December 6, 2021

Test Anxiety and Academic Performance

by Arlesha N. Armstrong, Pharm.D., PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Magnolia Regional Health Center

American educator Booker T. Washington once said that “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome”. One obstacle that many students at all levels of formal schooling find difficult to overcome is test anxiety. It is often silent and yet incredibly loud. The first and most important step is recognizing test anxiety and the effects it can have on a student and their future. Test anxiety encompasses more than just being “worried about the test” or “hoping to get a good grade”. For some students, the level of anxiety negatively impacts performance and can become unbearable. Test anxiety encompasses two broad domains: emotionality (physiological components such as perspiration and headaches) and worry (psychological components such as heightened sense of threat, increased distraction, and motivational disturbances)1. Test anxiety is something that should be taken seriously and acted on. 

So how can educators notice the signs? The emotional symptoms in students might not be readily apparent, but the physical symptoms might be seen with close observation. Watching students and how they behave during “normal” classroom days compared to exam days may reveal subtle indications of their level of anxiety. Is the student quieter or more talkative than normal? Are they excessively sweating or noticeably breathing? Is the student shaking their leg, twitching, scratching and tapping, or pulling on clothes or hair? Although these can be normal behaviors, noticing differences in students’ behaviors surrounding exams can lead to conversations with them.

Text anxiety is surprisingly common.  Between 15 and 40% of students report experiencing some level of anxiety during examinations and other forms of assessment.3  Some students may have been told that they are overly dramatic or that they worry too much.  That they should learn to relax a little. After a while, the student may begin to think that this is just the way that they are and will have to just “live with it.” Although anxiety disorders are highly treatable, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association, only about one-third of people suffering from anxiety receive treatment. It is not a part of life. it is not a rite of passage.  It can be treated but far too often it’s not.

Physical Symptoms:

Emotional Symptoms:

·       Excessive sweating

·       Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

·       Stomach pain or “butterflies”

·       Rapid heartbeat

·       Shortness of breath

·       Headaches, Lightheaded or Faint

·       Restless or fidgety

·       Self-doubt

·       Fear

·       Stress

·       Hopelessness

·       Inadequacy

·       Anger

·       Nervousness

Test anxiety can have unfortunate detrimental effects on a student that leads to negative impacts on their performance. Anxiety can cause the student to procrastinate, reduce their ability to focus long enough to study, and lead to feelings of paralysis because they feel so overwhelmed. In some cases, the student might even become physically sick and cannot make it through the exam. These symptoms don’t just impact young children but can impact older students as well. Indeed, as a student advances in their education, the stressors can really add up.  Or it can be due to unresolved testing anxiety carried from childhood.

According to a study evaluating health professional students, there was a significantly positive correlation between test anxiety and procrastination on school-related work.2 Not surprisingly, students with test anxiety tend to have lower scores on standardized tests and lower GPAs.3 Unfortunately, many decisions such as college admission, scholarships, and career opportunities are influenced by test scores.3 Thus, those with test anxiety are the ones who suffer the most because there is no way to adjust for test anxiety. Until we move past standardized testing, we need to help students address and overcome test anxiety so they can achieve their full potential.  It’s true that academic performance is influenced by many factors, but teachers should always strive to identify and address the obstacles that hinder their performance. Address text anxiety may not only lead to improvement in the students’ test performance but it may also to improvements in the student’s sense of wellbeing and life satisfaction.

So how can you help students who are struggling with test anxiety? Here are some things that students and educators can do:

Advice for Students:

Advice for Educators:

·  Preparation

·  Develop a routine

·  Adequate sleep and rest

·  Decrease caffeine

·  Eat balanced meals

·  Exercise

·  Talk to the instructor

·  Learn relaxation techniques

·  Get a tutor

·  Seek counseling and support

·  Ask for accommodations

·  Teach and provide opportunities to engage in breathing exercises

·  Provide practice exams

·  Offer comprehensive review

·  Set clear expectations

·  Stagger test schedules

·  Refrain from time limits (when possible)

·  Try different exam formats and styles

·  Provide accommodations if necessary

·  Offer encouragement

The first step in helping students with test anxiety is recognizing its validity and legitimacy. Helping them realize their triggers and what induces anxiety can help a student learn how to address anxious thoughts. One way this can be done is by having the counselors come to do a general presentation about anxiety (including test anxiety) — that way every student gets the information but no student is singled out. This opens the door for a student to come forward in private. Every teacher should destigmatize anxiety and encourage students to seek counseling, engage in some form of cognitive therapy, and (when needed) take medication. This is not to say that even when a student receives therapy that anxiety will never be there. But therapy can help students take positive action, rather than letting anxiety have a hold and control over them.

Helen Keller once said “Be of good cheer. Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourself a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere, and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles.” Addressing and overcoming anxiety is difficult to do. No one wakes up each day and chooses to have anxiety. However, addressing test anxiety can arm a student with new coping skills that can help in many other life situations.  It can really improve a student’s academic performance and quality of life.



  1. Pate AN, Neely S, Malcolm DR, et al. Multisite study assessing the effect of cognitive test anxiety on academic and standardized test performance. Am J Pharm Educ. 2021; 85(1): Article 8041.
  2. Sarvenaz R, Seyyed MA, and Alireza K. Investigating the relationship of test anxiety and time management with academic procrastination in students of health professions. Education Research International 2021; Article 1378774
  3. Myers S, Davis S, and Chan JCK. Does expressive writing or an instructional intervention reduce the impacts of test anxiety in a college classroom? Research 2021; 6:44.
  4. Harris H and Coy D. Helping students cope with test anxiety. ERIC Digest 2003.

The Importance of Self-Assessment

by Taylor Hayes, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Baptist Memorial Hospital – Golden Triangle

Self-assessment is a practice that encourages students to reflect on their learning or performance so that they can identify strengths and weaknesses and make improvements. Teaching a student to effectively engage in self-assessment brings to mind the parable “If you give a man a fish, you can feed him for a day. However if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime”.1Teaching self-assessment helps students to become more autonomous in their learning by being able to self-identify what went right or wrong. From this, students can tailor their learning habits, strategies, and materials so that have a positive effect on their performance.

Self-assessment can come in many forms – from students scoring their own projects using a rubric, reflective assignments, and exam wrappers. Exam wrappers are designed to make students look beyond their score of the exam and take a deeper dive.  An exam wrapper asks students probing questions about the exam and the student’s preparation. Some example questions of the exam wrapper include how much time the student spent preparing for the exam, the part of the exam that the student believes they did not perform the best on, and what the student believes the teachers can do to help in their preparation for the next exam.2 Having students ponder on these questions prompts self-reflection and gets them to consider ways they might better prepare for the next exam.

Self-assessment is a key element of metacognition, the mental processes where one develops awareness of the processes one uses when learning new material or problem-solving. Metacognition makes students more conscious of their thinking and how their cognitive strategies help them succeed. Being self-aware of one’s performance helps students take ownership of their learning.3,4

However, self-assessment is often subjective and students often struggle with identifying the areas where they need to make improvements. These students are unconscious in their shortcomings and may not realize the need for adjustments (or how to make adjustments). A preceptor once asked for me to place myself into a category – unconsciously incompetent, consciously incompetent, consciously competent, or unconsciously competent. These categories are known as the four stages of competency. When you are unconsciously incompetent, you are unaware of a knowledge gap. When you are consciously incompetent, you are aware of a knowledge gap and recognize the importance of filling this gap. For those who are consciously competent, they know the information but they need to put forth conscious effort to recall the information or perform the task. Finally, unconsciously competent refers to knowing the information and being able to easily perform the skill without much conscious effort or thought.6 It is hard for students that are unconsciously incompetent to be aware of what they do not know.  Thus, continually practicing self-assessment can help the learner develop the skills needed to identify areas that need improvement. Self-assessment can, at first, be facilitated by teachers giving students feedback on their performance and then asking the students to reflect on how they think they performed (or vice versa). This helps students gain a sense of direction on the things they can improve, while also prompting them to independently think about how they can improve.

