A Pharmacy Business Management Simulation

Healthcare professions exist to treat illness and promote healthy living, with pharmacies and pharmacists being just one example.

While the primary goal is to improve patient health outcomes and quality of life, pharmacies are still businesses and must be run efficiently in order to maintain a customer base, offer clinical services, succeed, and continually grow.

Recognizing this, both the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) and the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) have highlighted the importance of teaching pharmacy students’ necessary business principles.A Pharmacy Business Management Simulation. ACPE’s accreditation standards and AACP’s Center for the Advancement of Pharmaceutical Education outcomes outline those topics such as leadership, management, entrepreneurial skills, general management principles, and personnel management be part of pharmacy curricula and competencies.

As the job market for new pharmacy graduates becomes more and more competitive, an area where students and graduates can distinguish themselves is through leadership in managing both the clinical and administrative facets of a pharmacy.

Many students have expressed a desire for a greater focus on managerial topics while some graduates have expressed regret for not having paid as much attention in the management/administration class as they should have.

One study showed that after taking a course in which their managerial skills were evaluated, students became aware of the need to have management training as well as the desirability of these skills among employers. 

Another study found the positive effects that business management lecture material had on students’ self-perceived knowledge and understanding, and more importantly the significantly low levels of business management knowledge and understanding students had if these topics were not covered in the classroom. 

While business management topics are important and need attention within the curriculum, how these topics are taught is still scattered among accounting, economics, finance, management, marketing, and leadership material and, more often than not, tailored to the course coordinator’s and/or instructors’ specific area of expertise and/or interest.

Simulations used in pharmacy education include programmable mannequins used for students to practice clinical skills, standardized patients for students to hone their counseling and communication skills, pharmacology simulations for students to strengthen their drug therapeutic knowledge, and event simulation for pharmacies to determine more efficient ways to operate.

These simulation technologies have primarily focused on patient care in pharmacy; no literature has described or evaluated the pros and cons of a pharmacy business management simulation.

This type of simulation is aimed at teaching students the fundamentals of business analysis and decision making, where the gap between knowledge and application can be bridged by allowing students to make managerial decisions in a virtual reality setting with no real-life risk.

The study was conducted at 2 schools: ONU College of Pharmacy and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) – Georgia Campus School of Pharmacy, which is a candidate-accredited organization in Suwanee, GA, and served as the off-campus beta-test site for the program.

The simulation exercise was conducted both in and outside of class over a multiple-week period with students at each school completing 6 decisions (each decision represented a 3-month period or 1 quarter of the year).

Prior to the simulation exercise, lectures on business management (focusing on accounting, financial statements, and financial statement analysis) and the specifics of the pharmacy simulation program and its calculations and interface were delivered to the students.

Once the simulation exercise was complete, an 18-item questionnaire was administered to students at both schools.

The questionnaire used a 7-point, Likert-type scale (1=strongly disagree to 7=strongly agree) on which students rated how well the simulation program enhanced their knowledge and understanding of business management principles.

From a curricular standpoint, survey scores indicated that students slightly to moderately agreed that the business management topics were a necessary part of the curriculum (5.6±1.4), but only slightly agreed that the pharmacy simulation practical experience was a necessary part of the curriculum (4.9±1.6). 

A pharmacy simulation program appears to be effective by enhancing student learning of business management topics.

While pharmacy management and administration courses traditionally cover these topics to some extent, the pharmacy simulation program adds an active-learning component and forces students to think critically about how they want to use their business decision-making power as a pharmacist.

Most concerning is the lack of focus on these topics during experiential education or internships prior to APPEs, as well as a disconnect among the students regarding the necessity of knowing these topics.

Additionally, this could possibly lead to a graduating pharmacy student who has had little exposure to or experience with business management and, thus, is not as strong a candidate in an increasingly competitive pharmacist job market.

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