Students and lecturers of the Pharmacy Programme of the Faculty of Medicine at Vilnius University had an opportunity to attend lectures on interprofessional communication and to participate in a conference about immunisation with a special overview of a pharmacist’s communication with members of the public. The lectures and conference were presented by Afonso Miguel Neves Cavaco, an associate professor from the Department of Social Pharmacy of the Faculty of Pharmacy of Lisbon University in Portugal.

The main organiser of the event was Indrė Trečiokienė, who is a lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine of Vilnius University and a PhD student at the University of Groningen. According to Trečiokienė, Cavaco’s visit was part of the successful cooperation of the Faculty of Medicine with foreign colleagues and provided particular benefit to students, who gain knowledge, experience and skills from international level professionals without leaving their alma mater: “Our aim is to strengthen our pharmacy programme, and one of our top priorities is to teach our pharmacists how to communicate effectively with patients. We are delighted to invite world-renowned educators in the field of pharmacy who can help us to integrate the development of communication skills into the curriculum and provide life-long learning to pharmaceutical professionals.”

Afonso Cavaco is a well-known researcher who graduated the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Lisbon, defended his PhD at the School of Pharmacy at UCL (formerly University of London), and did postdoctoral studies at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA. His main areas of interest are public health and communication in health care, applied communication in pharmacies and the practice of medicine, social pharmacy, and healthcare services.

P1010221Afonce Cavaco, 2019.

“Communication is a key issue in the delivery of healthcare services”, the guest from Portugal said. “In the context of a pharmacy, pharmacist–patient communication may vary from brief periods of counselling to extensive consultations about pharmaceutical care. Many community pharmacies have developed practices to facilitate the effective delivery of pharmaceutical care, although the nature and extent of the services differ widely from country to country.” Cavaco speaks highly of the new Pharmacy Programme at the VU Faculty of Medicine and believes that communication studies will help to prepare high-level pharmacy specialists with excellent communication skills, making pharmacists very active participants in the healthcare system.

Cavaco believes pharmacy communication is extremely important: “In my PhD studies, the factor of communication was one of the main independent variables for explaining trends in modern pharmaceutical research and practice. If you as a pharmacist want to improve your pharmacy, you have to control communication.” According to the professor, a pharmacist communicating with a customer in a pharmacy is providing a pharmaceutical healthcare service. In Portugal, pharmacists do not prepare or prescribe medicines. They only help the patient choose the correct pharmaceutical preparation or equipment or answer related questions. It is a special kind of communication that is a bit different from the interaction between doctors and patients and should be carefully adapted to each specific situation, and that is both a science and an art.

In every community pharmacy in Portugal, there is a special room with a table and two chairs for pharmaceutical consultations. This is a legal requirement, because in all situations dealing with our health there are always different private (not public) issues we do not want to discuss publicly in a way that other customers standing behind us in the pharmacy can hear what we say. “It is therefore always preferable to speak privately with a person you trust. When it is necessary to give a patient advice about a particular health matter, the interaction should be quite clear and structured. Every pharmacist needs to know the specific rules of such communication.”

Pharmacy degrees in Europe prepare pharmacists to put their knowledge into practice, helping patients make the best use of their medication, suggesting what patients should do, and providing advice that will help patients avoid contracting various infectious diseases and have healthy lifestyles. People often think that pharmacists are generally “nice, attentive people” but that they lack highly specialised knowledge. “This is why communication is a very important health issue,” Afonso Cavaco said, adding that the subject of communication is obligatory in many medical curricula in various medical programmes, including most pharmacy programmes. In his opinion, pharmacy specialists have to be prepared to talk effectively, which includes educating patients: “If you contribute to caring for the health of the customers in your pharmacy, who in general are patients (at least many of them), you are contributing to a better national healthcare system and better health of the population in general. And even to a happier society.”

The associate professor from Portugal is planning to return to Vilnius again in March and continue teaching Lithuanian students and staff from Vilnius University. He has an engaging personality, likes challenges, and always travels to his job at the Faculty of Pharmacy of Lisbon University by bicycle in spite of the seven hills on which this beautiful city stands. He has visited about fifty countries throughout his busy academic and personal life. “Every time I am abroad, I always go to a bookshop or a library. For me, as an academic, they are the best places to get to know another culture and different people. So, during my next time in Vilnius, I hope to have more time to explore this wonderful city. And first of all I am planning to visit the very famous and magnificent Vilnius University library and the bookshop at the University Campus.”

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