Source: The Four Stages of Competence [Internet]. Timothy S. Bates. 2014. Available from:

One study looked at the impact of self-assessment on academic performance in students. Eighty-nine students took a test and then self-assessed their performance by grading their exams under the supervision of a teacher. Following this, the teachers also graded the test and provided feedback to the students. A second test was given on the same topic and was graded solely by the teachers. From this, the two scores from both the student-graded test and the teacher-graded test were then calculated. The study found that 74% of students scored higher on the second test. This helped to show that after the students had self-assessed their own performance, they were able to identify the areas of shortcomings in order to improve on them for the next exam.

This same study, however, also showed some of the pitfalls that may occur with self-assessments. An analysis of the first student-graded test was performed to assess the difference in scoring between the student’s score versus the teacher’s score.  The majority of the students (74%) gave themselves significantly higher scores than what the teacher had given them. This highlights that self-assessment is subjective, and that being able to accurately assess one’s performance is difficult for some students. Ways to combat this include giving students a rubric to follow, showing an example of good performance and comparing it to a not-so-good performance, or grading a paper together as a group. In the study, the student’s and teachers’ perceptions about the self-assessment process were gathered using questionnaires. The teachers believed that having the students perform the self-assessment was effective in promoting student self-learning. The students found the process beneficial but time-consuming. While as teachers we can never give back time, we can reiterate the importance of the task as a worthwhile investment of time. Reminding the students that self-assessment will help them in future learning and performances will help the student understand why the self-assessment activity is being done. The authors of the study concluded that self-assessment can serve to increase the motivation for students to both want to perform better and help develop self-directed learning skills.6

It might be beneficial for students to develop a list of their “successes” and “failures” in order to reflect on them. When were times they were disappointed in their performance, and how could they avoid these same disappointments from happening in the future? When was a time they were proud of their work, and what were the steps they took in order for this to happen? If other people have provided feedback on the student’s performance, it might be beneficial for them to reflect on this in their self-assessment as well. The student needs to really reflect and narrate on their experience to improve from it, rather than just regurgitate a list. Of course, it’s important to remember when writing a self-assessment that there is always room for improvement. Self-assessment isn’t remediation, only for those who are performing poorly.  Even when a student is performing well, there are still things to learn from that experience that can benefit the student in future exams and experiences.7,8


  1. Loveless B. Helping students thrive by using self-assessment [Internet]. Education Corner.
  2. Lovett M. Exam Wrappers [Internet]. Eberly Center - Carnegie Mellon University.
  3. Mcdaniel R. Metacognition [Internet]. Vanderbilt University. 1970.
  4. Burch N. The Four Stages of Competence [Internet]. Mercer County Community College.
  5. Assessment Resource Centre [Internet]. Centre of Enhancement for Teaching and Learning.
  6. Hertzberg K. How to Write a Self-Evaluation [Internet]. Grammarly; 2020.
  7. How to write a performance evaluation self-assessment [Internet]. Business News Daily.

December 2, 2021

Cameras on! Requiring Cameras “on” in the Virtual Classroom

by Sydney Kennedy, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, University of Mississippi Medical Center

The Covid-19 pandemic forced employees of many industries into remote work, most often from home. Likewise, students were forced to rapidly transition to remote learning.  The rapid transition from in-person to remote instruction posed challenges to both learners and educators. From an educator’s standpoint, requiring the use of cameras during remote instruction most closely approximates the face-to-face interaction that occurs in an in-person classroom.  The assumption is that interacting “face-to-face” will increase student participation, but is this true? There is controversy about whether requiring cameras to be “on” during meetings and classes improves the quality of the meeting or the instruction. The lay press reports how students and workers are feeling drained after attending face-to-face virtual meetings.  Some call this phenomenon “Zoom fatigue.” The impact on students who have been, by necessity, forced to learn in a virtual environment has not been studied. There may be consequences of the virtual environment caused by prolonged video conferencing.  Just because you ‘can’ use video cameras does not necessarily mean that using video leads to better outcomes.

A recent study entitled “The Fatiguing Effects of Camera Use in Virtual Meetings: A Within-Person Field Experiment” reveals the negative impact that a “camera’s on” policy might have. This was a four-week field experiment.  The authors hypothesized that virtual meetings would be more fatiguing for women and those who were newer members of the organization.  The study was performed to gather insights about best practices for virtual meetings. The study involved 103 employees that were largely female (56.3%) who had been with the organization, on average, for about three years. The participants were randomly assigned to the camera study condition, “on” or “off.” The camera “on” or “off” condition was the independent variable, and all participants were given a survey instrument that included questions about how they felt during the meeting. Fatigue was significantly greater in the camera “on” group (p < 0.001). Camera use also negatively effected engagement (p < 0.001). This was assessed by participant ratings on the survey after each meeting to the question, “in meetings today, when I had something to say, I felt like I had a voice.” The association between camera use and fatigue was stronger for women than men (p < 0.001). Additionally, there was a positive relationship between camera use and fatigue among those employees with the shortest tenure with the organization (p < 0.001). Overall, these results suggest that camera use is particularly fatiguing for women and newer employees.

The results of this study align with the theory that virtual meeting participants feel that they need to actively manage impressions when their cameras are on.  When the participants’ are on camera, they experience a “self-presentation” effect that causes fatigue. Thus, encouraging (or requiring) employees or students to turn cameras on may be harmful and actually hinder engagement. 

To date, there are no studies that have evaluated whether different camera angles would be less fatiguing by being able to give the learner the ability to minimize the self-presentation effects. Self-presentation may be fatiguing due to pressure to “look” competent while maintaining societal appearance standards. There are limitations to these findings, however, such as not being able to evaluate the long-term effects of virtual meetings over time and whether the size of the virtual meetings contributes to these effects.

While this study evaluated people in an employment context, I believe the results can be extrapolated to the virtual classroom. Similar to students, employees are being evaluated on performance and engagement in discussions. There may be additional reasons contributing to fatigue in the virtual classroom. The amount of close-up eye contact with the instructor and other students is not a natural distance when compared to in-person classrooms. Furthermore, students may be spending a lot of time acknowledging self (e.g., looking at themselves) rather than the educator — a phenomenon that does not occur during in-person classes. Additionally, the frame of the camera is small and limits normal mobility.  This can be physically straining. Lastly, the cognitive load is higher in a video environment because it’s more challenging to pick up on nonverbal cues and therefore work much harder to send and receive signals. 

There have been several proposed solutions to these problems. It may be beneficial to reduce the size of the window on the monitor to reduce the student’s face size. For those who use laptop computers, external keyboards can increase the distance between the learner and the video monitor. It has also could be suggested to build in camera “off” time spaced throughout the day to give the students nonverbal rest. 

Admittedly, this topic is controversial.  But the results of this study provide some evidence that requiring “cameras on” during video conferencing may not always be beneficial and may contribute to a negative learning environment. Clearly, we need to learn more about the effects of cameras on student learning and performance! However, educators should be cognizant of some of the negative consequences of “cameras on” in their virtual classrooms.


  1. Shockley KM, Gabriel AS, Robertson D, et al. The fatiguing effects of camera use in virtual meetings: A within-person field experiment. J Appl Psychol. 2021 Aug;106(8):1137-1155.
  2. Ramachandran V. Stanford researchers identify four causes for ‘Zoom fatigue’ and their simple fixes.. Stanford News 2021. Accessed November 2021.

November 4, 2021

Creating Psychological Safety in Learning Environments

by Emily Keveryn, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Baptist Memorial Hospital - North Mississippi

Student engagement is often something teachers and educators strive to achieve for lots of reasons — to have students actively thinking about the material and responding to questions, to validate that what is being taught is being understood, and to promote positive attitudes toward the material. But why is there a lack of engagement so common in many learning environments? As a teacher, it may be easy to forget how stressful or daunting the feeling of speaking up in front of a group of peers or instructors is.  For students, this is one of the most common barriers to active engagement in group learning settings. Having an environment where students feel comfortable enough to interact without concerns of sounding silly or being embarrassed is challenging to achieve, especially in very large groups and, conversely, in very small groups too. 

