This review provides a foundation for colleges and schools to use in determining the number of elective courses to offer. If the number of elective options offered by a PharmD program appears to be on the low end compared with other colleges and schools, these data can inform the program’s decisions regarding use of resources for additional elective courses and provide administrators with examples of what types of elective courses could be added. The optimal number of elective courses for a PharmD program, however, is still uncertain.
Elective courses can cover emerging or less commonly encountered content (for example long-term care, technology, and academia) that is not incorporated into required courses in order to complement a college’s or school’s core curriculum. Most elective courses found by this review did not cover areas identified by others as being less common or emerging.
One limitation to this study was the reliance upon information provided on a Web site which in some cases required interpretation of the content of each course and/or may not have been up to date. This may not be a significant limitation in light of results published by other investigators who used survey instruments to assess the coverage of select topics within US colleges and schools of pharmacy. Murphy and colleagues found that 34.8% of their sample taught pharmacogenomics within elective coursework, as compared to 39% of colleges and schools identified in this study.8
Bednarczyk and colleagues found that 29% of colleges and schools of pharmacy surveyed had a standalone elective course covering nuclear pharmacy. Thirty-three percent of the colleges and schools with information regarding lecture-based elective courses in this study provided a lecture-based nuclear pharmacy elective course.10
Seventy percent of programs sampled in a study by Cole and Beresnen offered an elective drug information pharmacy practice experience compared to 74% of programs sampled in this study.9
The differences in overall findings from these studies that used survey instruments and in this study are small, suggesting that similar information can be gleaned from Internet searches.
Another limitation of this study is that students could be learning about specific aspects of pharmacy in required coursework and may not need additional elective coursework to learn more about these aspects of pharmacy. Murphy and colleagues, for example, identified 50 colleges and schools of pharmacy that covered pharmacogenomics as part of required coursework and 15 that required a course focusing specifically on pharmacogenomics.8
Cole and Berensen identified 70 pharmacy programs requiring at least 1 drug information course.9
Bednarczyk and colleagues identified 20 colleges and schools that included nuclear pharmacy concepts in required coursework.10
A third limitation is that information was not available for all of the 123 colleges and schools of pharmacy recognized by ACPE as of January 2011. The characteristics of colleges and schools of pharmacy providing more detailed information on electives (eg, the 91 colleges and schools providing the number of required, elective APPEs), however, appear to be similar among the 123 colleges and schools granted pre-candidate, candidate, or full accreditation status by ACPE as of January 2011.
A fourth limitation is that data on the total number of weeks of elective APPEs required was not collected. This may not be a significant limitation as the specific amount of time (for example, 4 weeks vs. 5 weeks) needed/required to develop awareness and cultivate personal interest is uncertain.
Further research is required to more fully identify whether the elective courses offered by colleges and schools allow students to gain awareness of potential career choices and cultivate personal interests. Investigators will want to survey students to determine how aware they are of opportunities in pharmacy, how well their interests match with these opportunities, and whether the elective courses offered allowed them to obtain a better understanding of available career choices. These studies should be done in light of the elective courses already provided to students and the extent to which the concepts covered in these elective courses are included in the required curriculum.
Another interesting angle to investigate would be whether colleges and schools should strive harder to incorporate less common roles for pharmacists in elective courses or should continue to focus on common career choices. The answer to this question lies in whether the required curriculum is sufficient for students to gain awareness and develop interest in areas where pharmacists frequently practice.