February 2, 2016  

Purdue Profiles: Karen Hudmon

Karen Hudmon

Karen Hudmon, professor of pharmacy practice. (Photo provided)
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Inspired by the loss of her mother to lung cancer, Karen Hudmon, professor of pharmacy practice, has helped change the way tobacco cessation counseling is taught. A program she helped develop, Rx for Change: Clinician-Assisted Tobacco Cessation, is the only broadly shared curriculum among health professional schools, in use nationwide and in 79 countries. The program teaches clinicians and health professional students of all disciplines how to assist patients with quitting smoking.

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded Hudmon $1.6 million to build on her work, which is made freely available through the Rx for change website.

What inspired you to enter this line of research?

If I had to pick one driving force, it would be losing my mother to lung cancer when she was 50, despite the fact that she had quit smoking in her early 40s. It's difficult to see or experience suffering from any disease, but in many ways it seems so much worse when you know with certainty that it could have been prevented. I was devastated when this happened, and my younger brother (also a pharmacist) encouraged me to channel my sadness into something positive. At the time, I was entering my doctoral program in public health at The University of Texas, so I deliberately aligned myself with an accomplished, forward-thinking professor whose research focused primarily on tobacco cessation. The following year, I received a fellowship from the National Cancer Institute to train at MD Anderson Cancer Center, where I was surrounded by many of the best cancer researchers in the world.

What is the key to the success of your tobacco cessation education program?

I began the program with my collaborators in 1999 to fill a documented, decades-long void in tobacco education for health professional students. Originally, it was designed for pharmacy schools because we found that virtually all pharmacists would welcome such training but fewer than 10 percent had received any. We soon learned that other health professional students and licensed clinicians also would benefit from access to our teaching materials, so we diversified the program and launched a website to facilitate broad scale dissemination.

Our rationale for developing the program was that it made little sense for faculty at each health professional school to create lectures on the same topics -- why not share? It's a logical and cost-effective approach, and the curriculum benefits from the input from not just one faculty author, but from thousands of educators across the globe.

What are some of the tools of the program?

My team is currently pushing the boundaries of technology and assessment, developing virtual and standardized patients and objective structured clinical examinations. After professors teach the Rx for Change curriculum, their students will be able to interact with "virtual patients" online, to practice what they learn in class. The virtual patients respond to students' questions in real time, allowing students to practice and build confidence in their counseling skills. They then take an examination for which they are observed counseling various standardized patients, or actors who play the role of a patient, and receive detailed feedback on their performances.

What have you learned along the way?

Early in this process, we were separating the different health professions in our trainings, but we learned that patients who smoke benefit immensely from receiving cessation advice and assistance from numerous types of health professionals. So, more recently, we've focused our efforts on bringing nurses, physicians, pharmacists, social workers, respiratory therapists, etc., together to foster an interprofessional approach to patient care.

We are just now completing a study with the IU schools of Nursing and Social Work for which we trained students to help patients with mental illness quit smoking. In another project, we are teaming pharmacy and respiratory care, which has never been done before in the field of tobacco cessation.

What else do you do to support this cause?

I serve as a co-chair of the Public Health Tobacco Control Committee for the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. Part of my role is to advance regulations and legislation to reduce the public health burden associated with tobacco use, including the elimination of tobacco sales in pharmacies. Much of the research that I have conducted over the past 10 years has been instrumental in moving tobacco-free pharmacy policies forward, and I am proud that Purdue was the first college of pharmacy in the U.S. to adopt an anti-tobacco policy. Pharmacies are the only health care setting where tobacco sales are permitted, and it is an unfortunate disgrace to our profession.

Writer: Elizabeth Gardner, 765-494-2081, ekgardner@purdue.edu 

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