Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

A Mixed-Methods Analysis in Assessing Students' Professional Development by Applying an Assessment for Learning Approach

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

A Mixed-Methods Analysis in Assessing Students' Professional Development by Applying an Assessment for Learning Approach

Article excerpt


Assessment drives learning. (1,2) While well-accepted and established, this dictum comes from experiences of summative assessment within an assessment of learning paradigm. More recently, an assessment of learning paradigm has been juxtaposed with an assessment for learning approach. (3,4) Inherent to this second approach is using formative assessment to help guide learners' development as opposed to simply having learners react to their summative grades. Formative assessment can include instructor feedback and students' self-assessments; an evidence-based method for formative assessment involves writing reflections. (5,6) Based on the question posed for students to answer, reflective writing can describe students' experiences, behaviors, and values from their own pharmacy practice opportunities. Reflections have also shown a post-assessment "backwash" effect, wherein students can learn from their experiences and create or revise their mental framework for growth. (5,7) While the dictum "assessment drives learning" still applies to this formative approach, it may be better stated as "assessment guides learning."

Professionalism is the soul of any profession, (8) and understanding its framework is essential. (8,9) Accreditation organizations for health professions education stress deliberate, explicit instruction to students in this foundational domain, (10-14) and not leaving it as a "hidden curriculum." (9) Using a programmatic assessment for learning approach, we developed a longitudinal series of professionalism and ethics throughout the pharmacy practice development coursework for PharmD students. This didactic and recitation coursework was focused on introducing: (1) a definition and framework for the six tenets of professionalism (altruism, honor and integrity, duty, excellence, respect for others, and accountability); (15,16) (2) professionalism tenets applied to pharmacy students experiences (altruism, professional presence, professional stewardship, commitment to excellence, honesty and integrity, and respect for others); (17) (3) biomedical ethics principles (beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy and justice); (18) (4) situations and issues in professionalism and ethics; (5) interprofessionality; (19,20) and (6) teamwork. (21) A developmental portfolio was created to compile student self-reflections written on these topics over time and to allow students to revisit previous reflections longitudinally throughout their studies.

In using a programmatic assessment approach, Standard 4 of the 2016 Accreditation Council for Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE) Standards requires that programs develop PharmD students in aspects of professionalism, self-awareness, leadership, and innovation, while focusing on values and behaviors (ie, attitudes and behaviors). (10) We developed an innovative method of assessment for 2016 Standard 4.4, as requested in ACPE's accompanying Standards 2016 guidance document. (22) While the method builds on an assessment for learning paradigm, the adaptation and development of this approach to professional development of pharmacy students is novel.


This was a mixed-methods investigative report, (23) using triangulation (24) of quantitative data to confirm our qualitative assessment approach using written reflections. This investigation was IRB-approved as exempt by the University of Toledo.

At a 4-year PharmD program, students participated in a longitudinal professionalism and ethics series that spanned their first, second, and third years of mainly didactic instruction. At key points throughout this series, students completed multiple reflective writings. Appendix 1 provides instructional details. These reflections were most often in-class, free-flow writing assignments in response to a question prompted in class (much like a diary entry). Formal instruction on how to write reflections was not provided but students practiced writing reflections during orientation before the first year of this PharmD program (students were asked to write a reflection specific to a provided question based on required orientation readings). …

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