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School of Pharmacy Students Participate in Role-Reversal Exercise as Deaf Patients


School of Pharmacy Students Participate in Role-Reversal Exercise as Deaf Patients

Three years from now, there will be 80 new pharmacists who were part of the St. John Fisher College Wegmans School of Pharmacy Class of 2015. They will start their work as pharmacists, in a hospital or retail setting, or perhaps a nursing home or clinic. They will be face-to-face with patients from all walks of life, who depend on them for their medical expertise and accuracy. And they will undoubtedly be face-to-face with patients from the deaf or hard-of-hearing community, who may grow frustrated with them if there are communication barriers. So, for the third year in a row, the School of Pharmacy atrium was transformed into the Deaf Strong Hospital (DSH) on March 7 in an effort to put the students through a real-life exercise as deaf patients.

The hospital included a waiting area, a pharmacy, a psychiatrist's office, and a doctor's office. While it was very quiet, there was a lot of activity, as it was full of 80 students playing the role of a deaf patient. The health care providers, who were members of the local deaf community, were all at their stations, doing the best they could to communicate and treat the patients. Together, they tried to communicate symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments through sign language.

Deaf Strong Hospital

Student works to explain his symptoms using sign language to a member of the deaf community playing the role of the doctor.

The School of Pharmacy worked with the National Center for Deaf Health Research (NCDHR) to host the DSH on campus for the unique role-reversal exercise.

Dr. Jennifer Mathews, Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, organizes the event each year. She said the main goal is to make the students walk a mile in the patients’ shoes, and to get a sense of how challenging it may be for them as a pharmacist when they one day deal with a patient who is deaf.

“It turns the tables on the students so they can experience what it’s like to be a patient in the health care system who doesn’t speak the primary language of their provider, which is often the case with deaf patients,” said Mathews. “We can’t teach empathy in the classroom, but putting them through this exercise indirectly forces them to learn about what it means to be empathetic and it forces that interaction.”

Student Hillary Barnard said the exercise was fun, but also quite challenging and at times, frustrating.

“Getting the main idea across when trying to talk to someone who didn’t understand me wasn't so hard, it was the details that were hard to communicate,” she said. “I think the most important thing I learned is that patience is key. Everyone should go through an exercise like this, no matter who they are. It's a great way to try on someone else's shoes, if only for an hour or so.”

Deaf Strong Hospital

Student works with a member of the deaf community who is the playing the role of the pharmacist.

Eric DeRollo also participated, and said the experience helped expose some of the challenges that he may encounter as a pharmacist in a diverse community.

“Although challenging in many aspects, the exercise was a valuable experience that gave me a new perspective on the importance of interpersonal communication. It forced me to reflect on some of the things I may tend to take for granted, and gave me insight into a part of the community I was relatively unfamiliar with beforehand,” he said. “When you’re forced into a situation that seems foreign or uncomfortable, you learn more about yourself and some of the changes you may need to make to better prepare yourself.”

DSH was first established by medical students at the University of Rochester's School of Medicine and Dentistry. In collaboration with the National Center for Deaf Health Research, the program was adapted for use with Fisher pharmacy students in 2009 – the first time the program was offered outside of the University of Rochester.

The NCDHR is one of 33 prevention research centers funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through the Prevention Research Centers (PRC) Program. The Center partners with deaf and hard-of-hearing communities to promote health, and works to find ways to help deaf and hard-of-hearing communities eliminate health problems, such as heart disease, obesity, depression, and other chronic health concerns.

Deaf Strong Hospital

The staged waiting room in the Deaf Strong Hospital.

Deaf Strong Hospital

Student interacts through sign language with a member of the deaf community who is playing the role of a psychiatrist.

Deaf Strong Hospital

After the role-reversal exercise, students participated in a panel discussion with members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

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