Ramisha Ali and Jeffrey Chin arrived at Mt. San Antonio Gardens in Pomona expecting to help older adults learn more about their medications. But the students in the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program at the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (SPHS) didn’t anticipate how much they would learn by interacting with the seniors.
Both members of the Class of 2021, Ali and Chin went to the 500-resident life care community as part of their Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience (IPPE) rotation focused on patient communication in senior chronic care. SPHS has been partnering with Mt. San Antonio Gardens for the past four years and also works with the nearby Palm Terrace senior community as an IPPE rotation site.
Like all students completing this IPPE, Ali and Chin were given the assignment of helping residents develop a medication action plan and self-confidence in managing a medication regimen; addressing proper medication storage and disposal; and discussing issues related to prescriptions, dietary supplements, and drug interactions.
Coursework at KGI incorporating research assignments and presentations about the communication styles and experiences of different generations is designed to prepare students for the experience. But meeting residents of the senior communities leads them to new discoveries.
Chin, who was paired with a Mt. San Antonio Gardens resident in her late 70s, says, “The first thing I noticed was that she was really sharp. When we went over her medications, she knew what she was taking and why. She was also very technologically proficient. That opened my mind to the reality that seniors have varying levels of technical skills and organization. Some seniors, like my patient, are tech savvy and able to achieve prescription compliance with little assistance. Other patients may need more support.
“As healthcare providers we should not assume which end of the spectrum a patient is on. We should listen and ask questions.”
Ali, who met with a former teacher in her mid-80s, notes, “I learned a lot from her because I haven’t had many opportunities to work with senior patients. I was impressed by how active she is! She shared that she loves to bike and also likes to paint. I think there is a tendency to not fully understand just how busy and full the lives of older patients can be. To my surprise, we noticed that they are 10 times busier than we are!”
Two of the Mt. San Antonio Gardens residents who benefited from the KGI PharmD visitors were Jil and Jack L. Stark, who is a KGI Trustee Emeritus and President Emeritus for Claremont McKenna College.
“As residents, we brought out our medications and told the pharmacy students what we thought the medications did,” Jil said. “The KGI students confirmed or clarified each medication’s purpose. Initially, my doctor told me to stop taking one of my diabetes medications. The KGI student corrected this misinformation and reminded me that I was not supposed to stop taking that specific one. When I called my physician, he admitted that he was wrong and the KGI pharmacy student had provided the right recommendation.”
Andrea Tyck, the wellness director for Mt. San Antonio Gardens, views the partnership with SPHS as mutually beneficial, explaining, “As an elder care organization, we want to help develop skilled practitioners for the future. It’s also very validating for residents to interact with students who are interested in them as people.”
She is aware that residents gain additional benefits from their interactions with the students. Some, like Chin’s partner, have learned they were taking medications at the wrong time. Others come to realize they were taking too much of a medication.
Ali, who helped the woman she worked with compile a complete list of her medications and allergies, says, “She was adherent, but if she went into a hospital without this list, there could be gaps in her care. Going into the profession, I now understand the importance of making a list for people.”
Both Ali and Chin are already beginning to apply what they learned at Mt. San Antonio Gardens in their roles as interns in retail pharmacies.
“I learned the importance of patience in communicating with elderly people. You need to take the time to explain the medication they’re taking and what it looks like,” says Chin. “I’m definitely going to spend more time on the counseling side of pharmacy.”
They have also grown more interested in working with the elderly, and Ali comments, “Even if I did this another time with another resident, I think I’d learn ten times more.”
Though Ali and Chin won’t be repeating the experience, the Mt. San Antonio Gardens residents often do so, including more than 25 percent of the spring semester participants. Their enthusiasm about the partnership also helps Tyck recruit fresh volunteers.
“Residents like helping students practice their future skills and tell their friends about it,” says Tyck, who will start the next recruitment cycle in December. “As long as we’re able to sustain interest and participation from the residents, we’re going to retain the program. So far, we’re still going strong.”