Amy Edmondson, an American scholar of leadership, teaming, and organizational learning, coined the term "psychological safety” to describe “the feeling that one is comfortable expressing and being themselves, and sharing concerns and mistakes without fear of embarrassment, ridicule, shame, or retribution.”1,2 While Edmondson’s research focuses on psychological safety in teams in business and healthcare settings, many of the ideas and behaviors she observed are relevant to the classroom and other learning environments. It is human nature to want to be accepted, heard, and understood.  And, perhaps more importantly, to avoid rejection, embarrassment, or punishment.  Therefore, fostering a psychologically safe learning environment is critically important and it creates a climate where the material and learning process is engaging, exciting, and lively!

Whether it is in a large classroom, during medical rounds, interacting with an intern on a job site, or in any situation where an educator is teaching something, psychological safety must be present for many reasons.  It encourages learning by making the learner comfortable asking questions when they may not understand the material. It stimulates innovation by encouraging higher-level thinking and understanding.  And it provides a sense of belonging whereby learners feel they can express their thoughts on a subject without being ridiculed or feeling rejected. In one study that addressed psychological safety in a simulation with medical residents in a trauma scenario, researchers found that increased stress impaired knowledge recall and decreased clinical performance.  The medical resident’s performance was measured using a standardized assessment form and a global rating checklist.3 In another study, researchers found that feeling psychologically safe reduced anxiety in nursing students who were participated in simulation activities.  Anxiety was measured by pre- and post-surveys completed by the students.4 While these studies looked at psychological safety during simulation activities, the results strongly suggest that the environment, psychologically speaking, has a significant impact on learners' ability to perform activities, recall information, and feel confident.

Timothy Clark writes that there are four stages of psychological safety that individuals go through that reflect basic human needs: inclusion safety, learner safety, contributor safety, and challenger safety.5 Inclusion safety is the feeling of belonging and being accepted. One way to provide this type of safety is to learn and use students' names, welcome them to the classroom, and include the learner, and listen to their input. This can be challenging when educating multiple learners, balancing the time between each. Learner safety, which may arguably be the most important stage for educators, occurs when individuals feel comfortable asking questions, receiving feedback, asking for help, and even making mistakes. By actively listening and offering gentle, clear guidance, educators can increase learner safety. This stage is especially important when trying to encourage the learner to speak up and not fear retribution. Contributor safety satisfies the need to feel like we are contributing in a meaningful way and making a difference. When a learner feels included and safe to make mistakes, they feel more inclined to contribute and use the knowledge that they possess to make a difference. This builds off of learner safety, which bolsters confidence in asking questions, and encourages the learner to contribute ideas without fear. Lastly, challenger safety encourages individuals to use what they have learned and strive to make things better in the learning environment and beyond. Challenger safety occurs when students feel they can directly challenge the status quo, recommend an idea or a process, without feeling like the suggestion or comment may damage their reputation.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Psychological Safety:



Stay attentive to what is happening and if things seem to be feeling unsafe for some students, listen carefully to understand what may be causing others to feel this way, and ask questions to clarify how they feel.

Don't let uneasiness stop you from discussing what needs to be discussed - if you are feeling uncomfortable, it is likely they are too!

Offer encouragement and support to ensure that each learner knows they are heard and will not be subject to ridicule or embarrassment.

Don’t use sarcasm or emotive language, it can cause others to feel as though we may not be taking them seriously.

Reinforce a conversational culture by making it safe for anyone to talk about anything.

Don’t be defensive or apathetic; it will likely result in the situation continuing and the learner being afraid to speak up again

Psychological safety in learning environments is often something that educators struggle to achieve but is one of the best ways to increase student engagement, interaction, and learning. By role modeling an open and comfortable environment, we are also are fostering the skills within our learners as they learn how to interact with patients and colleagues … and students in the future! Educators need to understand the stages and the ways to create a psychologically safe learning environment to ensure learners get the greatest benefit from the learning process. 


  1. Edmondson A. Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Administrative Science Quarterly 1999; 44: 350–383.
  2. Edmondson A. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the workplace for learning, Innovation and Growth. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; 2018.
  3. Harve A, Bandiera G, Nathens AB, and LeBlanc VR. Impact of stress on resident performance in simulated trauma scenarios. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 2012; 72: 497–503.
  4. Ignacio J, Dolmans D, Scherpbier A, et. al. Comparison of standardized patients with high-fidelity simulators for managing stress and improving performance in clinical deterioration: A mixed methods study. Nurse Education Today 2015; 35: 1161–1168.
  5. Clark TR. The 4 stages of psychological safety: Defining the path to inclusion and Innovation. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.; 2020.

November 3, 2021

Collaborative Teaching: One Way to Improve Teaching and Learning

by Giang Le, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle

I came across this interesting article the other day entitled “Teacher collaboration in curriculum design teams: effects, mechanisms, and conditions.”1 This article got me thinking about my years in school. I recall only a few class sessions that had two or more teachers providing instruction together. For many courses, students are essentially learning from one teacher’s perspective — which is to say, one person’s perspective. Students might assume that what that teacher says is accurate and that piece of information must be the best answer.  I’m not sure that’s always true.  From the teacher’s perspective, I wonder if they get bored teaching the same materials every year? Do teachers ever get so used to their way of teaching that they become reluctant to change? Or unaware of the need to update their content or instructional methods? Maybe teachers need a partner. Maybe instruction is better when taught by a team. Indeed, there is evidence that collaborative teaching can help teachers update their knowledge, improve their practice, and enhance learners’ outcomes.1,2

What are collaborative teaching design teams? These teams involve educators working together to design all classroom activities, including developing a curriculum, selecting the most effective teaching methods, creating test questions, and developing tools to assess performance. An essential part of being an educator is to continue to learn – not only about the content but also ways of teaching. However, it can be hard to keep up with all the newly available information, especially when there are thousands and thousands of scientific articles published every day. In the process of balancing work life and personal life, teachers can find themselves in situations where they quickly skim an abstract or a summary. Teachers often rely on their existing knowledge and beliefs to develop learning materials. This is when collaborative teaching can be of benefit. Having people with different knowledge, skills, and perspectives on a team creates more opportunities to share knowledge.1 If a conflict arises (a conflict of ideas, not philosophies or personalities), teachers will have to provide evidence to support their reasoning and convince their peers. In this process of solving “constructive” conflicts, teachers begin to self-reflect on their existing knowledge and their ways of practice. Self-reflection is a critical and we should practice it every day, but it is always easier said than done. Collaborative design teams create the opportunities for constructive conflict and stimulate self-reflection.

One may agree that collaborative teaching can improve teachers’ knowledge, but the more important question is: Can it improve learner outcomes? That’s the ultimate goal that every educator should strive to achieve — improvements in students performance. This means that at the end of the course, we want our students to not only understand or recall but also be able to apply the materials in a variety of circumstances. Theoretically, all teachers should have a tool to assess the students’ performance to guide their teaching. With collaborative teaching design teams, teachers can work together to create these tools. Everyone can contribute based on their experience and what’s available in the educational literature. 

In a recent study, the investigators examined three specific forms of collaboration in teaching: (1) instruction-related, (2) project-related, and (3) organization, performance, and problems-related. Their study is a secondary analysis of the German Program for International Assessment (PISA) data. A sample of 869 schoolteachers was matched with a corresponding sample of 869 students. Students’ achievement in this study was measured by comparing their grades in the first half-year of the academic period. The relationship between the different forms of teacher collaboration and student achievement was estimated through a structural equation model. They found that the third form of collaboration—modified teaching based on students’ performance—positively influenced students’ achievement. However, an interesting aspect of this study was that the subject matter taught were primarily sciences (like maths, biology, physics, and chemistry). This might explain why the third form of collaboration focusing on practice problems would produce a positive outcome. In other subjects involving more discussions and debates, the knowledge-sharing and planning process might play a more important role.

