Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

An Oncology Pharmacy Practice Elective Course for Third-Year Pharmacy Students

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

An Oncology Pharmacy Practice Elective Course for Third-Year Pharmacy Students

Article excerpt


Cancer impacts millions of Americans and their families. In 2010, there were an estimated 13.8 million Americans living with a cancer diagnosis. (1) The American Cancer Society estimated that 1,638,910 people would be diagnosed with and 577,190 people would die of cancer in the United States in 2012. (2) Further, cancer diagnoses are expected to increase, with an estimated 2.8 million people being diagnosed in the year 2050. This number accounts for the aging and growing population but does not address other increasing risk factors, such as obesity. (3) The American Society of Clinical Oncologists released a statement in March 2007 predicting a significant oncologist shortage by as soon as 2020 because of increasing patient age and the increasing number of both new cancer diagnoses and cancer survivors. (4)

Pharmacists are trained healthcare practitioners who can assist with the increasing demands of oncology patients, but more are needed. Of an estimated 272,320 licensed pharmacists in the United States, there are currently 1,247 pharmacists who have received board certification as an Oncology Pharmacist (BCOP) through the Board of Pharmacy Specialties, an autonomous division of the American Pharmacists Association. (5,6) Oncology pharmacists can assist with the pharmacotherapeutic management of medications, including dose adjustments for organ dysfunction and management of toxicities in the oncology patient. As the number of pharmaceutical drugs marketed for cancer continues to grow (in 2011 alone, 10 new cancer treatment drugs were approved), well-trained pharmacists are essential.

Along with the increase in cancer diagnoses, new oncology therapies, and the predicted oncologist shortage, the need for competent practicing pharmacists is critical in the care of patients with cancer. Good communication with patients increases patient satisfaction and improves patient adherence. (7) Pharmacists can play a major role in communicating the potential side effects of therapy and providing the patient with a plan of action if they occur, particularly with respect to oral agents. This foundation can begin in pharmacy school, and Anderson and associates argue that it is more important than ever to offer this training to students. (8) If future practitioners are to provide competent pharmaceutical care to oncology patients, they must have a solid understanding of drug therapy, patient safety, and the psychosocial aspects of cancer.

Cheung and associates examined oncology education in Canadian medical, pharmacy, and nursing schools as well as in medical residencies. (9) Ten of 11 (90.9%) pharmacy colleges and schools responded, with 80% of pharmacy responders spending 1 week or less on cancer education. Only 30% of these institutions required cancer education, only 20% offered an elective course for cancer education, and 70% reported mentioning cancer treatment only a few times throughout their program.

Research suggests that students who receive more information about cancer treatment are more likely to have a positive attitude about treating cancer patients. (10) In the United States, some interesting teaching opportunities have been developed. C-Change, a coalition of cancer organizations, developed a competency-based program to expand cancer education in the medical field. (11) Four medical centers and universities took this approach and developed various education programs on topics such as cancer screening and survivorship. (12) Two of the institutions required the program for their students in addition to providing it for their faculty; 2 others offered free registration to practicing nurses, advanced practice nurses, and physicians. These are innovative methods to increase cancer knowledge among healthcare professionals.

At Creighton University School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, all students receive 16 hours of oncology classroom instruction in the pharmacotherapeutics course during the spring semester of their third year (Table 1). …

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