Transitions Magazine

Transitions is published bi-monthly for members of the APhA New Practitioner Network. The online newsletter contains information focused on life inside and outside pharmacy practice, providing guidance on various areas of professional, personal, and practice development. Each issue includes in-depth articles on such topics as personal financial management, innovative practice sites, career profiles, career development tools, residency and postgraduate programs, and more.

Competing to polish my patient counseling skills

Competing to polish my patient counseling skills


Maddie Wiarek is a final-year PharmD candidate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy and winner of the 2021 APhA–ASP National Patient Counseling Competition.

The ability to successfully communicate and educate patients about their medications is one of the most important skills a pharmacist needs to possess—if not the most important. Because I do not currently work in a community pharmacy, my patient counseling experience is limited to experiential rotations and mock consultations conducted in pharmacotherapy labs. Thus, I decided to compete in the 2021 APhA–ASP National Patient Counseling Competition (NPCC) so that I could practice and continue developing my consultation and communication skills.

Relaxed and prepared

Although I was nervous before each round of the competition, I always made sure to take a deep breath and relax. My education and training for the past 3 years at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy had been preparing me for this exact scenario. Overall, I was comforted by the fact that I had a strong foundation of knowledge and skills to assist me.

As I advanced in the NPCC, I became much more comfortable with my communication abilities. Before and during each round of the competition, I had the opportunity to practice my counseling skills and develop my own style and method of communication. I will continue to use these skills as I advance through pharmacy school and into pharmacy practice.

NPCC and the pharmacy profession adapt

Though the primary purpose of the NPCC is to encourage student pharmacists to practice and enhance their ability in educating patients, the competition also reflects current changes within pharmacy. The adaptability of the NPCC through its transition to a virtual platform highlights the flexibility and versatility of the pharmacy profession. Throughout the past year, pharmacists have developed new techniques and virtual strategies to continue educating and connecting with patients. Ultimately, the NPCC and the pharmacy profession have shown that it’s possible to educate patients even if we are not physically present with one another.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the importance and usefulness of telehealth technology. Even though we are beginning to see a shift back to normalcy, I have a good feeling that this form of health care delivery will continue to be prevalent. The ability to use a digital platform to connect with patients virtually during the NPCC gave me the opportunity to develop new communication skills. Most notably, through my experiences in the NPCC and in my school’s digital pharmacotherapy labs, I’ve gained practice in expressing empathy and facilitating patient understanding. Though these skills are more suited to an online platform, I am hopeful that I will be able to translate them to my future pharmacy practice site.  

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