Collaborative teaching design teams can theoretically improve other aspects of the learning process. For example, I remember when my class was divided into groups to do group assignments. From time to time, the professor would be occupied with one group and unavailable to others. This quickly led to frustration among students who had a hard time understanding the materials. Instructions that may seem easy to follow for the professor might not be interpreted the same way by the students. To finish the assignment within the class period, the students would turn in poorly done work and minimal learning occurred. Collaborative teaching would give students greater access to more instructors. This benefit also applies to practical labs where one professor cannot supervise the whole class to ensure everybody follows the instructions.

How do we implement effective collaboration? This process can be time-consuming since it requires team members to gather, discuss, and revise the course materials. A course may need to be developed a year in advance and regularly revised based on students’ feedback and performance. Another strategy for effective collaboration is to allow time to build relationships and foster a culture of trust, respect, and humility between the teachers on the team.3 It is best if each team member is willing and able to contribute in meaningful ways to the work of the group. Here is my favorite quote about teaching collaboration: “As a successful co-teacher, you need to (a) know yourself, (b) know your partner(s), (c) know your students, and (d) know your ‘stuff’.”4  Teachers will vary in their ability to effectively collaborate. Some may find it hard to work with partners who have different beliefs and teaching styles.  Others may find it hard to assess how well the students understand the materials. If teachers know their strengths and weaknesses, they can complement each other and support one another. While team teaching can be great, forcing collaboration when teachers are not on the same page will create more classroom confusion and negatively affect learners’ outcomes.

Collaborative teaching is an ongoing process with evidence that it can improve teachers’ and learners’ outcomes. Teachers may find the collaboration not only a beneficial way to enhance their knowledge but also an opportunity to update what and how they teach.  Like any form of collaboration, the process will take time, effort, and commitment to achieve success.


  1. Voogt JM, Pieters JM, Handelzalts A. Teacher collaboration in curriculum design teams: effects, mechanisms, and conditions. Educational Research and Evaluation. 2016; 22: 121-140.
  2. Mora-Ruano JG, Heine JH, Gebhardt M. Does teacher collaboration improve student achievement? Analysis of the German PISA 2012 sample. Frontiers in Education. 2019; 13: Article 3389. (Accessed 2021 Oct 12).
  3. Lauren D. Teacher collaboration: how to approach it in 2020. Schoology Exchange. 2020. (Accessed 2021 Oct 12).
  4. Keefe EB, Moore V, Duff F. The four “knows” of collaborative teaching. Teaching Exceptional Children. 2004; 36 (5): 36-42.

October 26, 2021

Listen, Clarify, and Appreciate! Best Practices When Receiving Feedback

by Camron Jones, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Magnolia Regional Health Center

 “It takes humility to seek feedback. It takes wisdom to understand it, analyze it and appropriately act on it”
-Stephen Covey.1

What do you feel when you hear the word feedback? Do you feel nervous?  Perhaps scared about what the person might say? Do you clam up thinking you have done something wrong? I have a love/hate relationship with feedback. I love knowing how I am performing.  But I sometimes fixate on the things I did “wrong.” It can be intimidating and sometimes we get stressed out about the small things. For many people, it’s hard to accept feedback because it’s perceived as a negative judgment. I have grown to appreciate feedback because it helps me understand what I am doing well and what I need to work on. I think it’s intimidating to ask for feedback. This is something that I am working on. Not only is feedback hard to ask for, but it’s hard to give.

Feedback is the act of someone providing information about a person’s performance of a task and the recipient using the information as a basis for improvement.2 Frequently we talk about how to formulate feedback so that we can help another person excel. But receiving feedback is a critical skill too. All of us need to learn to receive feedback graciously and not jump to conclusions. Both giving and receiving feedback are difficult! If we use the right techniques, we can learn as well as teach others. Let’s take a deep dive into receiving feedback by examining the best practices and how to teach it.

There are three crucial steps that should be adhered to if we want to maximize the benefits of receiving feedback. These include actively listening, clarifying the feedback, and expressing gratitude.3,4  Listening with an open mind is a huge part of the feedback process. Listening promotes our personal and professional growth. Too quickly we jump the gun and interrupt the person providing the feedback. In the Christian Bible, there is a saying that resonates with that I believe applies to receiving feedback: “..let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak.” When receiving feedback, we must consider all of it before responding. Reflecting on the feedback is so important because it helps us grow.

When you hear words that you interpret as negative it can bring you down. But it’s important to ask questions because without getting clarification, you can create an injustice and take feedback too personally. The feedback is about your performance, not about you as a person. I feel like this is critical to understanding how to receive feedback. The person giving the feedback is only trying to help us succeed and grow.  If we dismiss or reject the feedback, we are disadvantaging ourselves.  So, ask clarifying questions!  Make certain you fully understand what the person giving the feedback is telling you. Ask for specific examples.

Finally, it’s important to express appreciation to the person providing the feedback. Remember, the person giving the feedback is usually uncomfortable.  Giving feedback and telling someone something they might perceive as negative can be intimidating. It's easier just to not say anything.  Or to tell someone everything is perfect. But the person giving feedback took the time to carefully consider how to help you improve and they want you to succeed! If we show appreciation, they will feel encouraged and more willing to share with us. 

Tips for Receiving Feedback:3

  • Be a good listener
  • When in doubt, ask for clarification
  • Embrace the feedback session as a learning opportunity
  • Remember to pause and think before responding
  • Avoid jumping to conclusions, and show that you are invested in the learning process and keen to improve
  • Think positively and be open to helpful hints
  • Learn from your mistakes and be motivated
  • Be a good sport and show appreciation
  • Be proactive – ask for feedback!

Studies have repeatedly shown that effective feedback has a powerful influence on how people learn. In one study involving medical students, they looked at methods to teach how to use feedback. They developed a 2-hr workshop that focused on writing goals in a learning contract, defining effective characteristics of feedback and practicing the use of feedback in response to feedback received. Following the workshop, student group scores increased significantly. They also looked at how coaching improved students' perception of their feedback skills. They noted how students' feedback interactions improved, especially during informal interactions. In a model that defines the communication pathway, they described how the process of feedback could falter. This could be due to previous experiences from the receiver, also the fear of damaging relationships between the giver and receiver.4

Another study enrolled second and third-year internal medicine residents. This study focused on a One-Minute Preceptor model. This was a conversation between the resident and the teacher to help improve the resident's clinical skills. One of the greatest benefits of the One-Minute Preceptor model is feedback. At baseline, feedback was ranked as one of the weaker areas. Significant improvements were reported at the end of the study. Feedback was shown to have the greatest impact on performance.5 

Another good resource is the ask-tell-ask feedback model.6 For example, say you are a student, and you provided education to a patient about anticoagulation therapy. With the first ask, the preceptor asks the student to talk about how they thought the experience went. The preceptor then gives feedback on what was observed, both positive and negative aspects of the performance.  This is the tell component of the model. During the last ask, the student then reflects on what the preceptor has told them and they both set goals moving forward.6 This allows the receiver to actively participate in the conversation and formulate an action plan. I personally experienced this method of feedback in my last year of pharmacy school. Not only did it help me improve, but it also helped me be more open to feedback.

As teachers, we must learn to give feedback in a way that positively affects our students. We should allow students time to self-reflect before giving feedback. This gives the students an opportunity to think about the strengths and weaknesses of their performance. As a learner, we must learn from the feedback and use it as a tool for us to improve. Be sure to listen, clarify, and appreciate!


  1. Covey, SR. Stephen R. Covey interactive reader-4 books in 1: The 7 habits of highly effective people, first things first, and the best of the most renowned leadership teacher of our time (Internet). Mango Media. 2015 (Cited 2021Oct1)
  2. “Feedback”. dictionary, merriam-webster. (Cited 2021Sept29).
  3. Hardavella G, Aamil-Gaagnat A, Saad N, et. al. How to give and receive feedback effectively. Breathe 2017; 13:327-333. 
  4. Bing-You RG, Bertsch T, Thompson JA. Coaching medical students in receiving effective feedback. Teaching and Learning in Medicine 1998; 10(4):228-231. 
  5. Furney SL, Orsini AN, Orsetti KE, et al. Teaching the one-minute preceptor. J Gen Intern Med. 2001;16:620-624.
  6. Jug R, Jiang X, Bean S. Giving and receiving effective feedback: a review article and how to guide. Arch Pathol Lab Med 2019; 143 (2):244-250.

