It is one year to the day that COVID-19 made a profound impact on the UF College of Pharmacy. Late in the evening of March 12, the decision was made to transition all our classes online. Shortly thereafter, many fourth-year students were removed from their rotation sites, research labs began to shutter and patient appointments were cancelled or transitioned to telehealth. In many ways our college, university and health system reflected the chaos sweeping the world, as fear and uncertainty gripped our lives. Little did we know at the time, that one year later our lives would continue to be significantly altered by COVID-19. On reflection, it’s probably best we did not realize that at the time — it likely would have been harder to garner the energy to power through it, had we known the long-lasting impacts.
The days, weeks and months that followed presented many challenges. Some of us struggled to balance parenting with work demands, while others worried about loved ones from a distance. For far too long, we have been physically separated from each other, extended family members and friends.
Despite all the adversity, we have rallied together as a college to accomplish some amazing things over the year. We were a resource for information when people needed it most. We stepped up to serve our friends, neighbors and colleagues when times were tough. More importantly, we prioritized the health and safety of others as true health professionals would.
While it is impossible to list all the ways our college excelled during the pandemic, these hallmarks of our response are worth noting:
- We quickly and successfully transitioned the curriculum, literally overnight, to a fully online format, requiring heroic efforts from countless faculty and staff. Amid the disruption, it did not go unnoticed by students how smoothly everything went.
- Thanks to innovative approaches taken by our experiential team and preceptors, no student saw their 2020 graduation delayed due to COVID-19. To ensure the same was true for our rising fourth-year students, a significant number of faculty created a new six-credit course in record time that substituted for an APPE, allowing our current fourth-year students to also stay on track for graduation.
- Our students continue to thrive, inside and outside the classroom. We all look forward to being together in a more normal way, but they have been resilient and creative in adapting during these challenging times and student organizations have continued to flourish.
- We successfully completed an accreditation self-study, accreditation site visit and development of a new strategic plan — nearly all virtually — while simultaneously facing all the challenges and pressures related to COVID-19.
- We successfully hosted three virtual commencement ceremonies, where more than 400 Pharm.D., Ph.D. and M.S. students were celebrated.
We also had many notable contributions specific to COVID-19. Noteworthy examples include:
- The Office of Continuing Pharmacy Education rapidly launched a COVID-19 website for health care professionals. The website registered more than 30,000 page views from nearly 10,000 users in its first month.
- Researchers in the college joined the fight against COVID-19 from multiple fronts. Medicinal chemists screened compound libraries to identify natural products that could work against the virus. In Lake Nona, a team of scientists worked to identify and optimize antiviral therapies against SARS-CoV-2. Meanwhile, drug safety researchers studied risks associated with potential therapeutics for COVID-19. Throughout the year, our faculty have contributed to the growing body of literature about COVID-19.
- Clinical pharmacists in our college expanded their roles to better serve patients and the UF Health system. In addition, dozens of faculty volunteered to support pharmacy services at UF Health, in the event hospitals became overwhelmed.
- The Center for Quality Medication Management contributed (and continues to contribute) in many ways, from scheduling telehealth appointments for UF Health patients, to reserving times for UF faculty, staff and students to receive COVID-19 tests and assisting in scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
- Volunteers from the college supported UF’s COVID-19 testing efforts by labeling test tubes and making media for transporting viral samples. More than 50,000 test tubes were labeled and filled in the first four months, addressing a critical supply chain issue for COVID-19 testing.
- Faculty and Pharm.D. students rapidly stepped forward to support the nationwide effort to provide COVID-19 vaccines. Countless faculty and students are volunteering in the vaccination efforts by administering vaccines, preparing vaccination syringes and offering other types of support toward this crucial effort to end the pandemic.
While we reflect on all these amazing accomplishments, we must also recognize the loss COVID-19 inflicted on our College of Pharmacy family. Some of us lost family members or friends to the disease. Others faced enormous health challenges. We have all learned, in a much clearer way, the great inequities in our society that we must work collectively to address. Our children and young adults have lost a precious year from their youth. Numerous other kinds of stress and hardship have been faced. The impact of the simple loss of “normal” cannot be understated. The pain this pandemic brought upon us will not be forgotten, and we must continue to support and uplift each other long after the crisis has ended.
COVID-19 has also taught us some things, and as we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we must begin to evaluate the COVID-19-induced changes we should keep. For example, student organizations universally realized they can engage a much wider range of speakers through a virtual format. We realized that for some, work from home is logical, and it will persist even when it’s not required. At a personal level, many of us have appreciated some of the changes that COVID-19 imposed on us. In the coming months, we will all need to continue to reflect on the things we want to keep post-COVID, so that we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than ever.
This one-year mark finds us stunned in some ways that it has been a year, saddened at all we’ve lost or missed during this year, but also having great optimism for the future. The pandemic has been a tremendous reminder of why the work we do as pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists is so important. We look forward to better times ahead, but for now, please accept my deepest gratitude for the energy, passion, creativity, resilience and excellence that each of you has brought to the previous year.
Please visit the UF reflections and timeline to learn more about the university and UF Health’s pandemic response the past year.