Want to talk today about a unit of Pharmacology we are currently offering as part of the Bachelor of Science program. ;’’ In comparision to the course described by Jim Angus, this unit is aimed at providing a more generalised introduction to pharmacology.
Although offered as part of the straight BSc course, this is a stand alone and maybe taken by students with a range of backgrounds and career aspirations. The only prerequisite is 1st year biology. In designing this unit, therefore, we were mindful that for some it is the only pharmacology subject they will do, while others may progress further even into postgraduate studies in pharmacology. So, the aim was to introduce concepts in pharmacology but present the information in such a way that it appeals to all levels without overwhelming those doing it for general interest.
To do this … we have set some underlying aims…. These aims addressed both through formal course work & required assessment tasks
The unit itself is a 6 credit point unit meaning that it is supposed to entail 12 hours of student work (course work and private study) each week. It involves…the traditional methods of teaching – in lectures and pracs etc, but what I want to focus onto today are the lectures and the major assessment tasks.
The lecture series is divided into 4 major topics – ach of which starts with an “Introduction’ which aims to provide a overview of what areas will be covered, how these areas are related and even a rationale for why particular lectures have been included.
Lectures divided into 4 major topics Ist - what you need to know to understand how drugs work; the basics of drug-receptor interactions; discussion of some of the important mediators (ones selected are mostly those which will be discussed later wrt individual drug classes.) 2nd - sources and types of drugs used in our society and issues related to the use of specific types. We look as some therapeutic categories in more detail however throughout this unit the aim is to keep you thinking about issues and problems with the use of drugs in our society, so we have tried to minimise the detail and concentrate on the broader controversies etc. However, we encourage students to think about why some drugs are available at the supermarket while can only be obtained at a pharmacy…this leads onto a discussion of scheduling of drugs and how this affects marketing and advertising –and we try to encourage them to think of the positives and negatives of things such as direct-to-consumer advertising. As part of this topic we also consider the effects of substances that as consumers they are hearing a lot about – this incudes herbal medicines; OTC and and the ever increasing number of heath related food products (including the guarana-containing energy drinks) trying to get them to again consider the pros and cons of ready access to these.
3rd – look at classes of drugs which are abused – but again rather than just presenting the drugs and how they work we try to look at some of the problems associated with treating drug abuse. This includes discussing theories of drug abuse and how this can affect treatment strategies and we have a guest lecturer from the Department of Criminology at Melb Uni (who also has a Ph.D in pharmacology) who introduces the concept of harm minimisation, ways of applying this and giving some of the arguments for and against this. We spend some time discussing legal vs illegal drugs of abuse. Topic 4 looks at how drugs are developed – We are always hearing about new drug discoveries in the media this will be an introduction to the processes and issues involved. We highlight the costs and time frame of this process encouraging the students to keep this in mind when they hear media releases of new drug discoveries – why do they say it will be 8-10 years before the drug is available? – why are some discoveries never heard of again? We also think it important to discuss pharmacoeconomics and what in Australia is quite a ‘hot topic’ – government subsidies of pharmaceuticals. Throughout all the lectures we try to include examples that encourage the students to relate what they are learning to what is going on in the world around them – be it by using issues from the media or people they are likely to hear about from the media (as BJ will discuss) and this theme is hopefully reflected in the major assessment task they are required to complete.
The major assessment tasks (apart from tests/exams) – are also designed to encourage think about controversial issues and how they are perceived.
The first is a written assignment – “Drugs in the media” which is aimed at getting the students to think about how the general public gain information about drugs – usually via the media (or more recently the internet) This assignment is actually in 2 parts the first involves the collecting of “drug or chemical related’ articles from the print media – specifically newspapers (local and national). Students are required to monitor newspapers to see how often such issues are covered and collate these articles into a Drugs in the Media portfolio – From these articles students pick one that interests and investigate the underlying issues in more detail for Part 2 of the assignment. Students are required to refer to current scientific literature and summarise the issues covered. As part of this assignment they are also asked to give a summary of how accurate and comprehensive they think the information provided is – is it misleading; overly optimistic or pessimistic;
The second assessment task is a student debate the aim of which is to get the to look at different aspects of specific controversies and hopefully appreciate that there often there are quite valid reasons for having different viewpoints. We offer a number of topics for students to choose (The topics chosen are taken from issues which are of current interest (these topics are examples of what we suggested for last years students) or they are welcome to suggest their own (an option not yet taken up). Its worth pointing out that although we call this a debate – the format is free so long as the negative and positive sides of the argument are presented and students have shown some creativity in their approaches to this task eg variations of a talk show format.
