6 Tips for a Successful Virtual Rotation

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When the coronavirus pandemic interfered with the normal pace of final rotations for DKICP P4 students this past spring, it didn’t take long for preceptor Bonnie Bennett to regroup. The pharmacist clinician at Tripler Army Medical Center quickly mapped out a plan that would allow DKICP P4 student Courtney Elam to be able to complete her rotation in a virtual format.

In hindsight, both mentor and student feel the experience was a positive one, and that it offered a few advantages along with some challenges. Here are a few key takeaways from their online rotation experience:

  1. Develop a detailed plan. Bennett revamped a weekly outline to fit in as much of the original curriculum as possible that could be completed online, then got it approved by DKICP administration. She also set aside a few hours for weekly phone calls with Elam to discuss the content and answer questions. While Elam initially feared the time constraints, she says they actually helped both focus their conversations and make the most of their weekly discussions.
  2. Tailor the approach. Topics were tailored to accommodate Elam’s background and previous experiences. “We were able to skim over certain topics that Courtney had covered in other rotations, and focus on the areas where she had less experience,” says Bennett. 
  3. Make expectations clear. Both Bennett and Elam have strong organizational skills and benefited from a detailed outline and structured schedule. “Courtney knew what was expected of her and always completed her work and was prepared to discuss things each week,” says Bennett. “Her diligence kept me motivated. I needed to work hard to make it a good experience for her. There was definitely mutual respect; we wanted to make the most of the other’s time.”
  4. Expect technical challenges. Due to the hospital’s electronic firewalls, the pair weren’t able to use internet conferencing or telemedicine technologies, but Elam was able to get patient interaction. “I visited with the same patient by phone each week to monitor his blood sugar levels and other vitals, and to discuss other health concerns,” says Elam.
  5. Accept some limits. “I didn’t get to have the hands-on, in-person exchanges that you normally would with a mentor and patients but felt I had the chance to develop the start of a good patient relationship through the weekly phone calls,” says Elam. “I didn’t get to do hands-on patient care, such as foot exams and device counseling. I also wasn’t able to access patient notes, which made it challenging to write comprehensive notes and workups.”
  6. Understand personal challenges. Because of shelter-at-home provisions, Elam had to work around taking care of her two small children. Bennett had school-age kids at home, as well, so she understood those challenges. “We were able to find a time to talk each week that fit Courtney’s family schedule. It also gave us an opportunity to talk about the importance of balancing life and home demands with those of work.

“The whole process gave me a reason to work on and buff up each of the normal topics we cover in a rotation,” says Bennett. “Having a virtual rotation helped me to rethink what we cover and how it’s taught, as well as other ways we could teach it.

“It’s certainly possible we could be doing this again in the future, and now I have confidence that we can use the template developed this spring,” she adds.