous mental habits that ensure a practitioner’s ability to practice with extreme accuracy in a high-pressure workplace. That attention to detail is exactly what two new College of Pharmacy labs at Ferris State University’s Big Rapids campus are designed to teach.

The new Cognitive Skills Lab opened its doors to students for the first time in Fall 2009, with the Sterile Lab scheduled to open in fall semester 2011. Both resources are a part of the Practice Skills course sequence in the newly revised Doctor of Pharmacy curriculum. Designed for instruction of students in a realistic practice setting, the labs will simulate the multiple demands of the environments students will encounter in their introductory and advanced clinical placements.

The Cognitive Skills Lab features stations that simulate patient encounters requiring drug product selection, dosing and delivery consultations with physicians and development of appropriate monitoring plans. Students are given simulated patient charts and are guided by instructor Lori Dettloff, R.Ph., a practicing hospital pharmacist at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Rapids.

Dettloff, who graduated from Ferris’ Pharmacy program in 1988, draws on her own clinical experiences to simulate patient cases, giving students the chance to hone their judgment and test their skills in highly realistic practice scenarios. Students must evaluate patient information to answer questions and determine appropriate pharmacotherapy recommendations.

“The lab better prepares our students for the real world because what they’re getting in class are case simulations of live patients. It prepares students for off-campus practice experiences, as well as their careers after they graduate,” Dettloff explained.

After providing these consultations, students don gowns and protective gear to prepare the medications they have recommended at a simulated sterile lab station, also temporarily housed within the Cognitive Skills Lab. Patients in clinical settings, such as hospitals, are more likely to require treatments administered intravenously, which the sterile lab practice teaches students to prepare.

Next fall, a newly renovated, separate Sterile Admixture Lab will allow students to practice with the actual equipment and specifications used to prepare IV infusions and admixtures in a totally contaminant-free environment.

“The Sterile Lab will be USP 797-compliant, allowing students to aseptically compound in a real-life setting identical to that in any major hospital,” said Kim Hancock, interim department head and professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences. “Students will be more knowledgeable in sterile compounding and better prepared for the job market.”

In the sterile compounding lab, parenteral prescriptions are prepared in an environment designed to minimize airborne contamination, protecting the sterile product from accidental contamination with foreign particles or microbes. Controlling the quality and flow of air, as well as practicing proper gowning and compounding techniques, minimizes contamination of sterile compounds prepared in the room. To prevent unwanted complications, such as a nosocomial infection, it is vital that sterile compounds not be contaminated during compounding.

The more opportunities students have to practice working with such complex equipment in the classroom, the better prepared they will be to enter their clinical experiences. The lab ultimately teaches them to provide excellent patient care and the highest level of safety.

“One of the pharmacist’s most critical responsibilities is safe and accurate preparation and dispensing of medications and monitoring their use,” said College of Pharmacy Interim Dean Stephen Durst. “All of this allows students to learn how to prepare and administer medications and monitor their use. Appropriate techniques have to be mastered so that products are appropriate for parenteral infusion.”

The Sterile Lab was funded through the Ferris Division of Academic Affairs, and the Cognitive Skills Lab was funded largely through the generosity of College of Pharmacy alumni and corporate donors. The college has taken special steps to recognize those who have financially supported the new learning environments, such as identifying them by name on plaques in the Pharmacy Building lobby. However, the best reflection of donor support is perhaps in the continued excellence of the education that Ferris’ College of Pharmacy offers to students.

Ashley Caron, a second-year Pharmacy program student, explained that the new labs offer a unique opportunity to students whose previous internship experiences may not fully prepare them for the program’s clinical rotation requirements.

“Working with [these labs] before we do our hospital rotation this summer is going to be very useful,” she said. “As for our careers, it can help us decide if this type of work is something we would want to do.”

Linking theory to practice by fostering great instructional resources like the Cognitive Skills Lab and Sterile Lab reflects a broader, institutional philosophy at Ferris, as well — to provide practical, hands-on preparation for a competitive job market. “This will prepare the students at a higher level,” added Durst. “Then, on introductory or advanced practice experiences, they will build on the excellent foundation established in the curriculum.”