October 19, 2021

The Flipped Classroom Model in the Age of Virtual Learning

by Emily Plauche, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, University of Mississippi Medical Center

Virtual learning played a huge role in higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020 when the pandemic first began to spread in the United States, educators had little time to transition to an online learning environment. Some schools gave students a few weeks off to allow time for administrators and teachers to make plans and learn how to use the technology while others immediately transitioned to an online platform with little guidance. Virtual teaching can be done synchronously via platforms such as Zoom and asynchronously using pre-recorded lectures or other online resources. Live classes allow for more interactive learning but may be limited by technical difficulties and students’ access to technology. Pre-recorded lectures provide students with more flexibility in terms of how and when they prefer to study, but students may feel disconnected from their classmates and instructors.1  In order to best recreate the flipped classroom model, asynchronous pre-class assignments with synchronous/ live in-class activities would be ideal. Now that the education system has had more time to adapt and is able to provide almost all features of an in-person classroom experience in a virtual platform, it raises the question of whether the flipped classroom model is still effective in a virtual learning setting.  Giving students the option to attend class in person or online may become common practice as the COVID-19 pandemic persists, technology advances, and our comfort with virtual learning grows. 

The flipped classroom model is a somewhat new teaching strategy that focuses on in-class application, rather than lecturing. Instead of homework after class, students complete pre-class assignments in order to prepare for class and class time is reserved for discussions, case studies, and other activities that require students to apply what they learned prior to class. The flipped class has become increasingly popular over the last decade. A meta-analysis studying the flipped classroom model in health professions education found that the model provided several benefits including a statistically significant improvement in learner performance compared with traditional teaching methods, more time for active learning during class time, and the opportunity for students to study at their own pace before class. The analysis also found that more students favored this method of learning over traditional lecturing. However, this model requires students to prepare ahead of time in order for the activities in class to be productive. The increased burden on the student can be a limitation to its success and should be considered when teachers assign out-of-class activities.2

Traditionally, pre-class assignments are done remotely via pre-recorded lectures and required readings, and the interactive classroom activity is done in person. However, COVID-19 required all learning activities to be done virtually. Educators wanting to implement this model while teaching virtually should provide both pre-recorded lectures and live but virtual classes in order to effectively mimic the model. The question is whether a flipped classroom model is still effective in an online learning environment. A study performed in Spain specifically compared performance and emotions towards the flipped classroom model in undergraduate STEM courses before and after the COVID-19 pandemic comparing two groups: “face to face” and “face to screen.” The course consisted of three hours of live class with pre-recorded lessons to watch in preparation for class in both groups. The instruction methodologies, syllabi, and structure were identical in both groups. The study did not disclose what type of assessments were used but the “pass rate” was similar in the two groups with 67.1% of students in the face-to-face group achieving a “passing” score compared with 70.3% in the face-to-screen group.  The difference was not statistically significant. Face-to-face instruction was associated with more positive emotions such as enthusiasm, confidence, tranquility, and fun while face-to-screen instruction was associated with more negative emotions including concern, nervousness, fear, and boredom.3

Some of these negative emotions observed in the face-to-screen group were likely influenced by the uncertainties at the beginning of the pandemic and were not solely due to virtual learning. As students become more acquainted with distant learning, it is likely the virtual classroom will be perceived less negatively. However, student engagement and attention in the virtual classroom may be persistent challenges. It is promising that there was not a statistically significant difference in performance between the groups, suggesting that the flipped classroom is an acceptable approach to teaching in a virtual setting.

Instructors can work to increase virtual student engagement by offering a variety of ways for students to participate. Some may prefer to use the microphone, type in a chat box, or use the raise hand feature. By offering multiple options, students are able to interact in a way that they feel most comfortable. Breakout rooms can also be used to facilitate work in small groups, which might reduce students' anxiety about taking in front of a large group. Teachers can also ask their students for feedback throughout the semester to better understand students’ needs and concerns. To minimize technical difficulties, teachers should perform test runs before live class sessions to ensure Zoom links, internet connection, and sound are working properly.

The flipped classroom model allows for more interactive classroom experiences between students and teachers and has been shown to improve student performance when compared to more traditional methods to teach. While we have limited data from studies, the flipped classroom method still works in a virtual classroom setting. Teachers planning to utilize the flipped classroom model in an online class may face challenges including technical difficulties along with reduced student engagement, attention, and attitude towards virtual learning. Teachers should keep this in mind as they develop material to teach virtually. As more research is published about online teaching methods, educators will have a better understanding of how to approach teaching in virtual classrooms.


  1. Camargo CP, Tempski PZ, Busnardo FF, Martins M de A, Gemperli R. Online learning and COVID-19: a meta-synthesis analysis. Clinics 2020;75: e2286.
  2. Hew KF, Lo CK. Flipped classroom improves student learning in health professions education: a meta-analysisBMC Med Educ. 2018;18(1):38.
  3. Jeong JS, González-Gómez D. A STEM Course Analysis During COVID-19: A Comparison Study in Performance and Affective Domain of PSTs Between F2F and F2S Flipped ClassroomFront Psychol. 2021;12:669855.

October 6, 2021

Get Down with the Feeling: Teacher Empathy

by Taylor Adcock, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center

Empathy involves understanding another person’s experiences by imagining oneself in the other person’s situation.1 We live in an increasingly diverse society today and empathy improves social cohesiveness.  For this reason, empathy is particularly important in classrooms and influences how teachers and students interact. Studies have shown that cognitive and emotional empathy can promote students’ learning as well as help teachers have a more positive mindset and avoid burnout.2,3,4 Teacher empathy is not a widely talked about subject. This article will look at how teacher empathy can help promote student learning and success.

The term empathy originates from a German word that means "feeling into.” There are two forms of empathy: emotional and cognitive. Most people conceptualize empathy as emotional empathy whereby the individual feels the same emotion as another person.  When a person has personal distress, emotional empathy enables us to feel compassion or empathic concern. Empathic concern is typically developed later in life as it builds off and requires more self-control. Empathic concern also triggers prosocial and helping behaviors.  Emotional empathy is positively correlated with a willingness to help people even if it requires personal sacrifices.1 Intense emotional empathy is often called empathic accuracy. Empathic accuracy allows a person to have more accurate and complete knowledge about what is going on in a person’s mind and how they feel.

Cognitive empathy is the extent to which we perceive or presuming another person's thoughts and feelings.  This can involve an understanding of what someone might be thinking during tasks – from simple tasks to more complex ones. Simple tasks can include visually perceiving standing in a classroom teaching and imagining what another person walking by the classroom might see (observe). Complex tasks can include thinking about what a group might perceive or think. Cognitive empathy still requires sensitivity and knowledge of what other people are thinking and feeling but does not necessarily mean that a person cares about the other person.  This means cognitive empathy can be used to harm others. Con artists, for example, have well-developed cognitive empathy in that they understand what others are likely thinking and feeling but they don’t care about the welfare of the person they are taking advantage of. Cognitive empathy is part of our mental development because we grow to understand that another person's thoughts differ from our own.1 

Studies that have looked at teacher empathy toward students have found that it can have a positive influence on both students and teachers. One study looked at empathetic climates in the classroom and measured student success.2 Empathetic climates are created when the teacher pays attention to student opinions, values what students have to say, and when students believe the teacher “understands our frame of references”. The study enrolled nearly 500 middle and high-school students. Results from this study showed that an empathetic climate was positively correlated with students’ success even if a class was deemed particularly hard. Success was defined by students ranking their performance in the course using a 6-point Likert scale. The students succeeded, even in difficult classes, if they felt unconditional regard from the teacher.

