Adherence Education for Pharmacy Students

By Suzanne Stepp

How does a person become a professional pianist, basketball player, or bull rider? Practice—and lots of it! The skills so perfected by these people are not merely instinctive. Through continual repetition and countless hours of dedication, they have gained enough knowledge and aptitude to be considered professionals in their fields. As pharmacists, we, too, want to be regarded as professionals. As our profession evolves, the knowledge of monitoring for and counseling on medication adherence becomes a vital part of our everyday goals.

To properly educate pharmacists on how to become experts in adherence, we must go back to the basics. The first year of pharmacy school, although already overwhelming, is where students should be introduced to the importance of adherence. The vitality of the subject should then be emphasized throughout pharmacy school. Once the students become pharmacists, the significance of patient adherence is instilled into their brains as if pharmacy without adherence counseling and monitoring would be absurd. The more adherence counseling and monitoring are incorporated into didactic learning and experiential education, the more accustomed students will become to recognizing adherence shortfalls and speaking to the patients about the importance of correctly taking their medications.

The solution, though, is not simply lecturing students on the importance of counseling patients on adherence to ingrain the significance of the concept into their brains. Pharmacy students need hands-on experience throughout pharmacy school. By familiarizing them with one-on-one patient interactions, beginning with mock scenarios and progressing to real-life situations, pharmacy students will evolve into pharmacists possessing skills for efficient patient counseling on both medications and adherence.

Pharmacists are on the front lines of patient care. They speak with patients on a daily basis about their medications, and patients trust the recommendations pharmacists make for leading healthier lives. By not learning and practicing adherence counseling during school, upcoming pharmacists are lacking a key piece of education necessary to provide well-rounded patient care. To fully benefit from their chronic medications, patients must be informed of the importance of taking them consistently.

Additionally, the act of patient adherence is expected by pharmacists, but many patients have difficulty remembering to take their medications. By recommending adherence tools, such as alarm clocks and pillboxes, simplifying medication regimens, and monitoring for side effects, pharmacists can positively impact patients’ health outcomes.

Just as the other professionals of the world acquire their admirable abilities, so must pharmacists attain and cultivate their patient care skills. Practice may not make perfect, but it does develop expertise required to effectively communicate the benefits of correctly taking prescribed medication and the consequences of non-adherence.  Independent pharmacists like you can have such a positive impact on reinforcing adherence skills learned in the classroom. We look to practitioners in the community to extend our adherence education while on rotations.

Reprinted with permission from National Community Pharmacists Association in the April 2011 issue of America’s Pharmacist. For more information about NCPA, visit

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