AUGUST 2021 – Four years ago, pharmacist Patricia Gerber took a leap of faith, quite literally. With the support of a Wellspring Leadership Award grant from the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy (CFP), she launched the Leadership Experience Applied to Pharmacy (LEAP) course with the ambitious goal of developing leaders in pharmacy.
“Leadership isn’t easy to teach and learn, in part because it requires specifically designed pedagogical efforts that go well beyond lectures,” says Dr. Gerber, Associate Professor and Director, Degree Programs for Pharmacists at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
While the PharmD curriculum at UBC fosters foundational leadership for all students, realistically she says not everyone will have the ability or desire to be an influencer of pharmacy practice when they graduate. “That’s where the LEAP course comes in as it provides only those students with a particular interest in leadership with in-depth experience needed to develop these skills,” she says.
In developing the course, which spans across years three and four of the PharmD Program, Dr. Gerber collaborated with current healthcare leaders, Faculty and pharmacy students for perspective from all ends of the spectrum. Those interested in honing their leadership skills can enrol in LEAP in their third year of the PharmD program, provided they are in good academic standing, and have demonstrated a keen interest in leadership development via an online survey.
LEAP students design, plan, implement, and evaluate a leadership project while in the in-class portion of the course in year three of the PharmD Program. The next year, as year four PharmD students, they are involved in leadership practicums. Each LEAP student must complete a four-week immersive experience in an authentic setting where they apply the leadership knowledge and skills they gained in the in-class portion of the course. These settings range from corporate pharmacy head offices, to regulators, the government, and the private industry.
During their practicum, LEAP students must complete projects, deliver presentations, lead meetings, and contribute to the advancement of leadership issues and challenges at the host organization. Year-four LEAP students are also given the opportunity to become LEAP Mentors. “I match a year-four LEAP student with one or two year-three LEAP student(s) mentor(s) so they can offer advice and encourage them along in the design, development and implementation of their projects too,” says Dr. Gerber.
She says throughout the LEAP course, the focus really is on hands-on learning using a combination of in-class and experiential opportunities. And based on recent program evaluation reports, it’s a teaching technique that is greatly appreciated by students. One hundred per cent of LEAP students noted that their LEAP practicum was a valuable learning experience and 90% agreed or strongly agreed that practicum activities added value to the host organization. There have also been instances where, upon graduation, LEAP students have been employed by or given opportunities to continue to contribute to the organization which hosted their LEAP practicums.
To date, Dr. Gerber says several LEAP alumni have been involved in precepting students in their workplace and some have approached the Faculty with an interest in teaching in the PharmD program. Many have been invited back to the LEAP class as guest panelists or lecturers.
“I like to remind students that leadership is a lifelong journey and LEAP provides the platform to get them started on the leadership path,” says Dr. Gerber.
Although each Canadian pharmacy faculty or school has its own student leadership development curricular initiatives, LEAP is the only course of its kind in Canada. In 2019, with support from the Council for Continuing Pharmaceutical Education, Dr. Gerber convened an interest group comprised of a representative from each Canadian pharmacy faculty or school. The group discussed the current educational landscape for teaching leadership, shared useful resources, and explored effective teaching and learning strategies for student leadership development. Efforts and plans for this group to continue to evolve pharmacy student leadership development across Canadian curricula are ongoing.