An Interdisciplinary Approach to New Student Orientation

By Laura Brown

A communication task that pharmacists perform daily is translating complex information about treatment regimens into language that patients can understand. According to pharmacists, their most commonly used patient communication techniques include avoiding jargon, handing out printed materials to patients, reading instructions aloud, and slowing down their rate of speech.1

During new student orientation, the Center kicked off its educational collaboration with the College of Pharmacy with a Communication Bootcamp. The bootcamp included an introduction to the Center, an overview of the importance of communication, and plenty of high-energy improvisational activities, one of which gave future Longhorn pharmacists a new technique to consider—using metaphors to translate complex information. First year PharmD students were organized into pairs, and one person in each pair was a “time traveler” from 300 years ago. The other person was tasked with explaining what a smart phone was, in a way that would be understandable and non-threatening to the time traveler. Students reported that this simple activity helped them think empathetically, work quickly to find common ground, and of course, practice using metaphors as explanatory tools. Metaphors for smart phones included “a letter you send, and you can be sure that the other person received it” and “like a mirror that allows you to talk to people who are far away.” Anecdotally, students also let the facilitators know that the bootcamp helped them build relationships with their new peers.

New student orientation is only the beginning of the Center’s innovative interdisciplinary collaboration with the College of Pharmacy. This fall the Center is helping to transform the Pharmacy Professional Communications course, which will train second year PharmD students in evidence-based approaches to communication.

1 Schwartzberg, J. G., Cowett, Al., VanGeest, J., Wolf, M. S. (2007). Communication techniques for patients with low health literacy: A Survey of Physicians, Nurses, and Pharmacists. American Journal of Health Behavior, 31, S96-S104.