Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Integrating Science and Practice in Pharmacy Curricula

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Integrating Science and Practice in Pharmacy Curricula

Article excerpt


The integration of science and practice curricula within pharmacy is of relevance to educators throughout the world in producing graduates who are capable of applying a broad knowledge base to solve complex problems. In the United Kingdom, there is particular interest since the General Pharmaceutical Council's (GPhC's) 2010 education standards specifically state under Standard 5, Criterion 5.1 that the pharmacy curriculum "must be integrated." (1) As all master of pharmacy (MPharm) programs must be accredited by the GPhC, it is essential that schools address this issue. This paper examines some of the background educational and psychological theory underpinning integrated education and proposes an approach to the design of integrated pharmacy curricula.


The concept of curriculum integration, where individual disciplines are strategically combined to create a cohesive whole, is not unique to pharmacy education. Some may legitimately ask why curricula should be integrated, particularly in view of the relative lack of empirical evidence that an integrated curriculum produces better graduates and ultimately practitioners. Despite this, the idea has support, and reformers within medical education have attempted to address the following within curriculum design (2): teaching and learning should promote integration; habits of inquiry and improvement should be encouraged and developed; learning should be individualized, while assessment should be standardized; the development of professional identity should be supported.

The SPICES model of curriculum development outlines a range of criteria to help curriculum planners. (3) The criteria are set within a continuum, one end of which is seen as elements that are desirable in a curriculum and the other end as elements that are negative/undesirable. This model places integrated curriculum at the desirable end of the continuum and discipline-based curriculum at the negative end.

The design of an integrated program is more than the sum of its parts. It is the relationship between those parts and the application of an appropriate academic philosophy and framework that allow for the whole to be of more value than its constituents. It is tempting to think of curriculum design and structure as the most important aspects of integrated delivery, but ultimately integration takes place within the student's mind. Thus, consideration of what makes sense to different people is an essential component of working towards integration. (4) Educators must ensure that the curriculum allows sufficient flexibility for students to become integrative thinkers and not simply accept the integrations made by others. (5) Equally important, in order for students to effectively integrate information, content should be delivered in a manner so that there are close spacial and temporal relationships between materials. All of this is challenging as, ultimately, pharmacy is an applied, science-led subject, with separate disciplines at the base, which should be orientated towards professional practice. On this basis, the curriculum is not naturally integrated; the different disciplines tend to separate out, either in terms of teaching or as a function of students attempting to make sense of what they are being taught.

Contemporary pharmacy curriculum discussions (6-10) throughout the world have focused on what "science" and "practice" are and which of these should carry the greatest weight within the modern curriculum, rather than trying to see how to best combine the two, if indeed they are separate entities. This can be unhelpful and may serve to create an either/or type of approach when the vital importance of drawing together fundamental knowledge from the different science disciplines cannot be overstated in terms of developing the kind of pharmacist necessary for modern practice.

Undergraduate pharmacy programs in the United Kingdom are generally designed within a modular structure, and deliver much of the fundamental science at the initial levels of the program. …

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