Pharmacy is a vocational degree. This means everyone in the course, students and tutors alike, is constantly being bombarded with the question: how is the content of the degree useful in one’s future career as a pharmacist? Though we may not be able to make linkages with the future in the case of each and every thing studied on the course, the use of videoconferencing technologies was particularly relevant in my training to be a future pharmacist. This learning technology enabled me to communicate to our expert patients who had the health conditions we were studying at the time. The experience of learning about certain conditions was truly humbling. The process assisted in my reflection process because I was able to see the different between ‘having a condition’ (as described by a textbook) and ‘living with a condition’ (the human dimension of a problem in which patients make major and minor adjustments to adapt to a new lifestyle).
The very first lecture of our unit on Health Psychology started with a video interview with one of our expert patients. The patient has had asthma for a number of years but had been misdiagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). He had only recently been correctly diagnosed with asthma. His vast experience with his own medications and contacts with various healthcare professionals made him an expert in telling us the story of his own condition. He briefly talked about his current medication regime, though his main focus was on promoting his views on good pharmacist-patient relationships. He talked about how healthcare professionals could brighten a patient’s day with a nice smile and how such gestures gave him ‘strength he never knew existed’. Living with a chronic condition also meant he has to constantly mediate between his condition and what might be expected of him in day-to-day activities. That might involve more in-depth planning and to mitigate against losing out on family experiences. He mentioned how the condition has taken a toll on his social life because he cannot always participate in family sports. The lack of interaction with his family members made him feel isolated at times. It was particularly interesting to hear that his recently amended diagnosis meant a change in others’ attitude towards him. Healthcare professionals and those in his social circles tended to judge him on perceptions when he was diagnosed with COPD instead on actual facts. The attitude changed with the change in diagnosis.
Starting a module by focusing on real-life people and not on a generic textbook is an excellent way to deliver innovative and gripping teaching. The videoconferenceing session showcased the discrepancies of the perception of health between healthcare professionals and patients in a stark way – studying those discrepancies was one of the reasons why I enrolled in this optional module. It was evident in the smooth running of the session that the patient and our lecturer, Dr Hannah Family, had planned the session very well prior to the actual interview. The atmosphere was relaxed and conducive for healthy interaction. Students asked a range of relevant questions without much prompting from the lecturer. Although some may think that face-to-face interviews cannot be replaced by Skype interviews, I felt the experience was adequate for the specific purpose of learning about how to have a conversation with a patient in a professional manner and how to gather information from the conversation to help improve their conditions. The session was a good training in observing a patient’s emotional expressions as well as picking up non-verbal cues by hearing someone’s voice, for future consultations. The use of videoconferencing is particularly suitable if expert patients are are unable to visit the university in person for any reason such as immobility due to their conditions. Students can still benefit from the experience as they would by speaking to a patient face-to-face.
I found the patient’s reflection on what attributes a ‘good’ pharmacist must have been very useful.
The activity was very applicable to my future career as a community pharmacist. The patient’s description of his consultation sessions with his community pharmacists was very inspiring for me. That shed some light on the satisfaction and pride that a community pharmacist might have in their job that seeks to help a patient with chronic condition(s). The videoconferencing session empowered me to see the impacts that community pharmacists made on patients’ day-to-day lives. It gave a true insight into the professionalism of pharmacists and taught me to see my patients as individuals and not just as case studies on a piece of paper.
Overall I was very satisfied and grateful that our expert patient was willing to spare his precious time to speak to us via Skype. The only point of improvement I would mention is that the time for Q&A could have been longer but I also understand that that is dependent on the students’ engagement. I would definitely recommend this style of learning to other Pharmacy students (possibly for earlier years of the degree), to gain experience of speaking to a patient and to learn about the professionalism that is expected of a healthcare professional.