Skip to main content
University of Wisconsin-Madison

School of Pharmacy PharmD Student Wins National Patient Counseling Competition

portrait of Maddie Wiarek
Maddie Wiarek, PharmD student at the School of Pharmacy.

Maddie Wiarek rises to the top, out of more than 125 pharmacy students nationwide

By Mary Magnuson

From across the country, the National Patient Counseling Competition hosted by the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) included 125 student pharmacists. After two rounds of national competition, one took the top spot: Maddie Wiarek, a third-year PharmD student from the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy.

“When they announced my name as the winner of the competition, it was surreal; I was both surprised and extremely excited about the news,” Wiarek says. “Because I don’t often practice patient consultations at my job, I didn’t expect to get this far in the competition.”

Wiarek — who is an inpatient pharmacy intern at UW Health — found out about the competition through the Wisconsin Society of Pharmacy Students, the School of Pharmacy’s chapter of APhA’s Academy of Student Pharmacists, and thought it was the perfect way to prepare for her fourth-year Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences.

In all, she participated in four rounds of the competition. In two local rounds, she participated against other School of Pharmacy PharmD students, and then advanced to the national stage to face competitors from around the United States and Puerto Rico.

In each round of the competition, students received a patient profile, prescription, and medication information sheet, which they had five minutes to review. They then had five minutes to virtually consult a “patient” — an actor — on their medication and put their counseling and communication expertise into practice.

Slide from the APhA webinar featuring NPCC winner Maddie Wiarek
A slide from the presentation of PharmD student Maddie Wiarek’s win of the APhA National Patient Counseling Competition.

In the final round, featuring just 10 students, the patient had been struggling with depression, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wiarek says this round stuck out to her for its relevance and allowed her to really apply some of the specific counseling skills she’d been practicing.

“This scenario really allowed me to utilize my empathy and active listening skills to ensure the patient felt comfortable and supported,” Wiarek says.

To prepare for the competition and perfect her counseling and communication skills, Wiarek worked with Professor and Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning Beth Martin (BS ‘90, MS ‘03, PhD ‘06), in the Pharmacy Practice Division, and Professor Betty Chewning, in the Social and Administrative Sciences Division, who leads the School’s innovative Communications Lab. Wiarek says she also practiced using her friends as mock patients to make sure she had the timing down — since the competitors only got five minutes for their mock consultation, timing was key.

“From my previous consultation experiences in pharmacy school, I know that I am usually long-winded and love to take the time to talk and form relationships with patients. This made it very difficult for me to stick to the five-minute time limit,” Wiarek says. “Fortunately, I was able to work with both Professor Martin and Professor Chewning on strategies to help me be more efficient with the time I was allotted.”

After graduation, Wiarek says she plans to go into ambulatory care pharmacy, and she anticipates using the counseling and communication skills she’s developed throughout the PharmD curriculum and sharpened through the competition to build relationships and master technology that allows for virtual consulting.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on both the importance and usefulness of telehealth technology,” Wiarek says. “Having the ability to use a digital platform to connect with patients virtually during this competition has granted me the opportunity to develop new communication skills that I am hopeful that I will be able to translate them over to my future pharmacy practice site.”