How the pharmacy team is supporting international students’ wellbeing

Leila Neshat Mokadem is the Course Leader for RGU‘s MSc Clinical Pharmacy Service Development, a course aimed at international pharmacists who would like to take the next step in their career. But what is unique about the course is Leila’s commitment to students’ wellbeing and the many changes she has made to promote inclusivity.

Leila Neshat Mokadem

My name is Leila. I’m a Senior Lecturer and I’m proud to be based in the School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences. I am also the Race Equality Champion at the university, so I’m excited to be promoting and celebrating diversity at RGU.

Can you tell us more about the Clinical Pharmacy and Service Development course?

The Clinical Pharmacy Service Development (CPSD) course is a one year, on campus, master’s level course, targeted at early career pharmacists that want to upskill. In addition to the clinical elements of the course, they learn about leadership and management, allowing them to have a positive influence in their workplaces to improve outcomes for their patients. They also learn how to develop training programmes for multi-disciplinary teams so they can benefit their organisation and their own continuous development.

The course was initially targeted at the Middle East but we welcome students from all over the world. And because it’s not an online course, we have the fabulous opportunity to welcome them onto our beautiful campus.

Students from the Clinical Pharmacy Service Development class

How have you been changing the course delivery to improve students’ wellbeing?

I’m really passionate about making the course inclusive. My teaching philosophy is centred on student wellbeing driving student success. During the initial iteration of the course, I sought regular feedback and really listened to the student voice and what they were saying in terms of the challenges and barriers they were facing.

Some barriers started to emerge surrounding the students’ families. Many of my students have caring responsibilities for young children and some of them were leaving them behind in their home country. This separation is really hard and impacts on their wellbeing. Other students moved to Aberdeen with their very young children and babies and go through the struggles and challenges of being a parent away from their usual support networks.

I decided to look at the course structure and give students the opportunity to carry out their data collection phase and dissertation writing phase back in their home countries if they wish to. After discussing this with the cohort, they unanimously voted yes to this proposition. As a result of being re-united with their family, they reported a positive improvement in their wellbeing, which gave them the opportunity to succeed. They all did fantastically well in their MSc projects and I’m very proud of their achievements.

Another thing that I realised was that some students were arriving to university stressed in the morning if they were having to go to childcare settings first. So as a course team, we decided to have all of our classes start at 10am instead of 9am so students could arrive more relaxed and better able to focus on their studies.

For me, it’s all about developing a learning community around my students that really supports them. It goes beyond curricular design and delivery and really looks at their wellbeing.

Can you tell us more about the “Connect” programme?

This is something that myself, my team and my students created as co-developers. We developed a programme called “CPSD Connect” which is all about connecting the students to each other and helping them connect with their modules. It’s about creating a learning community within and beyond the classroom.

Some colleagues may have seen me walking across campus with a big baby bath, balloons and nappies back when we had an in-class baby shower for one of our students who just had her baby. She had landed in Aberdeen, didn’t know a single soul and was away from her support network. That was just a lovely way of all the students getting together to celebrate her. Having that kind of connection is important for all students but especially so for international students.

Baby shower

We try to keep the “Connect” sessions diverse with a calendar of celebrations. For example during Ramadan when some of the students were fasting, we couldn’t really meet up and do something that involved eating, so instead, we decided to meet at Duthie Park and walk to watch the Aberdeen Boat Race. Students and staff and their kids were all on the bridge cheering on the RGU team. Having that connection outside of the classroom is something that I absolutely love doing with the students.

Meeting in Duthie Park for the Aberdeen Boat Race

Why are you so committed to students’ wellbeing?

I think everyone at RGU is passionate about students’ wellbeing. On a personal level, I guess it comes from my own lived experience. I joined the UK’s education system when I was around 14. As such, I’m very acutely aware of some of the challenges and barriers that students find when they join a new and very different education system. In terms of my mixed heritage background, my father came as an international student to the UK, so growing up I was very aware of the loneliness that can come came with living in a foreign country.

I have learned a lot from the student voice since being a course leader back in 2009 at another university, and now at RGU. That’s why I try to use my role to work with colleagues across the different RGU departments to make any little changes that I can to help improve the student experience.

How do you nurture your relationship with students once they have graduated?

Maintaining strong links with our alumni is really important. Because we have such a diverse group of students, they can bring their own expertise from their areas of practice that perhaps myself, personal tutors and supervisors don’t know too much about. That’s why I started an alumni mentoring arrangement, to bring their expertise into the classroom and at research roundtables.

LinkedIn has also been brilliant because I’ve been able to proudly see students who have graduated giving talks at conferences and things like that. It’s very inspirational for my current students to see what our RGU graduates are doing and what they can certainly work towards as well.

What do students think about the course?

“The course really was exceptional, with different learning styles, and inclusive for all learners. The peer-to-peer learning gave me confidence and developed my critical thinking skills. The Resilient Learner series developed my coping skills in tackling obstacles and it has had a significant impact on my wellbeing. I enjoyed sharing traditions and cultures as part of the Global Citizenship approach of the course.”

Sameh Al Maqbali (from Oman)

The course staff have provided a strong support system for us international students and I was so happy with the in-class baby shower! International students are really very welcome at RGU.

Ewere Vivian Okafor (from Nigeria)

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