Talk about a nail-biter. At the beginning of the first half the score was 123-1. By halftime it was 10-1. And in the end, when the scoreboard clock reached zero, fourth-year UC College of Pharmacy students Jackie Finger and Rachael Fleagle, hoisted the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy of pharmacy student knowledge and clinical practice skills by winning the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Clinical Skills Competition.
"When the finalist teams were announced, we were definitely the loudest university in the room,” James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy Dean Neil MacKinnon, PhD, said of the whooping and applause that broke out in Orlando, Fla., at the ASHP midyear conference Dec. 9-11 when Finger and Fleagle made the top 10 and then trumped 123 teams representing pharmacy schools from across the country competing for the prestigious title.
It was the first time UC had ever won, and while it’s been suggested, in jest, that the students take their trophy to their pharmacy residency interviews this winter, it’s actually not a bad idea when one considers the intellect, training, and quick thinking it takes to win that trophy.
On day one of the competition, 124 teams of two fourth-year pharmacy students watch a six-minute video of a physician and pharmacist in a hospital emergency department discussing the condition of a patient who has arrived with a pre-existing condition of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a disease that makes it hard to breathe and gets worse over time). The teams are then given two hours to write a pharmaceutical treatment plan based on the video.
Three judges read the plans and narrow the most accurate down to 10 written plans, which is easy enough because there’s a hidden illness: The patient is actually suffering from another life-threatening disease—blood cancer—not COPD. Then on day two, the 10 teams get 10 minutes to defend their recommendations and answer questions before another three-judge panel.
"We were very nervous at first, because the case is always going to be a surprise, but then we decided to divide and conquer, using the same techniques on the written portion as we had in the past,” says Finger, who with Fleagle as her teammate won at the local and state level competitions and previously placed at the local college competition as third-year pharmacy students.
On the written portion, competitors are allowed to use whatever resources they have access to in the room—textbooks, the Internet, notes—but knowing what sources are credible and which ones to use is key, Finger says.
The next day came the oral presentation, which they rocked, according to associate professor Teresa Cavanaugh, PharmD, who attended the competition and facilitates the competition between UC pharmacy students within the college.
"By the luck (or maybe lack thereof!) of the draw, Jackie and I presented eighth and therefore had three agonizing hours to wait,” Fleagle says. "When it was finally our turn, we felt confident in our responses to the judges' questions.
"Every recommendation that they made in their written plan they were able to defend. They never said anything wrong,” Cavanaugh boasted, adding that the judges asked them to explain one element of their written plan that no other school was asked: the mention of motivation interviewing, which is taught at Winkle as a way to engage the patient in a dialogue about their medications.
Winning this competition, and its mention by the ASHP president at the start of a meeting of the country’s pharmacy deans, MacKinnon noted, is yet another testament to the quality of UC’s PharmD student body, the faculty and pedagogy here.
"They are really bright and talented young ladies who are a product of an exceptional pharmacy education and interaction with excellent preceptors,” says Cavanaugh.
As for taking the trophy to interviews, Finger says: "I’ll see if I have room in my purse!”