Since COVID-19 sent the UK into its first national lockdown back in March, the majority of university degrees across the country have had to adapt in one way or the other. Below, fourth year Pharmacy student, Kundai Gomwe, discusses how her degree at The University of Manchester has changed over the past nine months…
Pharmacy before COVID
For me, I really enjoyed 3rd year – I’d even say it was my favourite year content wise. There was less focus on lectures and more practical work, so a significant amount of our teaching was through workshops which, as a practical learner, I enjoyed a lot more. We were also learning about neurology which I found interesting, it exposed me to the possibility of becoming a mental health pharmacist in the future!
We have several compulsory hospital placements in 3rd year, about 3-4 a semester. During placements we get the opportunity to consolidate our learning by going on wards and speaking to patients and examining patient drug charts, notes etc. For example, if we’re learning about pain management, a couple weeks later we get the opportunity to go on the surgery wards.
During semester two, we were learning about neurology and mental health conditions, so we had the opportunity to have a one day placement at a mental health hospital. Lockdown came in force late March which meant that our last hospital placement was unfortunately cancelled.
The initial response to COVID
Our head of year, Jenny Hughes, hosted weekly drop-in sessions where she updated us about the changes to our semester two teaching and exams. Our last hospital placement was moved online to Blackboard Collaborate which meant we were able to work through case studies with our hospital leads. Our lecturers also uploaded podcasts from previous years or filmed new podcasts, so we were able to finish all our lectures in time for the semester two exam season.
Overall, I think online learning has been fine. I would prefer to be in university, and it can be quite difficult to do group work online, but, overall, I feel fairly engaged with teaching. The biggest benefit for me is that you don’t have to wake up early to get to lectures on time and you get to work at your on time and pace, at least for the pre-recorded lectures.
Sometimes I’m in a productive mood and can get a lot of work done but some days I have no energy or motivation. With online learning you really need to be self-motivated to make sure you’re not falling behind. I do also sometimes find it difficult to create separation between my workspace and personal space because currently they’re the same space. I am looking forward to being able to return to the library or the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons to do work.
What the course has been like this academic year
Things were a bit unclear at the beginning of the semester and we didn’t get our timetable until a few days before we were due to start which was quite frustrating. However, I do think the course has adapted to online learning well. The workshops are online on Blackboard Collaborate which works well and I think the lecturers are good at promoting engagement through asking questions and encouraging us to answer.
Since September, we have had two hospital placements using case studies and breakout rooms on Zoom. Although I do think that the hospital leads are doing a good job with online teaching, I miss being in an actual hospital talking to real patients and I can’t wait to return to that environment soon.
The school arranged weekly update sessions during the first lockdown which helped with keeping up to date with the school’s plans for change. Since the beginning of the new academic year, they’ve also sent us various emails about Mental health support services which we can use if we need. The pharmacy society (MUPS) committee has also been hosting weekly ‘Pharmily’ catchups. Thankfully, I haven’t needed any support regarding testing positive for covid-19 so I can’t comment on how supportive they’ve been on that front.
The future of everything at the minute all depends on whether we can get an effective vaccination programme in place or not! I’m hoping that everything will be back to normal by the start of the next academic year because I’ll be starting my pre-reg year and I would love to get the full experience.