Another study followed 178 elementary school teachers and looked at the benefits teachers received based on their level of cognitive empathy. Results showed that higher levels of cognitive empathy were associated with lower job burnout, positive mindsets about student behavior, better relationship closeness, and better competence in handling students’ problem behaviors. On the other hand, teachers who experienced high empathetic distress, such as becoming overwhelmed by the student’s emotional experiences, showed that there was higher job burnout, less competence with students’ problem behavior, negative mindsets with misbehavior, and fewer problem-solving strategies.3

There are 4 ways that teachers (you) can create a more empathic climate:4

  1. Perspective-taking –this means putting aside your perspective and looking at the situation from a different angle. Consider asking, “Do I believe my students are doing the very best they can?”  Every student is not going to have the same skill set when it comes to learning which means they may be trying their best already. Encouraging them through a challenging subject is important.
  2. Putting aside judgment – this means to step back and not jump to conclusions solely based on what is seen. Consider asking, “What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation?”  For example, if you have a student who is struggling with assignments and submitting them on time, do not assume that they are lazy. Come in at a different angle and make sure that home life is okay first.
  3. Trying to understand the student’s feelings – tap into your own experiences to try to find a way to understand what the student is going through or to remember when you went through a similar experience; however, remember that everyone does not feel the same things, and we each have unique experiences. Consider asking, “What more do I need to learn and understand about how other people are reacting to or perceiving the situation?” If a student loses a family member, it is important to try and understand how you felt at this time and then give leniency as the student may or may not have difficulty coping.
  4. Communicate that you understand – talk to students with reflective phrases such as “It sounds like you…” or “I hear that you…”; this can help build trust and can help students to solve problems, with you in the beginning and eventually on their own. This step requires self-reflection so consider asking, “What more do I need to learn and understand about how I react?” and “What more do I need to learn about how to communicate to others that I hear them, even while experiencing my own emotions?” For example, if a student has many tests one week and is late on assignments, reaching out and say “It sounds like this week may have been overwhelming for you.”

Empathy is understanding what others are feeling and thinking and is associated with helping behaviors even it involves some personal sacrifice. Empathy also involves an understanding that we do not all think in the same manner. Teachers who cultivate an empathetic climate can achieve positive outcomes not only for the student but also for themselves.


  1. Hodges SD, Myers MW. Empathy. 2007 (Accessed 2021 Sept 11).
  2. Bozkurt T, Ozden MS. The relationship between empathetic classroom climate and students’ success. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2010;5:231–4.
  3. Wink MN, LaRusso MD, Smith RL. Teacher empathy and students with problem behaviors: Examining teachers’ perceptions, responses, relationships, and burnout. Psychology in the Schools. 2021;58(8):1575–96.
  4. Morin A. Teaching With Empathy: Why It’s Important. [Internet]. (Accessed 2021 Sep 11).

September 28, 2021

Creating Valid Multiple-Choice Exams

by Scott Ross, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Mississippi State Department of Health

With increased class sizes and teacher load, multiple-choice exams have become the primary method for evaluating health professions students. There are many pros and cons to using multiple-choice tests. This article aims to investigate the cons and improper techniques and offer potential solutions to improve the quality of questions and enhance student learning.

Multiple-choice exams remain a popular form of assessment because they have several advantages, including ease of grading, standardization, the objectiveness of scoring, and the ability to test many discrete concepts. And teachers can administer multiple versions of the same test.1,2 Furthermore, evidence suggests that a well-constructed multiple-choice exam is just as effective as a short-answer test in terms of promoting the retention of material.3,4 However, a poorly constructed multiple-choice exam will not accurately measure learning and can lead to frustration. There are several best practices that many teachers fail to follow, including using "all of the above" or "none of the above" answer choices, writing "throw-away" answers as potential choices, asking students questions that focus on their ability to memorize and recall trivial details, and authoring stems that are unclear/vague.1,5

While seen commonly on multiple-choice exams, the "none of the above" answer choice leaves students wondering what the correct answer is. Indeed, it could be argued that the best possible answer is not among the answer choices, and thus "none of the above" would always be the best option. In many cases, students view "none of the above" as a throw-away answer that can be ignored. Similar but different issues arise with the "all of the above" answer choice. Using the "all of the above" answer choice may have the benefit of determining if the student is aware that more than one choice is correct, but this quickly results in guessing and relying on partial knowledge of the material to answer correctly.6 When the "all of the above" choice frequently appears on an exam, students will likely pick up on trends and will lean towards selecting this answer even when they lack an understanding of the material. Thus, "none of the above" and "all of the above" answer choices should be avoided.6 Instead, consider using "select all that apply" questions because they thwart guessing — but admittedly, they are more difficult. To discourage guessing, some instructors award points for each correct response but take off points if a student selects an incorrect answer or does not select a correct response.1 While this is undoubtedly more challenging, it is more efficient and less cognitively demanding than asking students to respond to series of open-ended questions.

Another common issue when constructing multiple-choice tests is including "throw-away" answers — answers that are so obviously incorrect that even those who do not know the subject matter can quickly eliminate them. Including these answer choices is harmful because it increases the odds of guessing correctly. It is a best practice to include at least 3 but no more than 5 plausible answer choices.7  The key word here is plausible – at least they should seem reasonable to the learner who is not sufficiently knowledgeable about the subject matter.

Some critics of multiple-choice testing state that exam scores using this format do not always correlate to the learner's understanding of the material — the method simply asks students to memorize and recall information.5 This is important to keep in mind when forming questions as many instructors rely too heavily on "recall" or knowledge-based type questions. While they are more challenging to write, it is possible to create questions that require critical thinking. Forming thoughtful questions that require students to analyze, apply, and evaluate is vital to ensuring they develop the skills needed in their future careers.

Another common problem is forming misleading or vague question stems or answer choices that lead to confusion or misunderstandings. It is also best to avoid negative phrasing (e.g., "which of the following is not true …") in exams since this can cause students to misread the question. If a question truly cannot be phrased positively, it is best to make the negative wording stand out by using italics, capitalization, or bolding of the word(s). Having clear answer choices is just as important as forming clear question stems. An excellent way to ensure that questions and answers are worded clearly and concisely is to send the material to someone else to review. It is crucial to keep in mind how the answer choices relate to each other. Answer choices should be homogenous in the sense that they relate to the same content and have a similar sentence structure and length. This is to prevent giving clues to students as to what the correct answer is. Another strategy to prevent clues is to always present the choices in numerical or alphabetical order.

Perhaps the biggest concern with multiple-choice tests is the format itself. Most choices will not be provided to the health professional.  Rather they must recall and weigh the potential options themselves.  Thus, multiple-choice exams are not authentic assessments — they do not reflect real life. Real-life decision-making comes from generating choices for ourselves and formulating our own answers by considering multiple pieces of information and then making a judgment. Thus, relying solely on multiple-choice assessments to determine a student's progress does not accurately reflect whether a student is competent.  Other forms of assessment, including objective structured clinical exams (OSCE), evaluations of authentic work products, and observations during field-based activities, must also be used.

Creating valid multiple-choice exams is a vital skill that all teachers should master to ensure their students have mastered the material. However, there are several common problems that should be avoided, and multiple-choice assessments have several limitations. Using a combination of assessment strategies is essential to get a comprehensive view of each student's knowledge, skill, and abilities.



  1. Weimer M. Multiple-choice tests: Revisiting the pros and cons [Internet]. Faculty Focus. 2019 [cited 2021Sep19].
  2. Medawela RMS, Ratanayake DRDL, Abesinghe W, et al. Effectiveness of "fill in the blanks" over multiple choice questions in assessing final year dental undergraduates. Educación Médica 2017, 19 (2): 72-76.
  3. Khan JS, Mukhtar O, Tabasum S, et al. Relationship of Awards in multiple choice questions and structured answer questions in the undergraduate years and their effectiveness in evaluation. Journal of Ayub Medical College 2010; 22 (2): 191-195.
  4. Haynie W. Effects of Multiple-Choice and Short-Answer Tests on Delayed Retention Learning [Internet]. Journal of Technology Education 1994; 6 (1): 32-44.
  5. Fors K. Opinion: Multiple choice tests don't prepare students [Internet]. The Utah Statesman. 2020 [cited 2021Sep19].
  6. Butler A. Multiple-choice testing: Are the best practices for assessment also good for learning? [Internet]. The Learning Scientists. 2017 [cited 2021Sep19].
  7. Butler AC. Multiple-choice testing in education: Are the best practices for assessment also good for learning?. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition 2018; 7 (3): 323-331.

