|20 years, 80 shows mark educational program
by Mary Helen Yarborough
For 20 years, pharmacists across the state have been able to obtain a
third of their annual continuing education (CE) credits via
closed-caption TV from a studio on the MUSC campus.
Produced and hosted by Ronald Nickel, Ph.D., in cooperation with MUSC
Educational Technology Services (ETS) and SCETV, pharmacists could
obtain important annual drug updates through CE courses that were
developed and broadcast to about 26 locations throughout the state. The
programs would provide new regulatory guidelines, safety warnings, drug
“For 20 years, we succeeded in delivering affordable, accessible live
continuing pharmacy education all across this state,” said Nickel, who
started the program as continuing education director. “This program
made it possible for small-town pharmacists located in remote areas to
obtain continuing education credits.”
The program celebrated its 80th production earlier this month featuring
Wayne Weart, PharmD, which aired Dec. 8. Because most viewers assembled
at locations that received the satellite signal, the shows also would
provide pharmacists a chance to meet with and network with other
pharmacists on a regular basis.
Of the 15 annual credits required for pharmacy certification, six must
be “live.” The telecast, in cooperation with the Area Health Education
Centers that hosted the telecasts, has reached hundreds of
professionals in both major and small markets simultaneously each year.
It has enabled viewers to ask question during the show, which qualifies
it as live and helped getting CE credits more convenient and affordable.
Produced professionally by ETS staff that included camera crews and
editing; pros Gene Merkel and John Richardson, the show’s educational
content was “slick,” Nickel said. Each program included a course
delivered by the host expert, with a course outline or graphic
displays. One part of the two-hour show was pre-recorded and edited,
which was used with the live broadcast in which the moderator or expert
would provide further explanation and answer the audience’s questions.
“Sometimes, we got flooded with phone calls,” said Nickel, expressing
praise and appreciation for the ETS staff, whom, he said, practically
volunteered their time and skills to make the program possible.
“John [Richardson], who manned the phone that had an 800 number, would
write down callers’ questions on a piece of paper and hand them to me
out of the camera’s site,” Nickel recalled. “These guys were so skilled
at what they did that if someone coughed or cleared their throat, they
could edit it out so you’d never know it was there. In the early days,
when we used reel-to-reel in taping, there was a snag or something in
the tape, so Gene [Merkel] had to pop off the reels with two hands and
replace them while the take was running. He didn’t miss a beat, and the
tape kept rolling and getting the picture. It was amazing.”
Nickel said that ETS demonstrated their professional skills in the quality of the programs that were seamless.
“The visuals were polished and included scenic intros, segues, and
educational slides cut in at the right places,” Nickel said. “And with
all of that, it would cost us about $3,000 per show. We would charge a
nominal fee of about $15 per course, but we never went in the red. We
always covered our costs.”
In response to a state law requiring medical and pharmaceutical
professionals to earn annual CE credits to maintain certification, the
first show aired in December 1988.
“We were the opening act, and our first show was all about the new
rules for certification,” Nickel said. “Medicine followed us with their
show, but they soon learned that the audience wasn’t there, because
docs don’t do TV. ...But for pharmacy, the market was there.”
Having grown out of the Health Connection Network, the pharmacy program
was actually the second to use the TV broadcast system for CE. The
College of Dental Medicine was the first, which did not last long.
Because the pharmacy program was more established and dedicated with
the greatest audience, it helped establish MUSC as a model for
university distance learning in the state, Nickel said.
Each year since, four programs have been produced and broadcast to
pharmacists from the MUSC campus. It has since evolved into the high
tech realm that now will rely on high speed Internet connections to
stream video to pharmacists, and pharmacy technicians who also must
obtain live CE credits.
The first streaming Web video broadcast in September happened purely by accident.
“There had been some rough weather in parts of the state, which knocked
out satellite,” Nickel said. “Someone figured out how we could stream
it, and that’s what we did.”
Friday, Dec. 12, 2008