Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

A Virtual Practice Environment to Develop Communication Skills in Pharmacy Students

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

A Virtual Practice Environment to Develop Communication Skills in Pharmacy Students

Article excerpt


In most pharmacy colleges and schools across Australia, high school graduates are accepted without assessing their communication skills, (1) yet communication is a core competency of the profession. (2) Pharmacists are required to have sound communication skills, such as empathy, as well as critical-thinking skills, (3) which improve the satisfaction and health outcomes of customers. However, pharmacists' communication skills are generally recognized as inadequate (4-7) and require remediation prior to becoming licensed as a practicing pharmacist.

Addressing this issue requires investigation of how communication is taught within undergraduate pharmacy curricula locally and globally. The literature indicates that communication has largely been taught to pharmacy students over the last 20 years using classroom methods. (8-18) Although lectures are the mainstay of theory-based information transfer, they do not reach the interactive heights and depth of engagement (eg, responsiveness, focus, and attentiveness to the content/task) desired for this topic and model less-than-optimal communication practices. Lectures on communication are often interspersed with audio or visual examples and complemented with tutorials in which (video recorded) role-playing is used. (9,15,19-23)

Self- and peer-assessment has been introduced so that students can evaluate the effectiveness of their own or their peers' interactions with patients. (20,24-26) This has been undertaken for formative and summative assessment purposes, in contrast to an objective structured clinical examination (OSCE), which is most commonly used for summative assessment. A component of an OSCE usually involves students communicating with a simulated patient, ie, "someone who has been trained to portray a character in a scripted case scenario and who is able to consistently deliver a similar performance when interacting with different students." (27) OSCEs are best suited to knowledge and skills assessment and are a source of excellent feedback but are costly, requiring significant time, teaching staff, and space.

Reflective journaling/writing is also used but to a lesser extent. (9,12,19,28-30) These journals are an excellent adjunct to the process but are not a complete strategy in themselves. Service-learning is a newer initiative that provides real experiences as a "method of community engagement used to prepare students to become competent professionals, medication use specialists, and contribute significantly to the health of society in one of more meaningful roles." (28) In one study, students simulated the life of an actual patient with multiple chronic diseases who was coping with a communication barrier (12) and in another study, students were assigned a family to care for. (13) However, with service-learning activities, it is difficult for teaching staff to observe and provide more than summary feedback.

Multimedia, asynchronous computer-mediated communication and Web-based environments have commonly focused on a single aspect of communication teaching. (20,30-32) In one study, participants printed a great deal of material that used up time they could have devoted to group activities and learning. (33) Additionally, while 100% of students in 2010 and 86% of students in 2009 agreed or strongly agreed that an online Pharmacy Communication Tool by Griffith University in Australia engaged their interest and enhanced learning, this resource supported the development of only oral and not written communication skills, and was limited to community-based and simple role-play scenarios. (34)

Mock pharmacies or dispensary teaching spaces are also used by pharmacy colleges and schools to teach communication and other professional skills. These learning spaces provide a contextual active-learning environment that is "safe" for students (and the public) and are recognized as environments in which students should be able to develop expertise, act and reflect, think and feel, take charge of their own learning, and conversationally learn through interactions with others. …

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