How do the student see this unit… I’ve just given a feel for some of the feedback from last years students we have got via questionnaires. These responses are presented graphically (as % responding) vs option with 5 being strongly agree and 1 being disagree. (Nearly 90% of the class of 108 responded) The feedback is quite positive wrt amount of material covered and the sequencing of the topics. It seems that perceptions of the assessment tasks are mixed (particularly the debate). I think part of this reflects the “freeform” of the assignment and may mean that greater emphasis has to be put on the underlying objectives of these. Overall however the feedback is positive…………….
.. And the students have enjoyed the unit .. This is reinforced by the numbers going on to further study in pharmacology – most of these doing majors in this discipline.
Furthermore as the focus of the material is to an extent covered is driven by what is currently of topical issue in our society – it can easily be adapted to different societies – eg we are planning to offer this unit through Monash Malaysia – which will necessitate major modifications to the Drugs of abuse topic
1. Elizabeth Davis
Department of Pharmacology
Monash University, Australia
Drugs & Society
a new introductory
unit in pharmacology
3. Underlying aims
• emphasize the relevance of
pharmacology to everyday life
• highlight controversial issues
• encourage students to appreciate the
lack of ‘black & white’
4. What does the unit involve?
Practicals (3 hands-on)
CAL Exercises / Web-based exercise
Assessment tasks (x2)
5. Lecture topics
6. • Introduction to Drug Action (6 lectures)
• Targets of drug action
• Drug-receptor interactions
• Principles of neurotransmission
• Endogenous mediators
• Factors influencing drug action
• Drugs & Society (9 lectures)
• Foods and beverages as drugs
• Herbal medicines
• Over the counter medications
• Drugs & Allergies
• Drugs & Sex
• Drugs & Infections
• Drugs & cardiovascular disease
• Chemicals as toxins
7. • Drugs of Abuse (9 lectures)
• Psychological aspects of drug abuse
• Social aspects of drug abuse
• Opium & related drugs
• Alcohol – the demon drink
• Psychotropic drugs
• Sedatives & hypnotics
• Nicotine & cannabis
• Abuse of drugs in sport
• Drug Development (6 lectures)
• Serendipity in drug discovery
• Drugs from natural sources
• Rational drug design
• Clinical drug development
8. Assessment tasks
9. 1. DRUGS IN THE MEDIA Assignment
• Create a “Drugs in the Media” portfolio
– collect newspaper articles dealing with
drug/chemical related issues
•Analyse one of these articles
– how is it reported? Is it accurate?
10. 2. Student Debate
Groups of 4-6 prepare
arguments for and against topics
Examples of topics:
? Interest group (eg tobacco/alcohol industry) funding
of drug research leads to biased outcomes
? Pharmaceutical companies should be allowed direct-to-
? Roadside sobriety tests should be performed for
drugs other than alcohol
? Generic substitution is best for the patient and
11. Student Feedback
The amount of material covered
15 4 3 2 1
5 4 3 2 1
Topics were presented in a logical
5 4 3 2 1
The written assignment was
relevant to the aims of the unit
5 4 3 2 1
The group debate was relevant to
the aims of the unit
5 4 3 2 1
12. 2000 : class of 100 students ⇒
66 went on to study pharmacology in 3rd
2001 : class of 108 students ⇒
63 have so far gone on to study pharmacology in 3rd
Overall, I enjoyed studying Drugs &
5 4 3 2 1
Drugs and Society provides an
introduction to pharmacology that is
of relevance to students with a range
of backgrounds and a variety of
intended career paths