Managing the Pharmacy Curriculum Outcomes Assessment (PCOA)
PCOA: Measuring Didactic Outcomes in Pharmacy
The PCOA was once a voluntary assessment, designed to help pharmacy schools working on continuous improvement initiatives to gain insight into whether their curriculum is meeting desired outcomes. The PCOA is now required for all pharmacy students nearing the completion of the didactic portion of their curriculum, typically near the end of the third year for a traditional four-year program. The PCOA is organized into four broad topics:
- Basic biomedical sciences (10% of the assessment)
- Pharmaceutical sciences (33% of the assessment)
- Social, behavioral, and administrative sciences (22% of the assessment)
- Clinical sciences (35% of the assessment)
These topics are further divided into 28 subtopic areas.
While there may be no direct relationship between PCOA results and a college or school of pharmacy’s accreditation standing, pharmacy educators take the results seriously. They are also now impressing upon their students to take the PCOA seriously as well!
Variability in Student Performance on PCOA
Nationally, there is quite a bit of variability in student performance across the 28 content sub-domains. Schools have reported to us that in the basic biomedical sciences, students are under-performing in Immunology and Biochemistry. In the pharmaceutical sciences, Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmaceutics are challenge areas for many programs. In the Social/Behavioral and Administrative Pharmacy Sciences, Pharmacoeconomics is notably weak although this represents a very small portion of the 225-item assessment. In the clinical sciences, Clinical Pathophysiology, a comparatively significant portion of the exam, has emerged as a weaker area for the students as well.
Theoretically, this exam is just a snapshot of student achievement at the end of their didactic studies, and schools are not expected or encouraged to prepare students specifically for the PCOA. But, the mandatory nature of the assessment does lead to educators naturally wanting to take steps to improve student and program performance, which is the ultimate goal. We get involved by helping programs remediate students in weaker areas and to help them conduct formative assessments in known challenge areas.