Previous studies suggest that about a quarter of colleges and schools of pharmacy in the United States require completion of a research project as a PharmD degree graduation requirement.2,4
While professional organizations1,18,19
strongly endorse the integration of research within PharmD curricula, there are limited published data evaluating the perceptions of faculty members5
in programs that incorporate research as a required curricular experience, and even less information on the impact and outcomes of these experiences with respect to the creation and dissemination of new knowledge.5,21
In this comprehensive evaluation of a 6-year experience with a required research project in a PharmD curriculum, we found overall favorable impressions of the experience from preceptors, a modest level of dissemination of study findings through institutional forums (47.3%) or presentations at professional meetings (23.7% poster presentations; 4% platform presentations), and a low rate of peer-reviewed publications (5.3%).
Our dissemination findings are comparable to those of a previous study in which 8% of the approximately 400 projects conducted by PharmD students resulted in publication, while 17% of projects resulted in a presentation at a professional meeting.5
Several reasons could account for the small number of publications resulting from the senior research projects. From the preceptors' perspective, some projects might not be worthy of submission to a peer-reviewed journal after consideration of the significance of the study findings or the overall quality of the project. In other cases, the amount of time and effort necessary to refine the research project (eg, collect additional data, perform further analyses, revise the manuscript) may discourage the preceptor from taking the project to publication. Additionally, preceptors who are not paid members of the faculty (eg, volunteer faculty members) might have less incentive to publish study findings given differing job expectations and competing responsibilities. Indeed, our data suggest that projects led by paid faculty members were more likely to be published than projects led by volunteer faculty members. From the students' perspective, reasons may include that final paper submissions occur close to the time of graduation when more immediate concerns and obligations (eg, studying for licensing examinations, postgraduation travel, relocation efforts) compromise the time available to pursue publication. In many cases, students who satisfy course requirements for the project are uninterested or unable to devote the time necessary to revise the manuscript to be suitable for publication.
Survey respondents indicated that nearly half of all projects were used in a manner beyond fulfilling a research course requirement and were disseminated through presentations within the preceptors' organization. The immediacy and accessibility of this venue relative to publication or presentation at a professional meeting likely accounts for the substantial number of projects that were disseminated through institutional forum presentations. Furthermore, projects addressing questions or issues salient or of potential value to the preceptor's institution likely would have been presented at institutional meetings or disseminated through internal publications (eg, newsletters, reports, or other documents). While 18.8% of all research projects were disseminated through multiple channels (eg, institutional presentations, posters/platform presentations at professional meetings, publications in professional journals), approximately a third of the projects were exclusively presented within the preceptors' organization. For many preceptors, it is possible that the final desired project outcome was a report suitable for internal institutional purposes only, versus a paper to be published or presented at a professional meeting.
Similar to a previous study,5
our data suggest that project preceptors, in general, had favorable perceptions of the required senior research project. The majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the project was valuable to the preceptor professionally, valuable to the students, and valuable to the preceptor's institution/organization. Most preceptors also agreed that the students viewed the projects as an important contribution to their overall education, and that students were prepared adequately to conduct the research. Although there may be general agreement that the senior research project is of inherent value to students as well as project preceptors and their institutions, there were more mixed opinions concerning whether students' time would be better spent in other learning experiences, or if the senior research project should be offered as an optional honors thesis only for those students interested in research (eg, not a requirement for all graduates). Reasons for this ambivalence may include the fact that some preceptors perceive time constraints, limited resources, and other competing responsibilities, coupled with the general lack of students' desire to pursue further dissemination as reasons to offer the project as an elective experience. Many of the written comments indicated that research projects should be required only for those students truly interested in research or those considering careers in research or academia. Murphy et al pointed out that requiring research projects from senior student pharmacists leads to opportunity costs in the form of time taken away from other pursuits such as full devotion to APPEs, studying, and other activities.3
One preceptor in this study commented that for students who want to work in retail settings following graduation, a mandatory research experience may not be practical and may preempt opportunities to learn other practical pharmacy issues. Other respondents indicated that the time commitment for faculty preceptors is excessive, with limited return on investment, and while it might be a valuable learning activity, in this time of limited resources it is not wise to overburden faculty members. Given that our survey estimated that project preceptorship requires a significant time commitment, colleges and schools of pharmacy considering the addition of a required research project should consider the impact on faculty workload, particularly if a primary goal is to foster dissemination through peer-reviewed publications (estimated 7,531 hours per peer-reviewed publication).
This study has limitations, including the potential for recall bias given that respondents were surveyed in 2008 about projects that were completed up to 6 years earlier. Because of the close working relationship required for preceptorship of a student research project (1 faculty preceptor per 1-4 students), recall bias is more likely to affect the estimate of hours allocated to preceptorship than for the faculty members' perceptions of the individual projects or global impressions of the required research experience. Additionally, our data might underestimate the actual number of projects that were submitted or accepted for publication given the length of time necessary for manuscript preparation and the inherent lag time in the peer review process. Finally, even though dissemination outcomes and faculty members' perceptions of the required research experience were evaluated, the perceptions of students who completed these projects were not assessed. In a published evaluation of student perceptions of a required senior research project experience, survey results indicated that students considered the activity to be a valuable learning experience that should be a continued requirement in the PharmD curriculum.22