Who Says Online is Easier? Pharm.D. Program Challenges Students from Afar

Duquesne’s online Pharm.D. program challenges the notion that virtual classes are easier than those taught in a traditional classroom setting.

Dr. Marsha McFalls
Dr. Marsha McFalls

“Our online Pharm.D. program is just as demanding as the traditional program,” Assistant Pharmacy Professor Dr. Marsha McFalls said. “There is the tendency to think that online programs are generic. But some of the hardest classes I’ve taken have been online. Online programs often face negative perceptions.”

In 2019, the school transitioned its Pharm.D. weekend program to an online format to take advantage of faculty expertise and expand the offering to more students.

“Many of our faculty members had experience teaching online for several years, so it made sense to move to the format,” McFalls said.

The online format led to immediate results, with the program exceeding its enrollment goal this year despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We now reach from coast to coast,” McFalls said, noting that the program includes students from Michigan, Texas and California.

The online program follows the traditional Pharm.D. pathway, with students taking three to four full-time classes per semester. Online sessions are seven weeks long, during which students meet weekly with professors via Zoom. The students are on campus during the eighth week. The program does not offer a flex-time option.

“While some colleges do allow flex options, we are delivering a professional degree program that holds the same experience for every student,” McFalls said. “Whether on campus or thousands of miles away, every student understands the program’s boundaries and expectations.”

With that in mind, a goal is to make online students part of the Duquesne community, with faculty working alongside students as they pursue their degree.

“Communication is so important to online learning,” McFalls said. “We look to make multiple connections with students, both during class and by offering virtual office hours where students can meet with their professors.”

Organization is another key element for online success.

“In our program,  students need to have a framework so they can plan their work accordingly and know what to expect for future courses,” McFalls said. “This helps to keep them on task and expand their horizons as they learn more each semester.”