The authors conducted this survey to better understand the perceptions of faculty members with US pharmacy degrees regarding the extent of their exposure in pharmacy school to postgraduate training paths and the interest displayed by their professors regarding postgraduate training paths, research, and academic careers. Based on pilot study feedback, respondents were given the option of selecting “not applicable” for any of the items that they felt did not pertain to them. The large percentage of “not applicable” responses for some of the items is concerning given that most of the items were arguably applicable to all study respondents. For example, none of the faculty members responded “not applicable” to an item asking whether they had the skills to successfully complete residency training, while 16 responded “not applicable” to an almost identical item asking whether they had the skills to successfully complete fellowship training. Perhaps some individuals indicated “not applicable” when in fact they should have selected “neutral” or another response. Regardless, the responses indicate that the faculty members did not feel as comfortable answering fellowship and graduate education-specific questions.
Overall, respondents tended to respond more favorably to items that assessed perceptions of residency training. Logically, this finding might be expected given the relative prevalence of residency training and the perceived continuity of clinical training received while earning the PharmD degree. However, awareness of, exposure to, and knowledge of career opportunities and postgraduate training opportunities should be sufficient across potential education and career paths, allowing students to make more informed decisions. In this study, we would have liked to see similarly high exposure ratings and informed decision making ratings across each of the postgraduate paths assessed; however, this was not the case.
The faculty member responses reported here are merely perceptions and may not reflect reality. It is impossible to determine the extent to which the respondents’ personal biases impacted their perceptions of their professors regarding fellowship training and/or graduate degrees. Possibly, no matter what faculty members presenting information on these postgraduate paths might have said or what examples they might have portrayed, these former students would not have found it of interest. The finding that twice as many respondents felt that faculty interest in residency training was displayed as compared to faculty interest in fellowship and graduate training is concerning given that interest displayed by others is one aspect of achievement motivation that has the potential to communicate task value to pharmacy students.30
Eccles’ expectancy-value model indicates that the aforementioned factors influence achievement motivation by being integrated into cognitive processes that form motivational beliefs.30
Motivational beliefs are perceptions. Expectancy-value theory indicates that these perceptions inform task choice decision making. For US pharmacists in particular, given the lack of awareness of and knowledge of fellowship training, graduate education, research, and academic careers, motivational beliefs are potentially being formed around insufficient information. Whether additional postgraduate training and career information provided to pharmacy students would change postgraduate training or career paths is unknown. However, lack of information regarding choices will likely influence motivational beliefs surrounding those options. Succinctly, task-specific value beliefs can and will be formed whether or not adequate information is used in decision-making processes.
Examination of responses was somewhat discouraging from the standpoint of adequacy of career exploration in pharmacy curricula. Of interest is how the respondents’ perceptions of fellowship training, graduate education, research, and academic careers differ from pharmacy graduates who chose not to pursue postgraduate training of any sort. Of concern is the sense of ignorance about education and career options reflected in the responses of the relatively more educated cohort of pharmacists who participated in this study. Future research could examine pharmacists’ perceptions regarding postgraduate training paths across practice settings to see if different perceptions are noted as compared to those of academicians.
Results of exploratory factor analysis indicated that a 5-factor solution was the most appropriate solution. Mean scores for the 5 constructs ranged from 3.1 (curricular career exposure) to 4.2 (residency interest and awareness). Curricular career exposure focused on perceptions of exposure to faculty careers and research-related fields. The research-related career opportunities construct focused specifically on careers resulting from fellowship training and graduate education (mean = 3.1). Scores around the midpoint of the response scale support the need for increased career exploration in colleges and schools of pharmacy for both academic careers and research-related careers. Compared to the residency interest and awareness construct, these scores were markedly lower.
Across level of postgraduate training for US-educated pharmacists, significant differences in construct scores served to validate the constructs. For example, those who had completed a fellowship and those who had earned a graduate degree indicated higher knowledge and awareness of research-related careers than those who had completed a post-BS PharmD and those who had completed a residency. Likewise, those who had completed a residency or fellowship and those who earned a master's degree indicated significantly higher residency interest and awareness scores than did those who had earned only a post-BS PharmD and those who had earned a doctoral degree. This finding is perhaps a function of those who had completed a fellowship having previously completed residency training and of master's degrees being offered in conjunction with residency training.
Those who completed a fellowship and those who had earned a doctoral degree indicated significantly higher knowledge and awareness of research-related career exposure than those who completed a residency. However, those who earned a doctoral degree had significantly higher scores related to research-related skill competence than did those who completed a fellowship. This could be a limitation of the construct being comprised of only 2 items, or perhaps skills necessary to complete graduate education were more apparent to respondents than skills necessary to complete fellowship training. Fellowships are much less prevalent than graduate programs.31
A concern regarding fellowship programs has been the lack of consistency across programs in the outcomes achieved and criteria for completion.32
Therefore, decreased perceptions of skill competence could be related to misunderstandings regarding the skills necessary to succeed in fellowship training as compared to graduate training.
Although the constructs resulting from exploratory factor analysis are informative, more research regarding this topic is warranted. A comprehensive survey instrument could be constructed that would better capture elements of interest displayed in and exposure to postgraduate training paths, research, and academic careers than was captured in this study. Such an instrument could be used in colleges and schools of pharmacy to assess the extent to which adequate exposure to and information regarding postgraduate training and career options is being provided to students prior to successfully completing pharmacy school and prior to making postgraduate training, education, and career path decisions. It would also be of interest to see how perceptions of postgraduate training options change as pharmacy students progress through the curriculum.
Limitations of the current study pertain to instrument development and the study sample. Regarding instrument development, self-report questionnaires have the inherent limitation that validity cannot be guaranteed as respondents are responsible for ensuring the accuracy of responses. Cross-validating the responses of the faculty members by conducting interviews or think-aloud exercises could have increased the validity of the self-report questionnaire. However, these methods were not suitable for assessing perceptions on a large-scale basis. A pilot study was conducted to minimize errors and misunderstandings in the national study. Recall bias is another limitation as respondents had to reflect on their pharmacy school training, which could have occurred several years prior to the study. Limitations also associated with instrument development involved the factor analysis processes. Exploratory factor analysis indicated that a 5-factor solution was the best fit for the measurement model. However, exploratory factor analysis is not a completely objective analysis tool.
Study sample limitations were also present in the study. The response rate for the larger study was approximately 50%. It is not possible to determine precisely the response rate for US pharmacists within the sampling frame or within pharmacy academia. Based on the most recent AACP Profile of Pharmacy Faculty,2
a response rate of 50% is estimated for US pharmacists in this study. Despite respondents’ demographic characteristics resembling those presented in the AACP Profile of Pharmacy Faculty,2
respondents’ perceptions may differ from those of nonresponders. An analysis of early and late responders to the survey instrument revealed no significant differences in responses across time. The directory of junior faculty obtained from the AACP included a small percentage of senior faculty members. These individuals were not removed from the study because no differences were seen in the results of the study regardless of inclusion or exclusion of senior faculty responses.