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DIRECT Program Pushes Ferris Pharmacy P4s to `Hit the Ground Running'

College of Pharmacy, Ferris State UniversityAssociate Professor Dean Van Loo believes future pharmacists can benefit from taking the DIRECT approach.

That’s why the Kalamazoo-based College of Pharmacy faculty member started a patient-centered learning program for fourth-year students that allows them to complete their six required rotations in one place.

“I call it pre-residency,” Van Loo said.

The literal meaning of the DIRECT program? Developmental Instruction Relationally Engaged with Clinical Teams.

In layman’s terms? Ten students working side-by-side at one institution to gain the competency needed for success beyond Pharmacy school.

That institution is Bronson Methodist Hospital, a key teaching site for Ferris’ College of Pharmacy. The program redevelops student clerkship activities to provide more opportunities for projects and research in one location under one main preceptor to facilitate growth. It also promotes teamwork and requires only one orientation process, which allows students “to hit the ground running,” Van Loo said.

Students work with multiple pharmacists in their fields of expertise and become part of the hospital’s medical team. They also have the chance to publish a research project and volunteer for community outreach opportunities.

“The experience they get is valuable, because they are ready for a post-graduate, broad-based residency,” Van Loo said.

Joleen Bierlein, who graduated in May 2013 after participating in the DIRECT program, landed a PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Residency for Carilion Clinic at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital in Roanoke, Va.

“I didn’t feel like just another Pharmacy student passing through for a few weeks – I felt like another member of the Bronson pharmacy team,” said Bierlein, who touted the program’s elimination of multiple orientation processes.

“When I was on my institutional rotation, I spent a few days with both the pharmacy technician and pharmacist in the emergency department. When it came time for my emergency department rotation at the end of the year, I already understood how the pharmacy services in the ER operated, and I was able to immediately begin doing medication reconciliations and other activities. I was able to jump right into the rotation.”

Students are required to complete a research project, participate in a Weekly Journal Club, make case presentations and attend DIRECT meetings twice per rotation.

“The research opportunity is done in an area the student wants to study,” Van Loo said. “It’s not high-level, informed-consent research, but it gets them in the mode of doing research. Residencies are competitive, and these experiences are valuable and make them more marketable.”

And that was of particular interest to Bierlein.

“We all presented our projects as posters at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists’ Midyear Clinical Meeting, and it gave us great experience and, of course, additions to our CVs,” she said. “As a resident, I have to conduct research over the next year. When my director was discussing the deadlines and procedures, nothing came as a surprise. In residency, our cup overflows with projects, presentations and various commitments. It means a lot to me to know that I have the skills needed to take on these projects, because my skills were tested as a student, and that’s one small stressor that I can eliminate from my life as a resident.”

Van Loo acknowledges the program exposes students to just one system and fewer preceptors, but believes the benefits outweigh that. One of those benefits is stronger, more thorough assessments and evaluations, he said.

That’s why fourth-year Pharmacy student Emily Kearney sought a spot in the program.

“I applied because of its reputation and the opportunities that would be available to me,” said Kearney, of Macomb, who also works as an intern at a Meijer pharmacy. “Since I started, my experience has been nothing short of that.”

The camaraderie among her peers and the professionalism of hospital staff has provided a positive learning environment, she said.

“Every pharmacist I have worked with has shown a genuine interest in my education that has resulted in not only a valuable experience, but an inspirational one as well,” said Kearney, who credits Van Loo with the program’s patient-centered learning focus. “He has a wealth of knowledge and knows just how to relay it to us so that we gain a lot from each conversation. As a preceptor and a role model, he pushes us to continuously try to achieve more.”

Van Loo, who has an extensive history of leadership within local and state pharmacy associations, previously was a staff pharmacist, clinical coordinator and residency director at Bronson before accepting a full-time faculty position to focus solely on teaching.

“I have a heart for service, and I wanted the challenge to grow as a practitioner,” said Van Loo, who also serves as adviser to the American Society of Health Systems registered student organization at Ferris and teaches in the infectious disease course in the second year of the professional curriculum.

When he accepts students into the DIRECT program, he’s not just looking at their GPAs.

“They have to be able to handle the academics, but they also have to have an attitude of service,” Van Loo said. “They are serving the patient and the community.”