April 24, 2020

Excellence in Instruction Award for Lecturers: Dan Degnan

Note: The profile below is part of Purdue Today's ongoing series on Purdue's winners of the 2020 Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award in Memory of Charles B. Murphy, Exceptional Early Career Award and Excellence in Instruction Award for Lecturers.

If lecturer Dan Degnan is not persistently applying an innovative eye and improving the many pharmacy practice classes he leads, it’s probably because he’s sleeping. Since joining academia in 2013 after a 20-year career as a health system pharmacist, Degnan has transformed several courses designed to better equip the next generation of pharmacists, especially for today’s ever-changing and challenging health care industry.

“One of my favorite things about working at Purdue is that I usually learn something new each day,” says Degnan (BS Pharm ’91, PharmD ’92), lecturer in pharmacy practice and a winner of this year’s Excellence in Instruction Award for Continuing Lecturers. “I’m humbled by the recognition. There are many talented and smart people working here; it’s hard not to have some of that rub off on you each day.”

Degnan was named a senior project manager in the College of Pharmacy’s Center for Medication Safety Advancement in 2013.  In 2018, he accepted a 50% appointment as coordinator of PHRM 860 and PHRM 861 in its Professional Program Laboratory. Known as PPL, this combines the didactic knowledge of third-year students with pharmacy practice skills in a setting that uses standardized patients.

After becoming a continuing lecturer, he also took on PHRM 868, a class on patient safety and informatics. He lectures in PHRM 869, which focuses on practice management and marketing services, and PHPR 427, a pharmacy leadership seminar. And he instructs fourth-year students receiving what are called advance practice pharmacy experiences for four-week blocks.

“While having all the didactic knowledge is important, at the end of the day it is important that pharmacists know they are taking care of another person by helping them with their medications,” he says. “Blending that knowledge, caring and skill in an aspiring pharmacist is what is most important to me.”

In between his teaching workload, Degnan contributes to the research efforts of industrial engineering students at Discovery Park’s Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering, collecting and analyzing data from infusion pumps for solutions in automation technology.

Key to his role as a continuing lecturer — and the basis for Degnan’s selection as a Purdue teaching award recipient — have been his efforts to transform his pharmacy classes.

Take PHRM 860, for example. This class concludes with a skills evaluation that third-year students must pass to proceed. To counter rising student remediation, he recommended moving material in PHRM 861 (Spring) to PHRM 860 (Fall), while developing skills-based practice materials for students. Just 22 students of the 151 in PHRM 860 needed remediation in Fall 2019. Degnan then met with those students to review a recording of their initial evaluation. The result: 100% of students successfully remediated the evaluation last fall.

Students appreciate Degnan’s teaching style. They cite not just the rigor of his classes but a sincere effort to connect, to push, to share his personal stories and life-work experience. Effectiveness ratings shared on student surveys for the classes he teaches have ranged from 4.5 to 4.8 out of 5.

“Not sure who said it. However, I have tried to live by the quote: ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,’” Degnan says. “I think it is important that students see you as a person first, then as a professor or teacher.”

That’s even more important after classes moved to an e-learning environment in the aftermath of the global coronavirus pandemic. A week into the online conversion, Degnan switched from prescribing how they should collaborate on their lab exercises to letting the students, who now are scattered literally all over the world, self-regulate that. His students, surprisingly, have become more reflective about their experience in the online environment.

“Yes, it’s been challenging, but I have been impressed at how resilient the students are — their passion to work hard, collaborate effectively, to figure things out,” he says. “And I discovered I have to be resilient, too, and to lead by example.”

Indeed, Degnan has noticed what he calls “hidden gems” the students will take away from their remote learning experience — self-motivation and working in a telehealth situation. “They are developing important skills that they didn’t know were important,” he says.

Writer: Phillip Fiorini, pfiorini@purdue.edu

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