Why core concepts?

Why do we need core concepts of pharmacology education?

So much content, so little time.

Pharmacology is taught within an enormous range of health professional, biomedical and basic science contexts, at undergraduate level and through a range of coursework and research postgraduate offerings. No pharmacology program, however well-resourced, has sufficient time or resources to teach students all the knowledge in our discipline. And while the sheer volume of the “potential curriculum” increases exponentially each year, available time for direct instruction continues to decline overall.

This is obvious in integrated health professions education, where political considerations can minimise time for pharmacology first principles. A well-cited investigation into prescriber error highlights the problem – the authors of EQUIP argue “More could have been done during undergraduate education to link theory with practice1 – but which knowledge does each group of students really need?

Can Core Concepts fill the gap? 

Over the past 30 years, several STEM disciplines undergirding pharmacology have developed research-based lists of core concepts and related concept inventories.2-9 Core concepts are big, fundamental ideas which experts agree are critical for all students in their discipline to learn, remember, understand, and apply – in other words, to learn deeply. Consider gravity in physics, homeostasis in physiology – these examples must be learnt and successfully applied for anyone to claim that they understand these disciplines. Concept inventories are research-based, psychometrically validated multiple-choice tests designed to uncover learners’ prior knowledge and potential misconceptions and determine their depth of understanding of disciplinary core concepts. 

Implications and benefits 

The transformative educational potential of core concepts and related concept inventories has been well demonstrated and documented in many STEM fields relevant to pharmacy education. The benefits include:

  • clarity and focus for administrators, educators and students on what knowledge matters;
  • a roadmap for new curricular development;
  • a way to track student performance within and across contexts using validated assessments of applied knowledge; and
  • direct provision of a rigorous method to test the effectiveness of innovations in teaching.
  1.  Dornan, T, Ashcroft D, Heathfield H, Lewis P, Miles J, Taylor D, et al. An in-depth investigation into causes of prescribing errors by foundation trainees in relation to their medical education: EQUIP study. London: General Medical Council. 2009:1-215.
  2. Allen, K., Stone, A., Rhoads, T. R., & Murphy, T. J. (2004). The statistics concepts inventory: Developing a valid and reliable instrument. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition.
  3. Hestenes, D., Wells, M., & Swackhamer, G. (1992). Force concept inventory. The Physics Teacher, 30(3), 141-158.
  4. Michael, J., Cliff, W., McFarland, J., Modell, H., & Wright, A. (2017). What Are the Core Concepts of Physiology? In The Core Concepts of Physiology (pp. 27-36): Springer.
  5. Stefanski, K. M., Gardner, G. E., & Seipelt-Thiemann, R. L. (2016). Development of a lac operon concept inventory (LOCI). CBE—Life Sciences Education, 15(2), ar24.
  6. Veilleux, J. C., & Chapman, K. M. (2017). Development of a research methods and statistics concept inventory. Teaching of Psychology, 44(3), 203-211.
  7. Wright, T., & Hamilton, S. (2008). Assessing student understanding in the molecular life sciences using a concept inventory. ATN Assessment
  8. Yeo, S., & Zadnik, M. (2001). Introductory thermal concept evaluation: Assessing students’ understanding. The Physics Teacher, 39(8), 496-504. 
  9. Zechmeister, J. S., & Zechmeister, E. B. (2000). Introductory textbooks and psychology’s core concepts. Teaching of Psychology, 27(1), 6-11.

The International Core Concepts of Pharmacology Education Project is endorsed and adopted by IUPHAR education section. This website is administered by Monash University Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

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