Valuing Communication with Patients and Families

Author: Jennifer Barrio, Managing Editor

Getting patients to open up is part of John Barnwell's approach to pharmacy practice.


John Barnwell, the November Pharmacy Times / Walmart RESPy winner, understands that pharmacists cannot be successful without effective communication with their patients. 

Barnwell, who will graduate with a PharmD from Belmont University School of Pharmacy in 2013, learned this lesson firsthand working with a patient with diabetes during a summer internship. During counseling, Barnwell and the pharmacist learned that the patient appeared to be experiencing symptoms of hypoglycemia. After initiating blood glucose monitoring and trying a new medication, however, the patient continued to experience abnormally low blood glucose regularly. 

Further discussion with the patient about her disease revealed that she was experiencing extreme stress around the time of her diagnosis. Barnwell and the pharmacist encouraged her to share that information with her physician, who determined that she could stop taking diabetes medication and just continue to monitor her blood glucose.

“The experience really taught me the importance of listening and communicating with your patients, and just simply letting them open up to you so that you can help them with the care they deserve,” says Barnwell.

This lesson serves Barnwell well in his position as founding officer of the board of directors of NotAlone.com, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing counseling for veterans with post traumatic stress disorder and their families. NotAlone.com offers online support groups, in-person counseling, and Web resources to support combat veterans and their loved ones.

The stresses of military service are something that Barnwell understands well. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry%u2500Life Sciences and subsequently served almost 8 years in the Army. He held a variety of positions at Fort Campbell in Kentucky and in Iraq, and was decorated with a Bronze Star and Joint Service Achievement Award for his service.

Today, the discipline he practiced in the Armed Forces helps Barnwell balance his studies and extracurricular activities, which include serving as vice president of Phi Delta Chi and participating in a variety of health and education fairs. Barnwell took time from his busy schedule to speak with Pharmacy Times about some of the experiences that have helped shaped his philosophy of practice and his vision for the future of the profession.

Q Was there a moment when you knew pharmacy was right for you?

A When I was on my Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience rotation at the Veterans Administration (VA), I was able to shadow many of the clinical pharmacists who work within the VA system. The relationship and care they provided to their patients was inspiring, and the one-on-one care had a huge effect on the patients’ quality of life. It showed me the great benefit that the pharmacist’s combined drug expertise and physiologic knowledge could provide in aiding the patient’s long-term therapy. Seeing this made me feel like I had chosen the right track.

Q What has been your most rewarding extracurricular activity?

A The most rewarding extracurricular activity I am involved in is my participation in the NotAlone.com board of directors. NotAlone.com is an online platform to help soldiers and their families deal with posttraumatic stress disorder in a safe and anonymous format, while receiving the mental and emotional care that they may need after returning home from war. Being a veteran myself, anything I can do to make life better for soldiers, veterans, and their families gives me a great sense that I am still making a difference for my brothers- and sistersin-arms.

Q What is the most important issue in the field of pharmacy today?

A I believe that the most important issue in the field of pharmacy is demonstrating and effectively presenting the benefits that pharmacists can provide and developing this into a more advanced role in health care. I think it is important because it can allow pharmacists to have a more profound foothold in the health care team and help to balance the pieces of the pie out more equally among the health care professions. This rebalancing could allow health care providers to focus in on more defined areas instead of having to spread themselves thin among so many different kinds of conditions.

Q What is the most important quality for a pharmacist to possess?

A Understanding and patience. Our knowledge foundation is a must, but if we don’t understand our patients and take the time to listen to them, we can and will miss important components that could mean the difference between optimal therapy and treatment failure. PT


About RESPY

The RESPy (Respect, Excellence, and Service in Pharmacy) Award is presented to the student who has made a difference in his or her community by demonstrating excellence in pharmaceutical care. For more information, please visit www.PharmacyTimes.com/students


About the School

Part of the Gordon E. Inman College of Health Sciences and Nursing, Belmont University’s School of Pharmacy admits 75 pharmacy students each year to its Nashville, Tennessee, campus. PharmD candidates choose a concentration in pharmacotherapy, informatics, management, or missions.