Pharmacy students are among the smartest people I know—hands down! Their propensity for science and math contributes to their ability to process large amounts of complex information. I am constantly impressed by the mental prowess of my students.
A scientific mind is indeed key to success in pharmacy school and in the pharmacy profession but I urge any student thinking about entering the profession to also consider the importance of communication skills—in particular, interpersonal communication skills. We all know role of the pharmacist in health care includes: medication therapy management, point of care testing, and monitoring and changing medications via collaborative practice. As the role of the pharmacist in health care increases, it will be even more important for pharmacy students to hone their communication skills.
I often remind our students at UCSOP that breaking information down into digestible pieces for patients is crucial. In fact, the average American reads at the 7th grade level (not at the pharmacy school level). It takes finesse to explain complex information related to medication and disease management in layperson’s terms (so patients and their caregivers understand). It also takes strong interpersonal communication skills to effectively manage one’s emotions and respond effectively to the emotions of one’s patients. In fact, some research has started to suggest that the higher a health care provider’s emotional intelligence, which includes relational skills, the better health outcomes for a patient.
Pharmacists can also increase medication adherence by effectively communicating with patients through medication adherence monitoring, medication reviews, and patient counseling. As we at UCSOP are engaged in the Script Your Future Challenge, a nationwide medication adherence campaign supported by the National Consumers League (www.scriptyourfuture.org), it’s important that we take time to note the importance of communication skills for pharmacy students. Developing these skills now, will help students serve their current and future patients as well as highlight the important role pharmacists play in patient care.
- 50-60% of patients do not take their medications as prescribed
- Lack of adherence leads to over 125,000 deaths in the U.S. each year and contributes to $290 billion dollars in health care costs
- Almost 30% of patients stop taking their medications before their supply runs out
Imagine being someone who has the power to educate patients about the importance of adherence simply through conversation and counseling? Pharmacists do not have to imagine this because it’s what they do each and every day.
If you are a pharmacy student, consider honing your own communication skills by following these simple tips:
- Check to make sure your non-verbal and your verbal communication match.
- Actively listen without interrupting.
- Express empathy by acknowledging that someone may be having a hard time
- Ask questions about what would help the situation? What is a reasonable action a person can take given their resources and limitations?
- Ask for feedback from faculty and preceptors regarding how you can improve your communication skills.
- Identify your strengths and weaknesses in regard to communication and then develop three strategies that will help you overcome those weaknesses.
Enhancing your communication skills now, while in pharmacy school, could help a patient be more adherent to their medication and it may even save someone’s life.
Dr. Susan Gardner is Assistant Dean for Professional and Student Affairs at the University of Charleston School of Pharmacy.
Don’t forget to take the pledge to take your meds at: www.scriptyourfuture.org. Follow tips about medication adherence on Twitter @UCSOP.