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20 years, 80 shows mark educational program

by Mary Helen Yarborough
Public Relations
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 interactions, etc.
“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

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.