AACP session promotes humanity in pharmacy

July 20, 2009

Carolyn Brackett, PharmD, Associate Professor of Clinical Pharmacy at Ohio State University?s College of Pharmacy believes it?s possible to bring more humanity and human-to-human interaction to pharmacy ? regardless of the area in which they practice.

Carolyn Brackett, PharmD, associate professor of clinical pharmacy at Ohio State University’s College of Pharmacy, believes it’s possible to bring more humanity and person-to-person interaction to the practice of pharmacy, regardless of the area of practice.

Brackett and two other presenters spoke to a packed room of more than 150 pharmacy students and faculty at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy during a session titled “Send in the Clowns! Improving Professionalism through Laughter and Humanism.”

Provoking laugher encourages health, she said, quoting famous philosophers, doctors, and other healthcare providers who believe that touching the human spirit can help heal suffering.

Often pharmacists look at customers in a left-brained, analytic way. They are formal and focused on maintaining a very professional persona. But, she said, it’s possible and even more effective to employ a more right-brained approach that uses more intuition and creativity. That way, customers are able to connect with their pharmacists and be truthful about their medication histories, and about how and when they’re taking their medications.

“Too often we say, ‘Oh, they’re drug-seekers,’” Brackett said. “No. They’re human beings first. Stop looking at them as people with labels and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.”

That idea led Brackett to begin offering students at OSU a course in clowning. Class members learning clinical pharmacy visit children’s hospitals and other community healthcare organizations. If students can visit hospitals or clinics feeling vulnerable because they look silly dressed as clowns, said Brackett, yet still get people to connect to them, then they are doing their jobs.

“I’m trying to teach them much more than how to make balloon animals,” Brackett said. “I’m trying to get them to be brave enough to step out of that professional persona. They can’t hide behind their lab coat when they wear a silly nose and clown hair. If you get the patients to sing ‘I’m a Little Tea Pot’ while you’re dressed like this, then take this stuff off, go to work, and don’t change a thing.”

Brackett said she isn’t suggesting that pharmacists change what they’re already doing or replace medication therapy with laughter therapy. “I’m saying you can add to what you’re already doing.”

It’s possible to toe the line of policies and procedures in a pharmacy and still learn how to connect with patients. It’s easier to get people to tell you the truth if they trust you and don’t feel afraid or distrust you, she said.

“You know who likes the balloon animals the most? Little old women. After I make them a balloon, I make eye contact with them and ask, ‘How are you doing?’ And they start crying. And then I know, ‘Now, we can work.’”

Brackett said she realizes that her approach isn’t for all pharmacists. She doesn’t recommend forcing anyone to commit to her approach. “Some pharmacists are from a different time, and they’re doing the best they can with what they know, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

But a smile, kindness, interaction, warmth, and even touch are not impossible, because a pharmacist is in a setting other than clinical, where more interaction is likely.

“This can be done in any setting,” she said. “Pharmacists need only to interact with the customer to do this. And pharmacists shouldn’t work in a place where they have no interaction with the customer. It’s dangerous, and that’s how mistakes happen. You need to come out from back behind the counter. Pharmacists shouldn’t fill prescriptions without talking to the customer, just like physicians shouldn’t prescribe medications without seeing a patient.”