Students play patient's role to train pharmacists

Playing the part is more than an act to students in a pharmacy practice lab

by Hilary Thomson staff writer

Rave reviews are greeting students in a new directed studies course in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Twelve fourth-year students form a cast of costumed characters that appear regularly in the Pharmacy Professional Practice 300 lab. Making their entrances on crutches and wheelchairs, the students regale would-be pharmacists with fictional symptoms and drug-related problems.

The students are performing the role of standardized patient, a method of developing and testing students' ability to counsel patients. Standardized patients are usually played by paid actors, but the faculty recruited students for the roles to help introduce peer teaching. This innovative method is found in few faculties of pharmaceutical sciences in North America. Learning more about how to manage disease states was what motivated fourth-year student Amita Kumar to get involved.

"Developing the case studies required a lot of research and integrating that information with my own knowledge from previous courses to create a fictitious patient was a challenge," she says.

With no previous acting experience, Kumar initially found the idea of performing in front of other students "a scary thought" but it became fun with a bit of practice, she says.

"The most important aspect of the project was that I was able to experience what it is like to be a patient rather than the pharmacist."

In addition to acting, the students were required to create the entire patient case, including a detailed description of the disease state, symptoms, personality, family history and social activities. They also evaluate their performance and the effectiveness of the peer teaching approach.

Each student played one of 12 characters for two hours a week for 12 weeks--all organized by lab co-ordinator Hilary Watson.

"The program offers dual learning," says Watson, a lecturer in the division of Pharmacy Practice. "It cements the knowledge of the directed studies students while teaching new skills to the students in the lab."

The course builds on the success of another directed studies peer teaching program in the faculty originated two years ago by senior instructor Simon Albon. The program sees students lecturing, helping other students in the lab, advising and developing curriculum.

"It's more than just an extra pair of hands," says Albon. "We're using the course to test the hypothesis that peer teaching is a useful tool in building a learning community."