Taking home a top pharmacy prize for empathy

By Jan Jarvis

Ellias Web
 
When UNT System College of Pharmacy student of Ellias Hismeh sat down to counsel an older patient taking an opioid and an anti-depressant he faced a daunting task.

The woman refused to talk to him.

“She was just stone-faced the whole time,” he said. “I tried to ask open-ended questions but I could barely get this woman to say yes or no.”

In the end, Hismeh’s empathic approach won himfirst place in the Texas Pharmacy Association’s Patient Counseling Competitionin San Antonio. The competition gives students the opportunity to practice their counseling skills in realistic circumstances with the goal of preparing them for situations that they might face during their careers.

Volunteers portray the patients and a panel of pharmacists scores the students. This is the second year in a row the College of Pharmacy has taken home top honors in the competition. College of Pharmacy student Mark Herndon won last year.

Students have 10 minutes to prepare and learn about the drug prescribed. Finding out about the drug is the easy part, Hismeh said. He knew that anti-depressants and opioids could cause drowsiness and interact with each other. But he also recognized that the competition was less about knowing scientific facts and more about communicating effectively.

“When someone is not talking, you have to take a moment and step back and try to find out what is wrong,” he said. “You have to stop everything and focus on them.”

His approach was apparently effective. After the competition, the “patient” said she appreciated his empathy.

Not surprisingly, a friendly, empathic approach to life seems to run in Hismeh’s family.

“I grew up in my father’s deli in Garland,” said Hismeh, whose father owns Main Street Deli. “And I liked getting to know the people I served and developing a bond.”

He believes that same attitude will serve him well as a pharmacist.

“From the start I never really thought about doing anything else,” he said. “I just felt like being in the community and working as a pharmacist was the thing for me to do.”

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