Patient coun­seling and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills taught in the class­room often lack rein­force­ment by the phar­ma­cists during the expe­ri­en­tial rota­tions of phar­macy stu­dents. North­eastern Uni­ver­sity phar­macy pro­fessor Nathaniel Rickles wants to change that by training com­mu­nity phar­ma­cists (pre­cep­tors) to pro­vide better feed­back to stu­dents about their com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.

Helping to get his year-​​long project underway, Rickles has received the Amer­ican Foun­da­tion for Phar­ma­ceu­tical Education’s (AFPE) new inves­ti­gator grant given to young phar­macy col­lege fac­ulty researchers to sup­port their phar­ma­ceu­tical sci­ence studies and research. The com­pet­i­tive award was granted to Rickles for his research titled “The Impact of Training Pre­cep­tors in Assessing and Eval­u­ating Stu­dent Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Skills on Student’s Coun­seling Skills and Attitudes.”

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and coun­seling skills are inevitable assets everyone who works with patients should pos­sess, thus we infuse com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­sis­tently throughout the cur­riculum,” said Rickles, Assis­tant Pro­fessor of Phar­macy Prac­tice at Northeastern’s Bouve Col­lege of Health Sci­ences. “These skills, how­ever, must be rein­forced during the expe­ri­en­tial part of edu­ca­tion, and com­mu­nity phar­ma­cists may not be equipped to ade­quately do so.”

Rickles says pos­sible rea­sons for the inad­e­quate pre­ceptor rein­force­ment are the lack of aware­ness of phar­macy cur­riculum empha­sizing the impor­tance of key com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, and the lack of ade­quate assess­ment tools to eval­uate stu­dent com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills during rotation.

Starting in Jan­uary ‘08, Rickles and his team will con­duct tap­ings of stu­dents coun­seling patients (“actors” recruited from the com­mu­nity) to create a base­line of their skills. Also, selected com­mu­nity phar­ma­cists will par­tic­i­pate in training work­shops, where they will use skills including: how to open, close and orga­nize a coun­seling ses­sion; how to appro­priate verbal and non-​​verbal skills, as well as question-​​asking, probing and assess­ment skills; active lis­tening and emphatic responding; working with dif­fi­cult and con­fused patients; and how to moti­vate. Pre­cep­tors will also be trained to assess the com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills of the stu­dents on rotation.

Stu­dents will be sent to both non-​​trained and trained pre­cep­tors for rota­tions. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion experts will view and eval­uate tap­ings done at the end of these rota­tions, not knowing whether or not the pre­cep­tors at the site have par­tic­i­pated in the training work­shop. Based on the experts’ feed­back, the sur­veys com­pleted by the stu­dents, as well as the researchers’ on-​​site eval­u­a­tions, Rickles and his team will assess the impact of trained pre­cep­tors on stu­dents’ key com­mu­ni­ca­tion and patient coun­seling skills.

Our hope is to even­tu­ally create a national model that will bridge the gap between class­room and expe­ri­en­tial learning in terms of cru­cial patient-​​pharmacist com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” said Rickles. “This will also lead to better patient outcomes.”

The study will run through December of 2008.

For more infor­ma­tion on Pro­fessor Rickles’ study, please con­tact Renata Nyul at 617–373-7424 or at r.​nyul@​neu.​edu.

About North­eastern

Founded in 1898, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity is a pri­vate research uni­ver­sity located in the heart of Boston. North­eastern is a leader in inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research, urban engage­ment, and the inte­gra­tion of class­room learning with real-​​world expe­ri­ence. The university’s dis­tinc­tive coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram, where stu­dents alter­nate semes­ters of full-​​time study with semes­ters of paid work in fields rel­e­vant to their pro­fes­sional inter­ests and major, is one of the largest and most inno­v­a­tive in the world. The Uni­ver­sity offers a com­pre­hen­sive range of under­grad­uate and grad­uate pro­grams leading to degrees through the doc­torate in six under­grad­uate col­leges, eight grad­uate schools, and two part-​​time divi­sions. For more infor­ma­tion, please visit www​.north​eastern​.edu.