Vivian Ly wants to prioritize patient conversations when she’s a pharmacist.
Ly turned that desire into a skill she used to finish first runner-up in a national patient counseling competition for pharmacy students. Her feat was even more impressive because she did so during her first year at Chapman University’s School of Pharmacy.
“People were surprised it was my first year but that was to my advantage,” says Ly, who is starting her second year. “I was just really excited to show off the skill set I do have. There’s no point in having clinical knowledge if I can’t communicate it.”
The competition was put on by the American Pharmacists Association (APhA). Ly won Chapman’s competition, and reached the national semifinals with 119 others – including second-, third- and fourth-year students – at APhA’s national conference in San Antonio last March. She was one of 10 finalists.
“We are incredibly proud of Vivian,” says School of Pharmacy Interim Dean Rennolds Ostrom. “Each school of pharmacy in the nation sent their top student for this competition. With over 140 pharmacy schools in the U.S., finishing second is an incredible feat for any student, but especially one still in their first year. Patient counseling is one of the most important skills of a pharmacist so this is a testament to Vivian’s bright future as a clinician.”
In the competition, each student had five minutes to talk with an actor portraying a patient about a prescription. In the APhA semifinals and finals, the students’ interactions were recorded on video for judges to watch.
“What they were looking for is communication – how well can you communicate with your patient?” Ly says. “The pharmacist bridges the gap. They make sure you make the most out of the medication when you take it.”
Part of the scoring rubric is technical, but the rest focuses on building a connection with the patient and showing compassion.
She and her fellow competitors were given a list of 10 drugs they might talk to their “patient” about. To prepare Ly made a spreadsheet, watched videos of previous winners, and practiced speaking with other people.
“It helps to know as much about the drug beforehand so you’re not looking back and forth between your notes and the patient,” she says. “It’s intimidating because they’re filming you.”
She and the other competitors didn’t know their patient’s personality until they walked into the room. In the final round, “I was dispensing a drug to a very apprehensive patient. The judges had to see how I calmed the patient down, who was extremely anxious,” she says.
Ideally, practicing pharmacists spend at least five minutes with each patient reviewing their medication. The competition mimics this standard.
Ly says that it’s “not enough to want to help patients – I want to protect patients.”
“My duty is to make sure they’re leaving with the proper treatment in their hands,” she says. “Once they get the diagnosis, seeing them live a healthier life is pretty rewarding. It’s always a collaboration between us, the patient and the doctor.”
Ly is part Chapman’s Pre-Pharmacy Freshman Early Assurance Program, an accelerated track into the Pharm.D. program. While she was at the national patient counseling competition, she did a takeover of Chapman’s APhA student chapter’s Instagram page.
She says that she probably won’t participate in the competition again, but “would love to be involved in helping the next student.”