Talking it Through

Published on 09 December 2015

One student nervously looked at the other, and then admitted she was not taking her heart medication because it did not make her feel any better.

“Why bother?” she said.

The response came quickly.

“Even if you don’t feel the medication working, it is helping prevent a heart attack. That’s why it’s important to take it every day.”

These students at St. Louis College of Pharmacy were role playing a common scenario they’ll face in their pharmacy career. The exercise is part of the College’s health communication class, where students learn and practice the communication skills they’ll need before going out into the community. As the course progresses, students graduate from talking with each other to counseling paid actors posing as patients.

“This is a process and a springboard to continue working on a skill set,” says Elizabeth Rattine-Flaherty, Ph.D., associate professor of health communication. “We talk a lot about developing strategies to handle different situations, and how pharmacists can adjust their own behavior to improve communication with patients.”

Rattine-Flaherty has been at the College for seven years. This year, she’s joined by Brett Craig, Ph.D., assistant professor of health communication.

“I talk about ways things look from the patient side,” he says. “It is eye opening to the students. Part of my role is to make students understand the patient’s background and how it affects their filter in what the pharmacist is saying.”

As the most accessible health care provider in the community, pharmacists are turned-to sources of information for questions about medication and beyond. The College is preparing students not only to answer a wide range of questions, but also to initiate meaningful conversations.

As the course progresses, Rattine-Flaherty stresses the importance of each patient interaction and discusses strategies on drawing out information, which will help the pharmacist make a good decision or diffuse tense situations.

“Students here have a tremendous capacity and desire to learn,” she says. “It’s great and not necessarily something you see everywhere.”

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