Pharmacy Professor Teaches Students to Treat Patients With Empathy and Respect
Pharmacist Nora Stelter (back left) with faculty and student pharmacists from Drake University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Hy-Vee pharmacists, and partners from the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement at Drake University.
Nora Stelter, PharmD, trained her students at Drake University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences to answer any questions that patients might have about COVID-19 vaccines. When some patients at the university’s COVID-19 vaccination clinics still weren’t ready to roll up their sleeves, the student pharmacists brought in Stelter, associate professor of pharmacy practice. Stelter was present at the clinics to address the concerns of patients who weren’t quite sure about getting the vaccine.
“When it comes to vaccine hesitancy, it’s about rapport-building, making the person feel comfortable, and demonstrating empathy,” Stelter said.
At a large community clinic hosted by Drake University, a student pharmacist called Stelter over to talk with a patient who was tentative about getting vaccinated. The patient wanted a COVID-19 vaccine, but he was afraid because he had once developed a shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA), commonly called “frozen shoulder,” after a flu shot. Stelter took the patient into a separate room at the clinic to talk with him.
Stelter explained that SIRVA can happen when a vaccine is injected into the shoulder joint rather than into the deltoid muscle. She pointed out on the patient’s arm the right and wrong places to administer a vaccine and assured him that she would not miss the correct injection site. To further bolster the patient’s confidence, Stelter placed a bandage on the man’s arm in the precise spot where the vaccine should be injected. The specialized bandage allows immunizers to mark the spot and insert the needle through the bandage.
When the patient came back for his second dose, he insisted that “Dr. Nora” be the one to administer it, and he asked if there was a way to get future immunizations from her as well.
The key to her success with the patient, Stelter says, was addressing his concerns with respect. That’s what she teaches the student pharmacists.
“Vaccine hesitancy is a very challenging topic. I make sure students know that we are working with patients who have many differing opinions from our own,” she said. “We are not there to argue. The key is showing respect and empathy.”
Drake students got plenty of practice approaching patients who were reluctant about getting vaccinated. Led by Stelter, and in partnership with the Polk County Health Department and Hy-Vee supermarkets in Iowa, the university hosted clinics for adolescents and teens ages 12 through 18 years old, pre-K through 12th-grade educators, childcare workers, senior adults, first responders, college students, athletes from the Special Olympics of Iowa, and certain populations of high-risk individuals.
The key to reaching many of these populations, Stelter said, was going to them. Children, for example, as well as their parents, were more comfortable with vaccine clinics in the school parking lot, cafeteria, or gymnasium than in a health care facility setting. She found this to be particularly true of students with special needs.
Meet patients at locations in the community where they are comfortable, and then educate them with respect and empathy.
Coordination efforts included ensuring vaccinations were offered during hours when uptake would be greatest. Several of Drake’s COVID-19 vaccine clinics for children operated in the early morning hours before school started and in the evening hours after parents were home from work and students were finished with extra-curricular activities. In the summer, Drake operated clinics in the school settings at times when students would be arriving to pick up free lunches or at the start of summer sports camps.
By providing vaccines to patients in their comfortable, familiar settings, immunizers can build the relationships needed to instill vaccine confidence. At each of these events, Stelter ensured her team of immunizers understood how to counsel and educate patients with respect.
“We are not there to convince or sell. We are not there to force anyone to do anything,” said Stelter. “We are there to provide education, if education is welcomed, and we have permission to share that information. We can build relationships and move them forward by showing respect and demonstrating empathy.”
Resources and tools to Discuss the Importance of COVID-19 Vaccination, Know What Drives Vaccine Confidence, and Educate Your Health Care Team are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.