Preceptors: the heart of our profession

    Practicing pharmacists see value in long-standing faculty preceptorship program

    By Bernie Poitras on December 6, 2016

    A volunteer opportunity with the Faulty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences more than three decades ago turned into a career commitment for pharmacist Nandini Desai.

    “It was 1984 and I had just received my license in the UK,” says Desai, a pharmacist in the Leduc-Beaumont-Devon Primary Care Network. “I moved to Canada but couldn’t work yet and I was bored not working, so I called the faculty and asked if they needed help with anything.”

    That opportunity to work with students eventually led to Desai becoming one the faculty’s preceptors. “I started precepting in the early 90s when I had my own business,” says Desai, who specializes in diabetes, smoking cessation and weight management.

    Preceptors are a valuable part of the education experience in the faculty and provide a mentor opportunity for students during their placements. Coordinated through the Experiential Education Program, student placements with preceptors covers first to fourth year students as well as across the PharmD for Practising Pharmacists Program.

    Student placements are scheduled in a variety of practice settings across the province to prepare graduates to meet the variety health care needs of all Albertans. Placements range from four to eight weeks depending on the course.

    “Preceptors are such an integral and essential part of the program as they really bring the practice of pharmacy to life,” says Ann Thompson, clinical associate professor and director, Experiential Education Program. “Through many dedicated hours of teaching and coaching, they allow our students to transition from knowledgeable and unskilled to knowledgeable and skilled. Without them, we could not graduate students who are confident and prepared to fulfill their (many) roles as care providers, team members, patient advocates, educators, and professionals, to name a few. The faculty relies on the volunteer participation of preceptors to share their wisdom, guidance, and commitment to develop the pharmacists of tomorrow. Both the faculty and students are grateful for the many preceptors who engage students in authentic experiences to teach both the science and art of practicing pharmacy.”

    While students need to complete their placement in order to graduate, preceptors get a lot of value from the mentorship as well. “What I get out of the preceptor program is phenomenal,” says Desai. “Students keep me on the top of my game. They have so much energy and come into the workplace with so much enthusiasm.”

    Desai says she gets a lot of energy from a student placement. “When you see that energy, you want to teach them even more. I saw that energy even back when I volunteered for the faculty – students love that interaction with professionals.”

    “I think that if you haven’t been a preceptor and have the enthusiasm to teach others, you should definitely try it,” Desai says. ‘There’s really nothing to be afraid of and the students are always keen to learn from you.”

    Randy Howden (B.Sc. Pharm ‘05), a pharmacist and owner of the Medicine Shoppe Crowfoot in Calgary always knew he wanted to give back to the faculty in a teaching role. “I wanted to teach but being in Calgary, it wasn’t possible to take on a full teaching role,” says Howden. “I know they were looking for preceptors in major urban centres at the time I joined and I thought I had some things I could teach students.”

    Even though he is busy managing 13 staff between two pharmacies, Howden says he benefits from the mentorship role he provides. “Students keep me on my toes and I can learn something from them too. They ask me questions that I have not thought about for years. They keep me current and relevant.”

    Howden says having a student has forced him to think outside his comfort zone when considering what answers he gives patients. He believes in continual learning, a motivating reason why he became a preceptor. “Students are great at asking in depth questions and this helps me when I’m answering patient questions too,” he says.

    If he doesn’t know the answer, Howden says he will look up the answer with the student so they can learn together. He also believes it’s about making the profession better and he sees helping students as a way of doing that. “After being a pharmacist for more than 11 years now, I feel that I have some tips and tools that I can pass on to students who are about to start their career,” he says.

    Both Desai and Howden ensure students receive an orientation during their first few days, participate in staff meetings, prepare and deliver presentations and ensure they are fully integrated into the health care team.

    Students get to shadow other members of their teams and in some cases, they will ask the student lead a consultation with a patient.

    The faculty supports the preceptor with training, resources (course reviews and manuals) and workshops. “I never feel that I’m alone in this – the faculty provides great support and the feedback I give them at the end of the student placement gets incorporated into the program for the next year,” says Desai, who recently received a Preceptor Recognition Award for her preceptor work this year.

    Howden notes that for him, the mentorship opportunity doesn’t necessarily end when the placement ends. “Over the years, I have kept in touch with a couple of students and offer any support even after the graduate, so they can always contact me," says Howden.

    If you would like to be a preceptor, contact the faculty’s Experiential Education program at 780-492-9969 or email:


    Other preceptors shared their experience (from an Alberta Healtrh Services project in Calgary Health Region)

    A Calgary preceptor shared his experience about having students in his pharmacy: "Students not only directly make positive impacts on patient care, but they can also do so indirectly. Many students employed with AHS have created and updated resources that are quick and easy for pharmacists to use. Specifically from Drug Information, there have been lists, charts, and tables created and referenced to make the busy lives of pharmacists a little bit easier, and ensure that they are providing the best possible care to their patients."

    An email from a preceptor to a student read: “I have just seen one of your previous patients in clinic today. He asked me to thank you. He said you saw him every single day in hospital, that you were wonderful to him, and it meant a great deal to him that you checked on him every day. I think he really appreciated seeing a familiar face each morning. Hearing this type of feedback from patients reinforces why we do what we do, and reinforces to us how beneficial it is to have students on placement, so thank you!”