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Student pharmacists deliver successful “Medicine Safety Programme” to primary schools

Antonella Tonna with students
The School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences staff write about an innovative placement experience which provided students a chance to develop their personal and professional skills for future practice.

Antonella Tonna, Amy Arnold, Natalie Drummond, Clare Depasquale and Alyson Brown write about how the school has always been at the forefront of ensuring its student pharmacists have as much opportunity as possible to gain clinical experience. 

Pharmaceutical care is seeing a shift to delivering a person-centred approach which involves providing personal care to patients. This means educational institutions need to also provide student pharmacists with opportunities to improve their clinical and communication skills, thereby allowing them to develop competencies required within their future roles.

Role-emerging placements involve placing students in an environment where there is no established role, and Experiential Learning (EL) involves, quite literally, learning from experience.

The PALS staff identified an opportunity to develop an innovative role-emerging EL placement which would widen and enhance the educational experiences of student pharmacists. This placement opportunity involved introducing student pharmacists to a specialist cohort of potential service users – young school children.

In 2019, a group of Stage 4 student pharmacists delivered a “Medicines Safety Programme” to over 400 school children, aged seven to nine years, attending eleven schools in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. Student pharmacists had an opportunity for personal and professional development whilst also teaching children about the safe use of medicines in an interactive and child-friendly way.

Although a small pilot was launched in 2017, the programme has grown significantly then, with the Learning and Teaching framework providing additional enhancements. The programme’s content was developed through a collaborative approach between Dr Antonella Tonna, teaching staff, and the school nurse at Robert Gordon’s College (RGC). This ensured that the programme was aligned to the young children’s’ curriculum areas such as health and wellbeing, mathematics, and science. The programme included numerous fun and hands-on activities, including the children measuring out doses of liquid-placebo medicines (water with food colouring) using different tools (e.g. kitchen spoon, oral syringes), counting out their own medicines (using sweets) and writing their personalised medicine’s label.  

This engagement allowed children to learn about medicine safety, highlighting the beneficial effects of medicines when used correctly for the treatment of certain conditions and how the misuse of medicines can be harmful. The roll-out of the programme further afield has been greatly successful and well received and was achieved due to the collaborative approach within the PALS working group.

Some of the positive responses from teachers include:

  • “The workshop was super, and the children really enjoyed it”
  • “The children really enjoyed it and it was a useful session”.
  • “it is such a positive collaboration with a hugely valuable learning experience … which you tailor so carefully towards age and stage.”

Although, the pandemic hindered the smooth delivery of the programme this year, it also presented an opportunity for Dr Antonella Tonna to re-invent the programme such that it could be delivered virtually to P4 children in RGC.


The children carried out tasks at home, following detailed instructions given to them through a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation and instructional videos. The children were then supported by a “live” session using Google Hangouts, where they were given the opportunity to ask any questions to Antonella. Images from the session demonstrate the programme’s success despite its virtual delivery.

EL as a concept is well established in PALS, and student pharmacists are given the opportunity to interact with both simulated patients (volunteers trained to act as real patients and simulate a set of symptoms or problems) and real patients in various settings and areas of practice. This programme is also a valuable way to contribute to the local community and to increase the visibility of PALS.

To further improve this programme, the school will engage with key stakeholders including student pharmacists and carry out an in-depth evaluation.

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