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Friday, 12 October 2018

Sophie SmithSecond year pharmacy student, Sophie Smith practises her communication in a simulated practice session.

Otago students are finishing the first year of the modernised bachelor of pharmacy degree that focuses on the vital role a pharmacist plays in the modern, patient-centred healthcare system.

The curriculum has been reorganised to introduce clinical application earlier with a much larger focus on how to communicate appropriately.

“It is exciting that we will be the first to run though this curriculum and be taught in this way,” second year student Sophie Smith says.

Sophie's perception of pharmacy has shifted this year, learning that patient consulting is a large part of a pharmacist's job. “I am beginning to realise how much of a crucial role we play in the community and healthcare system.”

The School is fortunate to have some of the world's leading academic staff, pharmacists and technicians to deliver the student-centred curriculum.

Associate Dean Academic, Associate Professor Natalie Medlicott says, “We are preparing our students for current roles and for future advances in pharmacy practice.”

A future that utilises the important role a community pharmacist plays in the healthcare system as a communicator, educator and medicines' expert.

In line with pharmacist education worldwide, Otago students are evaluated on their clinical skills using the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) method. Unlike the traditional clinical exam, the OSCE evaluates areas most critical to the performance of healthcare professionals, such as communication skills and the ability to handle unpredictable patient behaviour.

Students rotate through a series of modules that revolve around common diseases and conditions seen in New Zealand today. They begin with the research of pathophysiology, applied pharmacology and the social determinants of health in lectures.

Next, a combination of workshops, online learning resources and simulated practice sessions (skills labs) give students an understanding and practice of the medicines that apply to the disease and relevant advice associated with them.

A big shift in the programme is the emphasis on simulated practice sessions that run in parallel to students learning about health, diseases and medicines. These sessions prepare students for real world experiences in placements and attachments in the third and fourth year of the programme.

The School has been actively engaging with pharmacists through continuing education workshops and focused presentations to gather professional feedback during the curriculum transition period. The feedback we have received has been pivotal in the design of the curriculum that ensures our educational outcomes are in line with present and future practice.

“It brings the theoretical and the practical together so our students understand the whole picture of how a drug works,” Professional Practice Fellow, Dr Carla Dillon says.

Otago pharmacists will graduate with exceptional skills in community pharmacy and will be adept to the core fundamental activities outlined in pharmacy's Entrustable Professional Activities; to fulfil professional obligations, communicate effectively, take a patient history, conduct a clinical assessment, care planning, clinical validation of a prescription, dispense prescriptions, provide medicines information and document activities.

Professional Practice Fellow, Dr Carla Dillon

Dr Carla Dillon joined the University of Otago from Newfoundland (Canada) in 2017 to lead the development of the modern curriculum and operationalised the simulated practice sessions.

“Being patient-centred means understanding your patient, their values and beliefs and helping them work through that.

Pharmacists add value to the healthcare system in this way,” Carla says.

“Everybody has to go through these practices [role-play] so that people can be identified early, if they have any issues with communication. We can then help them figure out the best avenue to improve.”

“Essentially I think the fundamental thing is the patients should be the centre of the care and the communication skills are key. They're going to be able to relate to the patients and be able to be accessible to patients.”

“It is not all about the knowledge, it is more about how the students use the knowledge,” Carla says.

“The job isn't about what you know. It is about how you use what you know to meet the needs of that person. And, every person has a different need. So how do you find that out, and how do you do it?”

Professional Practice Fellow, Mike Smith

Practicing pharmacist and staff member, Mike Smith agrees that students do need to be able to communicate with patients and other healthcare providers.

“They need to be able to relate to individuals and work with small groups to get the best outcomes for a patient.

I think the pharmacists has always been in a good place to judge,” Mike says, “the profession has always been aware of the communication skills.”

Pharmacists and pharmacies are an anchor point for many patients and bridge the 'gap' between healthcare providers, the hospital, and the patient receiving their medicines.

“What they [healthcare providers] might think the patient wants, or might expect the patient to do, and what the patient actually, in reality does, can be remarkably different and detrimental in providing optimal care for a patient,” Mike says.

“We encourage students to be comfortable talking amongst themselves and be comfortable thinking about the patient who's an individual, a person; not a disease, or condition.”

Story and photography: Rewa Pene
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