Wayne State University

Learning Community increases on-time graduation rate in pharmacy

Five years ago, the graduation rate for students in the Doctor of Pharmacy program was 83 percent. Today, that rate has risen to 98 percent with an on-time graduation rate above 90 percent. This increase is attributed, in part, to the establishment of a pharmacy Learning Community.

First implemented in fall 2009 by faculty member Lynette Moser, PharmD, the Learning Community is an initiative of the University and our College’s commitment to student learning and retention. “It offers a new opportunity for student pharmacists in their second year (P2) to collaborate and learn in a group-based setting,” said Victoria Tutag Lehr, PharmD, associate professor in pharmacy and Learning Community coordinator. “Students are offered group learning sessions and one-on-one tutoring by peer mentors, who are third-year (P3) student pharmacists fresh from the experiences of their second academic year.”

“The second professional year of the Doctor of Pharmacy program has been the most difficult for our students,” said Richard L. Slaughter, associate dean for pharmacy. “This academic year introduces pharmacotherapeutic problem-solving, experiential learning, and a condensed format for teaching pharmacotherapeutics. The concepts are challenging and critical for learning. They are the foundation upon which the pharmacy curriculum continues to build and professional knowledge continues to expand.” 

Approximately 100 P2 student pharmacists are assigned into learning communities of 12-15 students with a P3 peer mentor. They participate in a day-long orientation, which outlines academic expectations and addresses study habits, time management and aspects of some courses. During each semester, the P2 students have four two-hour meetings with their mentor to review study materials and prepare for exams.

Prior to each Learning Community session, peer mentors meet with professors to obtain feedback on session materials and to learn strategies for coursework and exams. The Learning Community coordinator and mentors also have a pre-session meeting to ensure that needs are met for the upcoming session. “The focus is on  the success of the student,” Tutag Lehr said.

P3 student pharmacists Nada Farhat and Peter Szatkowski agree that the Learning Community has benefits for both the mentor and their mentees. Farhat said, “It is a great opportunity for the mentors to gain leadership experience, while helping their fellow students succeed in the program.” Szatkowski added, “By fulfilling the role of a mentor, I am able to improve my students’ personal experiences in the program and ensure they can learn from my own mistakes.”

For mentor Selmir Mahmutovic, the Learning Community experience provides a forum for discussion of ideas and enables him to reinforce his understanding of pharmacological concepts, which are the foundation of the pharmacy modules, and to reinforce these concepts and principles in his P2 mentees.

P2 mentees Tram Tran, Sarah Elhalis and Ali Baidoun cite the Learning Community as helping them to think conceptually in pharmacology. Baidoun sums up the experience as having “strengthened my pharmacology understanding and made me succeed. It also made me communicate with students in my class that I never spoke to before.”

 “The Learning Community is intended to be an educational experience and opportunity for development for both P2 students and P3 peer mentors,” said Tutag Lehr.  To assure that the program is achieving its goal, outcomes for the P2 students are measured after each session and at the completion of the academic year as well as for the mentors.

Funding for the Learning Community Initiative is provided by Wayne State University’s Division of Academic Affairs with support from the EACPHS Pharmacy Program. Tutag Lehr credits Kelly Hicks, secretary in the Department of Pharmacy Practice, for assisting the program in utilizing the funds efficiently and effectively.