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A better way

September 28, 2022
Melanie Danilak is helping build a new generation of Structured Practical Training programs.

For Melanie Danilak, being around new pharmacy professionals has always come naturally.

“I realized early on that there is such a reward for being around the energy of someone who is excited to start practising and be welcomed into a profession,” said Melanie. “It’s invigorating to be a preceptor.”

Melanie has seen her share of people flow through the program. As a residency coordinator for Alberta Health Services for over a decade, she helped new pharmacists joining the profession find their footing. In addition to being a direct preceptor in her clinical practice, she also maintained oversight over the entire program.  She helped learners develop personal learning plans, and supervised longitudinal assessment and ongoing program evaluation and development.

“Pharmacy practice is dynamic,” said Melanie, “and being a preceptor keeps you in touch with new things that are happening.”

Working in community pharmacy followed by oncology practice after graduating from the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Alberta in 2004, she later returned to the university to complete a master’s degree in Health Science Education. She was a member of the program’s inaugural class, driven by a passion for program development, and that led her to the residency coordinator role. But she still had bigger ideas.

“Given my background, there were things that I had thought to myself that I would want to change about the Structured Practical Training (SPT) program if I ever got the chance to give feedback,” said Melanie.

When ACP posted a job opportunity for an assessment developer who would help to modernize SPT, she jumped at the chance.

“Coming into this role and receiving this project felt like a great opportunity for me to use my experience as a residency coordinator,” said Melanie. “The exciting thing is that there is a bit of a wider scope, so the potential of improving the SPT programs allows me to influence pharmacy practice across Alberta and help to shape the future of our professions.”

Her unique blend of experience and education helps her to see SPT from different angles, not just her new role with the college.

“There is no substitute for direct one-on-one experience as a preceptor, seeing the opportunities and challenges with different personalities and learners,” she said. “I’ve been through that myself, so I can understand what preceptors need to be successful.”

The most important task on her to do list: develop an SPT program that can be universally successful, no matter the circumstances around its delivery.

“One of the key points I still keep in my mind is that a good curriculum can be delivered by anybody,” said Melanie. “Often, we have good programs only because we have good people, but you can’t rely on always keeping the same people, and turnover is also important to generate new ideas. What it comes down to is designing a solid program that you can plug anyone into and still have it meet its objectives.”

The modernization of SPT is a key component in ACP’s strategic plan, helping to ensure that all applicants are ready to practise pharmacy in Alberta’s health system. It is especially important to standardize the assessment that occurs throughout the program.

“It’s very difficult because you can observe people in their practice at a moment in time, but you want some assurance that they will continue to perform well in future situations,” said Melanie. “If we design and complete our assessments well, we can make sure that the people we entrust with the authority to practise are professional and ethical.”

While SPT is certainly important to ACP, Melanie also sees the larger value for the entire community of Alberta pharmacy professionals.

“Every pharmacy professional wants to have good colleagues to work with. SPT is the opportunity people have to help shape those colleagues and ensure that the people they will eventually be working alongside are good at what they do,” she said. “We all stand to win by developing good practice.”