How pharmacy students interpret ‘silence’ in pharmacist-customer communications

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To improve communication in the pharmacy we need to be more knowledgeable about the processes that lead to good communication. In a series of studies, video-vignettes have been used to analyse how pharmacists and pharmacy students assess customers, and how this influences the provision of drug information. The studies are based on a combination of cognitive psychology, attribution theory and discourse analyses. The aim of this study was to analyse how pharmacy students and management science students at Åbo Akademi University interpreted pharmacycustomer interactions when pharmacists handled requests for prescribed drugs.


In total, 46 pharmacy students (first and second year) and 14 management science students participated in the study. The students were shown two pre-recorded video-vignettes illustrating pharmacists responding to two young customers who wanted their prescriptions. Both customers were rather quiet. After each vignette was shown, the students completed a questionnaire.

Key findings

Few differences in responses were noted when comparing the answers from pharmacy students from the first and second year. In the more serious of the cases shown, a young woman with a swollen jaw, the management students rated the customer's desire for information about the drug's side-effects more highly than did the pharmacy students. Also, for the same case, the management science students' rating of the customer's desire for empathy and emotional support was higher than that of the pharmacy students.


Pharmacy students tend to interpret a quiet customer who is clearly in discomfort as being someone who does not want much information about the side-effects of the medication prescribed. Also, there is a risk that the serious, life-threatening medical cases shown and discussed during their pharmacy degree might have led to a lower assessment of the customer's need for empathy when the customer has a non-life-threatening condition. However, further studies involving more active customers being assessed by pharmacy students need to be undertaken.

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