Pharmacy students are taught the importance of communication skills throughout their education.
Pharmacy students are taught the importance of communication skills throughout their education. When students are visualizing a career as a pharmacist, it’s easy to understand why communication matters: Whether pharmacists are counseling patients in a retail pharmacy, working with other health care providers in a hospital, or presenting a business plan in a corporate setting, it’s important that they effectively share messaging with others.
But there’s another form of communication that’s just as important for pharmacy students to master: writing. While writing may be less popular than math and science among those who often pursue pharmacy careers, it is an essential skill for success in any field of pharmacy. It is crucial that pharmacy schools focus on the development of writing skills when cultivating future pharmacists.
An Essential Practice
College students in any field of study often have assignment grievances along the lines of “I’m never going to need to know this in real life” or “I’ll never actually do this in my career.” Pharmacy students may share these sentiments about writing assignments. This is a huge misjudgment, and such thinking could be detrimental to professional success. According to The Pharmacy Student Survival Guide, Third Edition, “writing is the vehicle that drives pharmacy practice, regardless of practice type or setting.”1 The book goes on to list 3 reasons why writing is essential in the practice of pharmacy.
First, writing is often the catalyst for action in health care.1 Pharmacists are frequently identified and reimbursed for activities initiated by written documents; such activities include updating patient records, communicating with insurers, and answering drug information questions. Second, writing provides much stronger legal standing than verbal communication.1 Quality written records can ensure long-term success for pharmacists, especially when it comes to compliance and liability issues. Third, writing is increasingly important as new technologies continue to emerge in health care.1 With health care communication existing largely in electronic medical records and through digital platforms, it is essential that pharmacists write clearly and effectively.
Works by Pharmacists
What types of documents are pharmacists writing? In the article “Improving and Assessing Writing Skills and Practices of Pharmacy Students,” Suleiman I. Sharif and Rana Ibrahim suggest a variety of such documents. “Pharmacists have many duties that include writing, such as writing annual reports assessments, letters to editors in journals, letters of recommendations, articles to be published, or proposals for new clinical services,” they explain.2
Additional examples include care plans, progress notes, treatment guidelines, pharmacy and therapeutics formulary reviews, drug information reviews, newsletters, patient education handouts, and pharmacy legislation reviews. When students consider such examples, they quickly realize that good writing skills are an essential job function for any pharmacist, in any area of practice.
Benefits Beyond Writing
Pharmacists who exhibit exemplary writing skills benefit in other ways. Developing writing skills improves critical thinking, another key skill for pharmacists in any role. The process of writing lets students evaluate information from a variety of sources to produce tangible evidence of their knowledge, as well as to refine ideas, prioritize information, understand opposing viewpoints, and explain complex topics. By honing their writing skills, pharmacy students develop a host of secondary skills required for their practice.
Additionally, professionals in any field are often evaluated through written contributions and publications, and pharmacy is no exception. Writing and publishing allow pharmacists to share their newly discovered insights and details on professional advancements with their peers.
Lastly, when pharmacists have strong writing skills, patients benefit. Many of the documents by pharmacists listed above are direct pieces of patient care. Consequently, good writing contributes directly to positive patient outcomes, the ultimate goal of any health care professional.
With these benefits in mind, it’s easy to understand why writing is so important for pharmacy students. Pharmacy schools aiming to prepare future pharmacists for practice should focus on developing not only verbal communication skills but written ones as well.
Kristin O’Donovan is a 2018 PharmD candidate at the Butler University College of Pharmacy & Health Services in Indianapolis, Indiana.