KINGSTON, R.I. -- March12, 2001 -- Third-year University of Rhode Island pharmacy student J. Andy Bernier knows there is almost a limitless amount of information on the internet about medications and their effects.
"You just have to know how to find it," he said.
Now URI biomedical sciences professors Clinton Chichester III and Alvin Swonger are not only teaching students like Bernier how to find the information, but also how to use it to help patients, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.
Students are using a classroom developed by Chichester that employs laptop computers with wireless access to the internet to research and deliver the information in a more efficient and understandable manner. Each computer in this "smart room" is linked to a projector and screen, which can be changed simply by walking up and tapping on the screen. In addition, the instructor or students can make notes on the screen by using a special pen.
The URI College of Pharmacy spent $60,000 for laptop computers, the projector, white board and renovations. All third-year students will have laptop computers by the fall of 2002.
"The College is making a big push for technology, because that is how the pharmacist is gathering information and providing information today," Chichester said.
In a sample lesson, a patient is admitted to a psychiatric hospital and prescribed haloperidol, which is used to treat nervous, mental, and emotional conditions, and is available, only by prescription. Three students gave presentations on the patients symptoms, the actions of haloperidol and its structure, and potential side effects, by going to reputable web sites.
To help the students get acclimated to the new uses of technology, the College now requires each student to enroll in a one-credit course on active-integrated learning during each of their first six semesters in the College.
In the third year, students take the class in groups of 10 so they can make class presentations with a great deal of interaction with the instructor and their classmates.
With all URI pharmacy students now required to complete a six-year doctor of pharmacy degree, there is a greater emphasis on learning drug analysis in clinical settings.
"We want the students to learn how to get reputable pharmacy information from the various pharmacy associations and from such places as the National Institutes for Health, the federal Food and Drug Administration and the American Medical Association," Chichester said. "However, we also want them to know that there is bad information out there."
Pharmacy student Bernier and his classmates seemed to be learning the lessons well, if their presentations on the psychiatric patient during a recent session with Professor Swonger were any indication.
Allison Alberti, a third-year student from Long Island, gave a presentation on the symptons and diagnosis. She said one of the key roles of the pharmacist in these types of cases is to be alert to the potential for suicide and other major symptoms.
Benier, who is from Augusta, Maine, addressed the dosages of haloperidol given to the patient, whether they were appropriate and what factors affect dosing.
"The first dose is usually a guess," Swonger told his students, "because these drugs do not act quickly."
In her presentation, Kelly Cardillo, of Cranston, gave a clear, concise description of the drug. She addressed its potential side effects and what kinds of reactions nurses and doctors should look for.
Cardillo and the others said they used multiple sources to get their information and to check the sources against each other for accuracy. "I used my textbook a lot, but I checked everything against the Merck (& Co., Inc.) site," she said.
While all of the students said learning how to use the technology is helpful, Cardillo said, "This class has been especially helpful in teaching me how to speak to people."
Swonger agreed that learning to convey information to patients and health professionals is one of the most important elements of the course. "Traditionally, students read from textbooks and they wrote about their knowledge on exams.
"But this method (in the smart classroom) better prepares students for talking on the phone, in the hospital and in the pharmacy with patients. The students are actively talking the talk," Swonger said.
Swonger said that the interactive screen allows students and him to make changes while they are speaking. "If I suggest changes in their proposals during class, they have usually sent me those changes by email before I even get back to my office. I get a lot more interaction with the students," he said.