Pharmacy Students Sharpen Patient Counseling Skills through Remote Rotations

June 16, 2020

Wegmans School of Pharmacy students working with Dr. Gabriella Cipriano at the Anthony Jordan Health Center this spring were ready to learn about her specialty in diabetes medication management. Emily Gadarowski, a fourth year student who fulfilled her Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPE) rotation with Cipriano, said it was an opportunity to apply the knowledge learned in class to individual patients, taking into consideration their socioeconomic status and health literacy.

“Through this rotation, the other students and I worked on reviewing patient charts to ensure that we were providing patients with all the care they may need, including immunizations, smoking cessation, and pharmacotherapy,” Gadarowski explained.

What she didn't anticipate learning were the unique communication skills needed for telemedicine, a practice the team quickly transitioned to when COVID-19 sidelined in-person patient visits.

While every rotation works to improve your communication skills, I would say that remote learning really developed my communication skills,” Gadarowski explained. “Since we were all in remote locations, when discussing amongst the group we had to be incredibly thorough and descriptive, while also listening intently. As we improved how we communicated via Zoom, we saw our sessions become more efficient as well.”

Each day, Cipriano would lead the APPE students and a pharmacy resident through a review of patients they would see for the day over a Zoom call. Then, they would begin their appointments, counseling patients by phone. Gadarowski said the calls were challenging at first, because it was difficult to gauge a patient's level of understanding.

“I found that utilizing the "teach-back method" was the most helpful when counseling patients on the phone. Using this method, I would counsel the patient and then ask them to repeat back to me what I had counseled them on, such as dosing, potential side effects, and frequency of testing blood glucose,” she said. “This helped me confirm that the patient understood what I was telling them and it made me feel more comfortable about all the information I had provided to them. Patients were also receptive to this mode of communication and were appreciative that they still had people caring for their health, despite everything going on with COVID-19.”

Gadarowski, who will start a position as a regional staff pharmacist at Hannaford Pharmacy, feels her APPE experience readied her for her new career.

“I think the remote experience prepared me for this career incredibly well, as many of my interactions with both providers and patients will be via telephone and I can use my communication skills I developed to provide patients with the best care possible,” she said.