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'My experience of studying for the MPharm during the COVID-19 pandemic'

MPharm student Manjot Kaur sheds light on studying during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what she would like to be different going into her final year

I never thought that some of my university years would be lived out during a pandemic, but COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our education.

As COVID-19 cases continued to rise during the first lockdown, many students were left in the dark, with little guidance. Although I can comprehend how demanding it has been for universities to convert face-to-face lessons into a remote learning format, I had to develop resilience and determination to continue my education to the same degree I would have otherwise managed.

Overall, studying during the pandemic meant there was a greater workload, and this took a toll on my health, my fitness and interests. Many students may have felt isolated and lonely, especially in their student accommodation through these lockdowns, and a recent study found there was a huge decrease in wellbeing among pharmacy students.


The stresses of remote learning


Many students have struggled without the same levels of interaction as before the pandemic. Our course has had a small number of face-to-face lessons, while students were given the option to volunteer to work for pharmacies to provide advice, help to supply and deliver medicines.

However, despite this there needs to be improved accessibility to face-to-face teaching. Many students lacked a hands-on learning environment and did not work in pharmacies because they did not want to put vulnerable family members in danger.

In addition, some students experienced unprecedented stress during their studies as they were learning at home with younger children, a lack of computer literacy, unsuitable technology or a lack of study space. Universities and libraries were closed for some time, which meant we also lacked access to books and journals. This had a huge impact, since our course was being taught in a way that we had not originally signed up for.

Lecturers shared our frustrations about working from home, and remote working made it harder for students such as myself to sustain self-motivation and prevent burnout. Prior to the pandemic, it was easier to separate study and rest, but virtual learning meant we sat, studied and rested in the same place.

Being in university was a part of my social life, and not only was this motivator missing during lockdown, it was so much harder to switch off as the days all blended together and I had many back-to-back lessons. My days could start from 9am and end at 5pm, however on top of this I had to listen and make notes from the pre-recorded sessions for the following week.

I think it would have been desirable to have a blended learning approach, where students could choose to attend some face-to-face sessions along with some online learning or opt to study full-time from a remote setting.


A demanding new workflow


Asynchronous teaching was not the standard method of teaching for pharmacy students before the pandemic, but during the past year classes were taught in a “flipped teaching” approach, whereby students learned the basics from recorded material and then attended live sessions using break-out rooms.

The online classes minimised my risk of contracting COVID-19, but nonetheless I had double the workload.

The live discussion sessions were beneficial in making sure we had properly understood the recorded content. However, seminar case study sessions often required preparatory work prior to attending the classes, so the workflow was incredibly demanding. I do feel that the online solution for skill-based courses needed to be reassessed as, when I spoke to my peers, our welfare was being affected by the workload.

Having to sit exams online resulted in a lot of tension among pharmacy students, as most of us had never sat practical exams through a virtual platform. My desire was to achieve the grades that demonstrated my capabilities and understanding, not what I was able to attain while under extreme stress.

Yet, I have faith that there will be some normality for students when we return to campus this coming academic year. Although I recognise that the pandemic provided a fantastic opportunity to find new learning techniques that will stay with me as I enter the world of pharmacy, I hope that we can have more much-needed face-to-face sessions as I enter my final year at university.

Manjot Kaur is a third-year MPharm student at De Montfort University

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