Enhancing the chemistry experience of undergraduate pharmacy students

James Richard Smith, Melleisha K. Chungh, Sara Sadouq, Asarthan Kandiah

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Student engagement and satisfaction with chemistry-related areas, theoretical and practical, on Master of Pharmacy (MPharm) degree courses anecdotally appear to be lower than for professional practice elements. If true, speculation could be made about student perceived relevance, difficulty, disinterest and previous-negative experiences of chemistry, and strategies developed for improvement of these aspects. In this paper, to follow a more scientific approach, we have asked two main questions: How can the chemistry experience of pharmacy undergraduate students be enhanced, and how can the virtual learning environment (VLE) for chemistry-related modules for pharmacy students be improved? Student responses to an online questionnaire (n = 122, 24%; Dec 2013 – Jan 2014) and data from formal unit feedback surveys (n = 39 – 87, 35 – 67%; Apr 2013) from MPharm students (all four years) studying at the University of Portsmouth, UK were confidentially obtained and analysed.
A breakdown of pre-university chemistry qualifications revealed 49% of students had achieved GCE A/AS-level Chemistry at Grade A*, A or B; 6% had undertaken Access Course chemistry study and a further 6% had no chemistry qualification at A/AS-level or equivalent. These qualifications were awarded by a range of examination boards, although these were not correlated with the number of laboratory sessions the students had attended (0 – 30+; p > 0.05). MPharm students had a wide variation in prior chemistry learning, although this appeared to have no impact on current student perceived workload, difficulty and relevance of chemistry in their studies (p > 0.05). Perceived difficulty and workload were positively correlated (p = 0.003), however, as were pharmacy students ‘not seeing the point’ of studying chemistry with perceived difficulty (p = 0.001), suggesting areas for intervention. Students realised the study of chemistry on their MPharm degree was important (89%), and when asked why, meaningful answers concerning understanding drug action were provided. Students rated chemistry-related units with the same level of enjoyment as their biology-centred counterparts (p > 0.05), although pharmacy practice elements were deemed more enjoyable (p < 0.0001), presumably due to the perceived direct relevance for their future careers. Pharmacy students welcomed more laboratory practical sessions, although under less stressful conditions, and wider use of audience response systems in lectures (in years 1 to 3). MPharm students access the VLE (Moodle) with a vast array of platforms, and often with multiple devices, potentially raising compatibility issues for course developers. Presented with a choice of mostly technology-based methods in which chemistry teaching could be improved, video lectures were the preferred choice (although not as a replacement for traditional lectures), followed by Moodle quizzes and audio content; chat-rooms and websites were the least preferred.
The results highlight the importance of keeping chemistry (and biology) content relevant in MPharm programmes and reveal strategies suggested by students for improving their learning through extended use of the VLE. These outcomes are in alignment with evidence-based practice approaches.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015
EventInternational Education Conference - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Jun 201511 Jun 2015


ConferenceInternational Education Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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