Counseling Tips from a Pro

Pharmacy CareersPharmacy Careers November 2014

Developing a rapport with patients is an important step toward achieving positive outcomes.

As we welcome the new year, many of us start to reflect on the year gone by and to set resolutions for the upcoming year.

Healthier diets and exercise are popular goals, but many forget simple things such as smiling, learning, and laughing. These goals may be the healthiest resolutions of all and may have the most satisfying outcomes.

Moving is a time of change. As I boxed up memories one afternoon, I found an essay I wrote to myself as I approached my pharmacy school graduation. I remember saving this essay as a symbol of my commitment to the profession. I had just finished my final clinical rotations and was working part-time in a community and hospital pharmacy setting. Time has passed since I wrote my essay, and the world of pharmacy has changed for many people.

Despite these changes, one primary focus remains constant: the patient. Offering top-notch patient care is the focus and core of my daily work flow and skill set. Counseling patients is not only an opportunity to discuss medications and health care, but also a chance to develop a true rapport with patients. Trusted relationships are the cornerstone of care. They are just as important professionally as they are personally. Knowing and understanding your patient population is the key to changing negative outcomes into positive experiences. Whether your work environment is spent in a community, hospital, specialty, or industry setting, a simple hello and eye contact can lead to a variety of discussions and interactions.

Graduation is a time of significant change, filled with fear of the unknown, but also anticipation of the accomplishments and opportunities waiting just around the corner. As you approach each change—whether it is a new job, graduation, a new year, or a new city and home—I encourage you to reflect first on the present, so it can help shape your future. Being a health care professional is a powerful responsibility. Counseling remains a duty and it also serves as an excellent icebreaker and opportunity to build trust in a variety of pharmacy settings. I am honored to share my essay with you and hope it will encourage you to ask questions, talk about your experiences, and start changing health care one corner at a time.

Before I get a chance to take in a breath of fresh air, a patient is running up to me in the local community pharmacy parking lot. She must have seen the white lab coat hanging from the seat in my car. As the woman approaches me, she grows a bit shy and looks down. She notices the white lab coat I just changed into is short and observes the patch embroidered on my left sleeve. I look toward her and ask her if she needs help. She hesitates and I get excited. I wonder what she is going to ask me. Does she have a question about her medication? Does she need medical attention? Will she ask something the pharmacist can answer? The woman sees me looking at her intently awaiting a response. She finally blurts out, “Do you have a bathroom inside I can use?”

Not all questions asked by patients are interesting. People often march all the way down drugstore aisles back to the pharmacy counter just to ask where the detergent in the sale ad is located. Instead of saying we do not know or referring them to a drugstore clerk, we confidently tell them the soap is down aisle

Why do we do this? We are trained health care providers spending time answering questions about sale items and bathrooms. Yet, we answer all patient questions because we are not only trusted professionals but we always are there to help. With community pharmacies located on almost every corner competing for business, a patient’s every care and concern becomes a very valuable tool for pharmacists.

Treating all patients as individuals with certain needs has allowed me to discover a lot of things. Mary does not like swallowing pills and throws them in the garbage when her husband looks away. Matt has tried almost every allergy medication on the market and nothing seems to work for him. Jane picks up prescriptions for her neighbor who has chronic pain and can no longer walk. By asking open-ended questions and taking an extra minute or 2 to talk with a patient, you can learn what you will not find in a book. While I am at work, I try to take advantage of every spare moment. Whether I need to reference a textbook for a drug interaction or call a patient to schedule an appointment to discuss her new blood glucose meter, I devote my time and individually focus on every situation I encounter.

As I am preparing to graduate, I hope I do not lose the skills I have developed as an intern in community practice. I continue to be interested in my patient’s health and ask openended questions during counseling sessions. I believe that by talking with patients, they can teach me as much or more than I can teach them! I never want to stop learning. As I continue to grow within my profession, I hope I never become more interested in how fast I can fill a prescription compared with how well I can fill a prescription. The quality of care that I can provide to a patient always will be my number 1 priority.

Looking back to when I first entered the pharmacy profession, the patient was not always my number one concern. I was worried about the other interns, technicians, pharmacists, nurses, physician, and company reports. When I realized that all I needed to do was worry about the patient, my workload became much simpler. Health care is a field of constant change, but the patient never changes. The patient is why I will have a job and continue to be interested and learn. My patients will motivate me every day to help my community and always be available for any kind of help. The dedication I have to my patients and to my community pharmacy is why I wake up to my alarm clock every morning—even if I do have to hit the snooze button once in a while!

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