July 13, 2021

If You Feel Like an Imposter, Perhaps It Is Time to Change Your Mindset

by Abby Bradley, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, University of Mississippi Medical Center

The brain is theoretically the most powerful organ in the body and is responsible for processing and storing thoughts, memories, and experiences that happen throughout one’s life. It is these three things that shape who we are as a person and create our mindset towards ourselves and others. Our mindset plays a powerful role in what we believe. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck describes the difference between those with a fixed mindset, a belief that abilities can’t be changed, and a growth mindset, a belief that abilities can be developed.1,2  Many pharmacists (and other health professionals) feel like “imposters” which arises from a belief that their success is largely due to luck and timing, rather than their own effort.  The imposter phenomenon might be related to a fixed mindset. With a growth mindset, perhaps new graduates can better manage the inevitable challenges as they enter the workforce?

What is the difference between the person who crumbles versus the person who thrives after receiving negative feedback?  Mindset. A person with a fixed mindset assumes abilities and talents are relatively fixed.  Either someone has the ability to do something well or does not. A fixed mindset can be identified by characteristics such as avoiding challenges, feeling threatened by others, giving up easily, resorting to cheating and deception to get ahead, and focusing on the outcome rather than the process. On the other hand, those with a growth mindset believe that one's abilities, intelligence, and skills can be grown and developed through effort and hard work. Failure is seen as an opportunity for growth and criticism is a tool to better one's self. With a growth mindset, hard work and determination are embraced — there is a passion for learning (the process) rather than a hunger for success (the outcome). It is important to keep in mind that individuals often have different mindsets towards different domains in their lives, and mindsets can change.


Fixed Mindset

Growth mindset


Abilities and intelligence is fixed

Abilities and intelligence can be developed


Fine the way it is, nothing to change

How can I improve?


Give up easily

Persevere when faced with failure and setbacks


Avoid new experiences due to fear of failure, blames others

Embraces and sees as an opportunity to learn


Defensive, takes it personally

Accepts as a way to learn

One intriguing question that has been recently proposed: Is there a correlation between a fixed mindset and the imposter syndrome? The imposter phenomenon (IP) is the official psychological term and it describes a pattern of thinking whereby successful individuals feel unworthy of the success they have achieved.  They don’t feel competent and worry that their lack of skill will be “discovered.” In one study that surveyed medical, dental, nursing, and pharmacy students, significant levels of distress and rates of IP were found.3  Indeed, pharmacy students were at the highest risk for the IP when compared to other health professions.3 A recent study found a significantly higher prevalence of IP among pharmacy residents in comparison to trainees in other healthcare professions.4  These data show a worrisome pattern but can we do anything about it?  Although a correlation between IP and a fixed mindset has not been conclusively proven, some researchers believe that adopting a growth mindset could reduce the risk of IP. By implementing techniques that foster a growth mindset early in pharmacy education, students would learn to be better equipped to handle the stress and competitive environment of pharmacy school as well as the workforce.

How can we foster a growth mindset among pharmacists and student pharmacists? The first step begins with educating the educator. To be able to foster a growth mindset, the educator must have good foundational knowledge and demonstrate a growth mindset themselves.  They need to be role models! Simply bringing awareness to the idea of different mindsets has been shown to foster a shift in thinking. This can be done in didactic lectures, small group discussions, and personal experiences.

Ways That Educators Promote Mindsets

Fostering a Fixed Mindset

Fostering a Growth Mindset

·  Multiple-choice exams

·  Praising intelligence, skill, talent

·  Focusing on results

·  Limited, nonspecific formative feedback

·  Socratic questioning

·  Learning experiences

·  Allowing multiple drafts

·  Pre- and post-tests

·  Frequent formative feedback

Feedback is critically important during any learning experience, but to promote a growth mindset, intentional, constructive feedback must be provided so that students are praised for their processes and improvements rather than the grades they achieve.  The teacher should focus on effort and growth. Although feedback is usually given at the end of a course or experience, the foundation should be laid at the beginning of an experience when expectations and goals are established. After having the opportunity to perform and be assessed, trainees should be provided with constructive feedback and opportunities to improve. To be considered constructive, feedback should be specific, based on direct observations (or other evidence), and objective (criterion-referenced) while also providing advice on how to improve. Self-reflection should also be used as a way for trainees to reflect upon the processes they employed when complete tasks and assignments. Thinking and talking about processes provide insight about what went well as well as areas of improvement.

Grades in general do not provide insight into the learning process or growth of a student. A single summative assessment or ranking does not promote the beliefs that foster a growth mindset; however, the use of formal assessments can be beneficial when used appropriately. Introductory and advanced pharmacy practice experiences, as well as residency training, represent ideal environments to implement pre-and post-tests to highlight the amount of growth from the experience. Rather than receiving only a final grade, trainees can tangibly see their growth by comparing their pre-rotation and post-rotation scores.

Self-assessments tools like The Mindset Assessment on The Mindset Works website provide insight into one's mindset and could be beneficial for both educators and trainees. This short assessment is a diagnostic tool that can be used to objectively assess and learn more about one's mindset; it also provides specific recommendations on how to move toward a growth mindset as well as personalized feedback.5

Healthcare and pharmacy practice is an everchanging field that can be taxing for students, residents, as well as practitioners. By cultivating a growth mindset, pharmacists can overcome the challenges faced during their training and after entering the workforce. Faculty and preceptors play a key role in educating and promoting a growth mindset during the early stages of their pharmacy careers. Trainees must learn to develop the skills needed to persevere in the face of failure, accept criticism as a learning opportunity, seek out challenges, and, just important, reduce the stress and anxiety from feeling like an imposter. 


  1. Dweck CS. Self-Theories, Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press; 2000.
  2. Dweck CS. Mindset, The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House Digital; 2008.
  3. Henning K, Ey S, Shaw D. Perfectionism, the imposter phenomenon and psychological adjustment in medical, dental, nursing and pharmacy students. Med Educ. 1998;32(5):456-46.
  4. Sullivan JB, Ryba NL. Prevalence of imposter phenomenon and assessment of well-being in pharmacy residents. Am J Health-Syst Pharm. 2020;77:690-696.
  5. Burgoyne AP, Macnamara BN. The reliability and validity of the mindset assessment profile tool. PsyArXiv; 2020. doi: 10.31234/

June 23, 2021

Prioritizing Health Literacy Education

by Bria T. Lewis, Pharm.D, MPH, PGY-1 Community Pharmacy Resident, University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy

Effective communication is an essential skill for healthcare workers. Communication between healthcare professionals and patients is multifaceted and can become complicated by reduced or poor health literacy skills. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, health literacy is “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions.”1 Unlike general literacy, health literacy focuses on specific skills needed to traverse the health care system and enables clear communication between healthcare providers and patients.

Improving health literacy education for health professionals is an essential concept of the U.S. National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy. This concept must be prioritized by all health professionals who communicate with patients, and, just as importantly, those who educate emerging health professionals. It is important that health professions educators teach ways to both assess health literacy and to strategies to communicate to patients with low health literacy. Educators must take responsibility by recognizing the importance of effectively communicating health information to patients and work to address any deficits that may impede a patient from making the best decisions.2 To mitigate such deficits, educators of health professionals must teach students about the common barriers that patients experience including a lack of understanding about disease states, local health guidelines, and the interpretation of test results3

While there are currently no widely accepted guidelines on health literacy education for healthcare professionals, healthcare educators should focus the scope of instruction on the following key skills:

  1. Identifying Patients with Low Health Literacy: Healthcare professionals may not be able to identify patients with low health literacy. Factors associated with sufficient health literacy levels include higher individual income, advanced education, and greater professional success. In contrast, older adults, minority, or low-income populations are at risk for insufficient health literacy. Low health literacy has been shown to correlate with an increased risk of death and emergency room visits followed by hospitalization.
  1. Use of Plain Language: Using non-medical language can enhance understanding between the patient and the provider. Students and health professionals may need to develop alternative language to explain concepts instead of using their acquired medical terminology.  Indeed, many patients, especially those of underserved populations, may not have literacy competency above a 5th-grade level. Thus, curriculums must include teaching students how to simplify complex words and concepts into 5th-grade English terms. This can be achieved by referencing medical terms that may appear during lectures in both the form understood by the medical community and the form understood by the average citizen. 
  1. Focus the Message: Limiting the information to focus on one to three key messages is crucial. Focusing the key messages on behavior modifications will help empower and motivate patients. Educators should emphasize lessons that teach students and healthcare professionals to develop short explanations for common treatments and disease states which motivate action.
  1. Importance of the Teach-Back method: Reviewing and repeating key information at the end of each visit will help with reinforcement. The ‘Teach Back” method serves as an effective tool to assess understanding and increase retention of information. Educators should introduce and use this tool throughout the curriculum in a fashion that requires students to “Teach Back” health information in laymen’s terms. This can be done by establishing simulation counseling sessions where students are required to translate medical information without using jargon.

