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National 1st Runner-up

Mirjamali Claims Top Finalist Spot in APhA-ASP National Patient Counseling Competition

March 30 — After four years of competing at the local level and on her second consecutive trip to the national competition, UH College of Pharmacy Pharm.D. candidate Sara Mirjamali succeeded in claiming the National 1st Runner-up finish in the American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists National Patient Counseling Competition.

Mirjamali's impressive performance among the field of 134 competitors at the national level capped her journey to earning her Pharm.D. degree in May.

"Patient counseling is so important to being a pharmacist because you have to focus on ensuring they understand their medication and clearly, but thoroughly address any of their questions or concerns," Mirjamali said. "I'd advise all pharmacy students to participate in the local competition, starting with their first year. It's not just about the competition, but learning the techniques for interaction with patients and responding in different types of situations."

Every college of pharmacy across the U.S. is allowed to send the winner of its local competition to represent the college at nationals. About a month before the start of the national competition, students are given a list of 10 medications to learn in preparation for the preliminary and final rounds. In the two-day preliminary round, students select a random prescription and are given 5 minutes to review the provided patient profile and reference resources. Then, the student has five minutes to counsel a standardized "patient" (actor) on the medication during a recorded session, which is then reviewed and evaluated on aspects of communication and professional competence by a panel of judges.

The format of the final round is nearly identical to the preliminary round, except the competitors are presented with a more difficult patient characteristic or barrier and a more complex medication (although the drug is identified for competitors the evening before the final round).

"The medication in the preliminary round was a very common thyroid medication, so I felt very confident after the session," Mirjamali said. "In the final round, I got a drug used to control nausea in chemotherapy, which has more potential side effects, interactions and other important factors than the preliminary round medications. The barrier in the final round was that the patient had just been diagnosed and started crying in the middle of the counseling session.

"I realized that the judges weren't going to compare me to others based solely on my drug knowledge, but how I would handle this dramatic change. It's a situation where you have to put yourself in your patient's shoes and be as empathetic and supportive as you can, while still making sure you communicate – and they understand – the important information about the medication."