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  May 8, 2000

Practicing Pharacists Help Students
Learn Skills of Profession

Pharmacists from Fairfield, Putnam and more than a dozen communities in between are volunteering their time to help train UConn pharmacy students at the Storrs campus.

"It is turning out to be a very effective teaching method," says Neil Facchinetti, an associate professor of pharmacy, who has enlised the help of practicing pharmacists for a course he teaches on interpersonal skills development.

"Our pharmacy students are getting an accelerated start by learning drug information and patient counseling techniques in their first year of pharmacy school," he says.

The need for developing better communication skills is growing because Americans are taking more medications than ever. This year, more than 2.8 billion prescriptions will be filled in the U.S.

Patient counseling is also critical because more people are self-medicating themselves with over-the-counter drugs and herbal remedies. Facchinetti says that opens the door for all kinds of possible interactions with prescription drugs.

A pharmacist trained in communication techniques is better able to talk to patients and pick up clues as to why a medication may not be as effective as it should be, why the patient may be experiencing a particular side effect and what other behaviors may conflict with the prescription medication.

Sixteen participating pharmacists travel to Storrs every week to share their expertise in dealing with patients. Four classes are held each week. At the start of the class, the students learn about several commonly prescribed drugs such as Prozac, Zantac, and Dilantin. Then they pair up for role playing.

Each pair of students goes to one of four counseling centers set up in the Hewitt Building, where one of the volunteer pharmacists is stationed. The volunteer pharmacist hands a bottle of prescription drugs to the student "pharmacist." The student "patient" is handed a rough script outlining family background, medical history and other factors that will help test the student "pharmacist's" abilities to listen, evaluate, and counsel.

As the exercise begins, a video camera records the interaction. The volunteer pharmacist observes the aspiring pharmacists' body language, questioning techniques, listening skills, and use of factual details. When it is over, the professional critiques the performance, while using the video tape as a source for instant replay to demonstrate the high points and the missed opportunities.

"Recording the exercise really makes an impact on the student's ability to learn and improve," Facchinetti says. "From the first class to the next, the students are able to see themselves in action, modify their behavior based on suggestions by the volunteer pharmacist, and witness the progress made throughout the semester."

But he says it is a teaching method that would be impractical and too expensive without volunteers like Bill Colburn, a pharmacist at the Willimantic Stop &Shop supermarket who, like the majority of the volunteers, is a UConn alumnus. Colburn lives about a mile from the University, but he says that is not the only reason he decided to help train future pharmacists.

"I felt I got a good education at UConn and was prepared well for my profession. I wanted to give something back to UConn and to the School of Pharmacy," he says. "And I have to say I feel good about the students I've been working with. They seem very professional and are quite smart, and they're keeping me on my toes."

Janice Palmer