Fortunately, there are several readily accessible health literacy education resources that educators can use. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has developed the Health Literacy Universal Precautions Approach to health literacy. This approach supports simplifying communication and reducing the complexity of healthcare. The toolkit offers twenty-one tools for improving health literacy by addressing spoken communication, written communication, and supportive systems. This guide is available for download at: AHRQ Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit.  The CDC Clear Communication Index is a tool used to develop and assess public communication materials to determine if a message or material will likely match the health literacy skills of your intended audience.

Health literacy affects the health status of patients. Health literacy is a national concern. To provide the best care to our patients, all health professionals need to learn the key concepts and how to communicate complex ideas to patients using simple, clear language. 


  1. Health Literacy. Official Web Site of the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration.”, 31 Mar. 2017. Accessed 17 June 2021.
  2. Bowen D. 5 How To’s for Teaching Health Literacy. Accessed 17 June 2021.
  3. Health Literacy. National Library of Medicine., 2010. Accessed 17 June 2021.

May 11, 2021

Scary Word of the Day: Advocacy

by Mary Reagan Richardson, PharmD, PGY1 Community Pharmacy Resident, Mississippi State Department of Health

Advocacy is a term that is thrown around with different meanings in different settings.1 All professional students have, at one point or another, heard the word advocacy mentioned as something they should do. But how do we advocate?  And is it something that can be taught? It seems that everyone agrees that advocacy is necessary and important but defining the competencies needed to “advocate” and measuring it are harder to come by.1 In fact, when searching for primary literature on the topic, I found only four studies that mention advocacy.

So what is advocacy? One definition states that ”Advocacy is telling or demonstrating something you know to someone in order to improve the quality of life for others.”2 The American Medical Association defines physician advocacy as, ”Action by a physician to promote those social, economic, educational, and political changes that ameliorate the suffering and threats to human health and well-being that he or she identifies through his or her professional work and expertise.”1 There are several other definitions but they all include two central themes: knowledge propagation and a call to action.

There is a distinction between advocacy and self-advocacy. Advocacy is primarily about asking others to take action to benefit another person or a community. Self-advocacy is all about informing someone about what you or your profession can do. It is still a form of advocacy, just not done for the benefit of others. Self-advocacy is often a part of advocacy. If you cannot clearly articulate what it is you do and why only you can do it, how can you ask for an action-oriented change to occur? Self-advocacy fulfills the knowledge propagation step of advocacy.

Pharmacists, nurses, physicians, and other health professionals are all taught what it is their profession does as well as what they can or perhaps should be permitted to do. So, it only makes sense that advocacy is taught during professional degree programs. There is some evidence about the benefits for teaching self-advocacy to elementary school children, however, consensus on ways to teach how to advocate for others is not well developed.3 In my readings, it seems that advocacy can be broken down into three major types; person-to-person communication, using your knowledge to fill a need in the community, and direct, participatory communication with legislators or primary stakeholders.1,2,3,4

For example, I am a pharmacist in a community, independent pharmacy. A patient comes in talking about how long the wait is and complains “why can’t you just put the pills in the bottle already?” There are several approaches that can be taken here: A) ignore the comment, B) apologize for taking so long C) explain what pharmacists do when filling a prescription. The pharmacy advocate would go with option C. What if that patient knew that you called the prescriber to get the dose adjusted due to an interaction with another medication? It is through these sorts of interactions, which happen every day, that we, as practitioners, educate the public about what goes on behind the scenes to improve their health. This is person-to-person advocacy.2  Calling the physician to get the dose change is also advocacy, because the pharmacist is using his/her knowledge, on the patient’s behalf, and making a call-to-action (e.g. change the dose of the medication). Advocacy in both of these circumstances enhances the public’s understanding of the pharmacist’s professional role.

Another example of advocacy is when you see a need for something in your community and take action. Like implementing COVID-19 vaccination clinics in a community pharmacy. The rules and regulations can be onerous and the additional demands of such a service can be very disruptive to a pharmacy’s workflow. However, pharmacies all over the country are implementing them to address the largest public health crisis in a century. You are advocating for your patients and community by taking on the added cost, stress, and time to administer these vaccines to improve the health of the community.

On a much larger scale, advocacy encompasses talking to local, state, and federal legislators and other policymakers about issues pertaining to your profession. However, many health professionals find it quite daunting to advocate for their profession directly to legislators. Many people are unsure of how to go about talking with legislators about what they do and the problems they encounter. The best way to prepare for these conversations is to stay up-to-date with the latest news about your profession, locally and nationally. The more informed you are as a practitioner, the better your case to a legislator will be. For example, when I spoke with a legislator in 2018 about expanding the scope of pharmacist practice in Mississippi, his first question to me was, “Have other states done this?” If I had not done my homework and known that, in fact, other states had authorized pharmacists to do similar things and the positive impact it had, that conversation would have ended right then and there. Speaking with legislators about a topic doesn’t have to be an in-person discussion. You can always send an email to your local or state senators explaining why and how you see a problem being fixed. Regularly communicating with your legislators and other policymakers is the most active and participatory form of advocacy.5

These examples provide a road map on ways in which we can advocate for our professions. In terms of teaching how best to teach students to advocate, there are very few published examples.  There are some residency programs that have advocacy curriculums that have been successful.4 Most professional degree programs include something about advocacy in their curriculums but do not have published learning objectives or competencies.6

I believe that there should be an advocacy course in the required curriculum or, at the very least, offered as an elective. This course would focus on how to research an issue, how to identify the major stakeholders, and how to make an “ask” (i.e. the call to action) This course should get students thinking critically about the problems their profession and the patient they serve face. A lobbyist could be brought in to discuss speaking strategies and the “how to’s” of talking to policymakers. The learning objectives and competencies should assess whether a student could effectively deliver an “elevator pitch” on an issue. Advocacy is something that becomes more natural as you practice it. For this reason, any advocacy course should have simulation activities and field-based exercises that students need to complete. Teaching students that advocacy can be as easy as talking with your family or calling your United States Senator can help make advocacy more approachable and an inherent expectation of being a professional.4


  1. RoyeaAJ, Appl DJ. Every voice matters: The importance of advocacy. Early Childhood Educ J 2009; 37: 89-91.
  2. Earnest MA, Wong S, Federico SG. Perspective: Physician advocacy: What is it and how do we do it? Acad Med 2010; 85: 63-67.
  3. Lee, A. (2021, April 12). The importance of self-advocacy for kids who learn and think differently. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from
  4. Servaes J, Malikhao P. Advocacy strategies for health communication. Public Relations Review 2010; 36: 42-49.
  5. Chamberlain LJ, Sanders, LM, Takayama JI. Child advocacy training. Curriculum Outcomes and Resident Satisfaction. Arch Pediatrics & Adoles Med 2005;159: 842-847.
  6. Douglas A, Mak D, Bulsara C, Macey D., Samarawickrema I. The teaching and learning of health advocacy in an Australian medical school. Inter J Med Educ 2018; 9, 26-34.