Principles to protect the pharmacists of the future

Pharmacy students and educators are facing uncertainty thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, says AHPRA, which has moved to help ensure they graduate

A unique multi-sector collaboration to protect Australia’s future health workforce is helping students learning to become health practitioners during the COVID-19 pandemic continue their studies and graduate, says the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

Because students including those studying pharmacy are required to complete placements, uncertainty during the pandemic could disrupt their studies.

“Some student placements have been paused, cancelled or otherwise modified as health services respond to the pandemic,” said Bronwyn Clark, Chair, Health Professions Accreditation Collaborative Forum.

“This has led to significant uncertainty and change for students and educators as education providers, Accreditation Authorities, clinical supervisors and others explore alternative options for students to progress towards graduation.”

Forum of NRAS Chairs Co-Convenor Brett Simmonds said Australia’s future health workforce is dependent on current students maintaining access to a range of clinical education opportunities so they can graduate and eventually apply for registration under the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (NRAS).

“Changes to clinical placement arrangements due to COVID-19 will potentially jeopardise future health workforce continuity, prompting this important multi-sector collaboration,” he said.

AHPRA says the current emergency response is challenging the health system, requiring rapid changes to health services and models of care, with calls for new levels of collaboration across sectors.

Accordingly, National Boards, Accreditation Authorities and AHPRA, with the Australian Government through the Health and Education portfolios, have issued national principles for clinical education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The principles aim to provide helpful guidance to professions, Accreditation Authorities, education providers and health services about how placements can occur safely, taking into account the significant changes across the health and education sectors due to COVID-19,” AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher said.

“We recognise that health services must prioritise their response to the pandemic and that patient safety is paramount. We also collectively want to encourage student placements to continue where this is safe and possible and hope these principles will help.”

The principles include:

  1. Safety – the safety of patients, students and staff working in health services, and the provision of high-quality care to patients is paramount.
    1.1 The roles and tasks assigned to students should be as safe as possible.
    1.2 Students must be trained in using personal protective equipment (PPE).
    1.3 Students must have access to appropriate PPE, at the level recommended by their clinical supervisor or jurisdictional guidelines.
    1.4 Students, or their regular contacts, at higher risk of COVID-19 require special consideration.
    1.5 Safety of the longer-term workforce is also an important consideration.
  2. Continuation – continue clinical education, including placements, as much as possible to balance quality learning opportunities for students with the short and long-term health needs of the population, and service providers’ priorities.
  3. Outcome focussed – accreditation standards support flexible approaches to clinical education with a focus on achievement of learning outcomes within the dynamic context of the pandemic.
  4. Collaborate and innovate – effective clinical placements are a collaboration between students, supervising clinicians, health services and educational organisations. This requires close communication with all stakeholders. Sharing resources and innovative responses to the COVID-19 pandemic across sectors is encouraged.
  5. Prioritise – students closest to graduation can contribute most to patient care, and their timely graduation and registration is critical to workforce sustainability.
  6. Capacity – use clinical education arrangements to extend capacity and consider where students could use their existing skills in the health system and community with different supervision models and away from the frontline COVID-19 response. This would release staff and resources for COVID-19 work and can also provide quality learning opportunities.
  7. Identify, monitor and manage risks to students, education providers and health services according to pandemic data and service demands as they change.
  8. Maximise recognition of appropriate clinical experience – education providers and Accreditation Authorities to maximise the recognition of relevant learning gained by registered students in paid employment as appropriate to individual professions, within jurisdictional contexts.

More information is available via AHPRA here.

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