Lebanese American University


A winning prescription

Pharmacy students seize third place in Vegas competition.

LAU’s Caroline Der Nigoghossian and Melissa El Debs at the Clinical Skills Competition in Las Vegas, Nevada December 1-2.

Clinical Skills Competition finalists.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Two LAU School of Pharmacy majors recently won big in Las Vegas. Not at roulette or slot machines; but instead taking third place at the Clinical Skills Competition (CSC) for their treatment plan of a psychiatry case.

The event that gathered more than 240 students from various universities and colleges is an interactive, team-based analysis of clinical scenarios that budding pharmacists might encounter in their work.

“The patient had schizophrenia and depression along with other comorbid complications, and he was resistant to many drugs,” said Pharm.D. student Melissa El Debs, referring to the test case she and her teammate Caroline Der Nigoghossian were given by a panel of judges. “So we had to find the best treatment for this specific case while taking into account other problems,” namely, that he didn’t have insurance, so cost-effectiveness was a factor as well. And despite extensive preparation, neither had ever done a psychiatry rotation.

Organized by the American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP), the contest is held every December in the U.S. and provides pharmacy students with the opportunity to boost their skills in direct patient care.  

Thanks to the LAU School of Pharmacy’s ACPE accreditation, Debs and Der Nigoghossian were eligible to compete—a remarkable feat as they were the only non-Americans participating.

Students work in pairs on a timed-case study, assessing patient information and current therapy, identifying and prioritizing drug therapy problems and treatment goals, and formulating a comprehensive patient care plan. At the end, they must give a ten-minute oral defense of their treatment plan to a panel of judges and an audience of more than 100.

In the months preceding the contest, the fourth-year students prepared by trying to simulate the competition, doing practice scenarios with the same manuals that would be offered in Las Vegas, and fixating on their respective areas of weakness. On competition day, nerves were high.

“We work very well as a team and we always separate the tasks, so I managed the schizophrenia, and Melissa managed the rest (depression and comorbid conditions). At the end, we quickly discussed our approach with one another before the time was up,” said Der Nigoghossian.

The path to Las Vegas wasn’t a cakewalk. They first had to succeed at the local level, besting their classmates in a school-wide competition that was held at LAU in October. The students, both of whom recently completed semester-long rotations at the Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, were then tutored extensively.

“This year, we coached our students more thoroughly, on a weekly basis, providing them with practice cases, even touching on their communication skills,” said Dr. Lamis Karaoui, clinical assistant professor and director of experiential education. That attention to detail turned out a winning formula, said SOP Dean Dr. Pierre Zalloua.

“The motivation, drive and outstanding qualifications of our students Caroline and Melissa, and the time and efforts invested by school faculty and preceptors in preparing them, made all the difference,” he said.

Their rotations at Methodist Hospital also proved indispensible, not only for the competition, but for their careers.

“I think it was the best experience I’ve ever had in my professional life,” said Der Nigoghossian. “I got the chance to learn from clinical specialists. I did two transplant rotations. I learned what the pharmacists’ role is in a medical team. This type of experience at a leading hospital in the U.S. will help us come back to Lebanon and instill this type of model.”

With graduation in June, the students will have the chance to put their skills to the real test. Until then they can enjoy the recognition they are receiving in Lebanon and at LAU in particular.

“This is another feather in the cap of the School of Pharmacy and reflects very highly on the high quality of education that our pharmacy students are receiving,” said LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra.


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