Jacqui McLaughlin
Jacqui McLaughlin, PhD

Some pharmacists have reported feeling uncomfortable interacting with patients with mental illnesses. Jacqui McLaughlin, PhD, is partnering with faculty at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and pharmacists at UNC Hospitals to address that issue with a new program for third-year student pharmacists.

In this new program, pharmacy students guided by pharmacists will lead inpatient psychiatry medication-education groups for psychiatry patients being treated at UNC Hospitals. The program will be evaluated to better understand how leading these groups can impact mental health stigma and student self-efficacy. McLaughlin is the principal investigator on the project, which is made possible by a $10,000 grant from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

McLaughlin is an assistant professor in the Division of Practice Advancement and Clinical education at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. She is also director of the School’s Office of Strategic Planning and Assessment.

Mental Health Stigma

The World Health Organization has identified stigma as the greatest impediment to effective mental health care.

“While research suggests that pharmacists generally hold positive attitudes towards users of psychiatric medication, they often feel less comfortable talking about these medications than other types of medications,” McLaughlin says.

Traditional practices of lectures and clinical rotations may not be enough to reduce these attitudes in pharmacy students, she says.

Placing student pharmacists in direct contact with mental health patients has been shown to improve those stigmatized attitudes and increase interest in providing services to this population, McLaughlin says.

Early Immersion

Third-year students that volunteer for the program will design and lead inpatient medication-education groups for psychiatric patients at UNC Hospitals under the direction of pharmacists with expertise in this psychiatric medicine.

Medication-education groups are groups that provide education or support for patients. They can instill hope, address socializing techniques, foster cohesiveness, promote substance-abuse prevention, and are often provided in conjunction with other psychosocial or pharmacological interventions.

“Incorporating students into a patient medication education group format is an ideal way to promote confidence and lay the foundation for these students to become experts in disseminating medical information to the public,” says Lindsey Kennedy, PharmD, program collaborator and UNC Hospitals pharmacist.

This program will be helpful for both student participants and clinician facilitators, and can assists in breaking down barriers and reducing stigma regarding mental illness, Kennedy says.

“Being able to utilize resources from the Eshelman School of Pharmacy has allowed us to incorporate this important counseling piece into our workflow as hospital pharmacists,” she says. “It is a testament to the good that comes through the School’s collaboration with UNC Hospitals.”

By Aren Besson

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