Pong wins California Patient Counseling Competition

Krystal Pong, third-year UCSF School of Pharmacy student pharmacist, is the winner of the 2010 California Statewide Patient Counseling Competition sponsored by the California Pharmacy Foundation. The competition was held during the February 4-7, 2010, meeting of the California Pharmacists Association, which took place this year in Long Beach, California. Pong's session involved the mock counseling of a patient who had been given the drug Vicodin ES. As the winner among 7 competitors, Pong received the Max & Bess Stollman Excellence in Patient Consultation Award and a check for $1,000 to help fund her expenses as she moves up to compete nationally at the American Pharmacists Association meeting to be held March 12-15, 2010 in Washington, D.C.


UCSF Student Pharmacist Krystal Pong discusses her recent patient counseling competition win with Susan Levings, UCSF School of Pharmacy Associate Dean of Planning and Communications.

Levings: Congratulations on your award, Krystal! What was your first reaction upon winning?

Pong: Thank you! When they announced that I won, I was shocked! I think it was painted clearly on my face that I did not expect to win. There were many aspects of my consultation I was proud of, but there were several aspects I could have improved upon as well. It was wonderful though—to see the warm smiles of the faculty and a few of my classmates as they cheered me on. UCSF offers such a loving and supportive community, so it was very special to share that moment with them.

Levings: Tell me about the competition. First, how did you come to represent UCSF at the statewide competition in Long Beach?

Pong: This year it was very exciting to have so much interest in the Patient Counseling Competition. Vickie Pon, who is a UCSF student pharmacist, and a team of volunteers did a phenomenal job putting on the local competitions. There were about 40 students in the preliminary round at UCSF, and there were 8 judges who watched our consultation videos to determine the top 10. Those top 10 competed again to determine the top 3, and whoever places first gets to represent UCSF at the state competition. There, our school representative competes against the other finalists from the other schools of pharmacy across California. I am very proud and honored to represent UCSF, and it's wonderful to meet students from others schools.

Levings: What parameters were you required to follow as a competitor?

Pong: A week before the competition the participants are provided with a list of 10 drugs, any of which can be the new prescription in the patient case. At the competition the participants are given the case, which includes the patient profile and new prescription. We have 5 minutes to prepare with a few textbook references and then get an additional 5 minutes to counsel the patient. Sometimes the patient will show personality traits—anger, in a hurry, extremely talkative, etc.—and this makes the consultation a bit more challenging and realistic.

Levings: Describe the patient counseling case you were given in Long Beach.

Pong: The patient was a young girl who was prescribed extra strength Vicodin for her back pain. She had tried many other pain medicines already, and so she felt she already knew everything she needed to know. She was a little bit difficult to engage, so I paid special attention to making sure she fully understood the important points of the consultation.

Levings: How do you prepare for a competition like this?

Pong: I outlined each drug with the key points that I wanted to be sure I addressed during the competition. That helped me prepare what to say, but how to say it is another component in and of itself.

One of the judges generously gave me detailed feedback of specific aspects of my consultation that I could improve upon. I also contacted every past winner I knew for their words of wisdom and advice. All of this was very helpful.

My involvement with the Tobacco Awareness Project last year also helped me because I learned how to speak to patients about smoking cessation, and it gave me the opportunity to observe the best and the brightest counsel patients—my mentors: Dr. Robin Corelli, Dr. Lisa Kroon, and Suzanne Harris. They are outstanding!

Levings: Why such emphasis on patient counseling?

Pong: I think it's important for us, as student pharmacists, to become comfortable and confident when counseling patients, even before we graduate. Pharmacists are the best resources for our patients to access important drug information. Too many patients do not take their medications correctly and do not understand how, when, or why to take their medications.

Patients can be prescribed the perfect drug regimen, but if they don't take their medications correctly, it doesn't do them any good, and even worse, could do them harm. My passion to help people understand their medications is what drew me to the field of pharmacy in the first place.

Levings: How are you getting ready for the nationals?

Pong: I'm going to practice, practice, practice. I have a few wonderful friends who are willing to let me practice counseling with them and a few stellar mentors who are willing to work with me to improve and further develop my counseling skills and technique.

Right before the competition, I'm going to read all of the words of encouragement and support that I've gotten from my classmates and the faculty throughout this process. For the state competition I was nervous, and reading everyone's kind words helped to get me into the right mindset.

Levings: Where there other UCSF student successes at the meeting?

Pong: There were fantastic student successes at the meeting! My classmates are so amazing, so hard-working, and are always going above and beyond. Our APhA-ASP's Project Hypertension and Cholesterol won Project Hypertension of the Year. Second-year Vickie Pon was able to proudly accept the award on the behalf of the current project leaders Pamela Mendoza, Jennifer Nguyen, Tri Tran, Tara Tsukamoto, and Melissa Wheeler, who are all also in their second year, as well as the immediate past project leaders and third-year students Sera Chung, Fon Hsieh, Helaine Kwong, Ashley Fong, and Christine Nguyen. Our Bowl-A-Thon team reached our goal of raising $1,000 for the Pharmacy Foundation of California and programs that help "Strike Out Medication Errors," and Vickie Pon helped raise over $200 for Partners in Health to provide relief in Haiti. We also had several excellent student delegates: Greg Gipson, a first-year; Sam Pitak, a second-year; Caroline Lindsay, a second-year; Hilary Campbell, a third-year; and Vickie Pon, a second-year, and they served to represent UCSF at the House of Delegates Sessions.


About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.