How Pharmacy Students Can Get the Most Out of Experiential Learning

Unless you work at a pharmacy while attending pharmacy school, the closest you'll get to a real patient as a student pharmacist is through simulated encounters with a paid actor.

Unless you work at a pharmacy while attending pharmacy school, the closest you’ll get to a real patient as a student pharmacist is through simulated encounters with a paid actor.

Just like exams, these encounters are timed and have major points that you need to hit in order to get credit. This leads to tunnel vision, as you focus on what needs to be told to the “patient.”

As a pharmacy student, I forgot to take a step back and turn my attention to the patient. Instead of talking to the patient, I should’ve engaged in a conversation and actually learned about the patient.

Pharmacy students transitioning from didactic to experiential learning should remember to ponder the following questions:

Who is the medication treating?

Each patient is different, and certain characteristics may restrict the use of certain medications.

Is the patient a child, elderly individual, or pregnant woman? Does the patient have any known allergies? Does the patient have any other medical conditions? Is the patient currently taking any other medications?

When recommending OTC medications, drug-disease or drug-drug interactions should always be considered.

What is the chief complaint?

What’s bothering the patient? Is it minor enough that you could recommend an OTC medication to help relieve the symptoms?

To narrow down OTC options, get to know what the patient has tried, what made the symptoms worst, and what made the symptoms better. You wouldn’t want to waste the patient’s time and money by recommending a similar product the patient has already tried that didn’t work.

When did it happen?

Has it persisted long enough that you can no longer recommend an OTC medication? If the problem persisted even after the patient tried a couple of OTC medications for a while, it might be best to advise the patient to see his or her primary care provider.

Where did it happen?

Knowing the location of the problem can help you recommend the best medication and dosage form for the patient. Is it external or internal? You wouldn’t want to recommend a topical medication for external use when it’s a visibly non-external issue.

Also, which body part is affected? Does it affect a large portion of the body? If so, it might be best to advise the patient to see his or her primary care provider.

How did it happen?

Finding the underlying problem (if one exists) and removing the trigger can prevent it from reoccurring. Could a change in soap have caused the patient’s rash? Could spicy food be causing a patient’s heartburn?

Although these questions aren’t all inclusive, they can aid in the process of stepping away from the checklist on a rubric and stepping towards delving deeper and learning more about the patient.