Teach One, Save One: The Unlimited Power of Peer Education

Students learning from each other is the foundation of peer learning. Peer learning covers many different practices, such as the traditional model of peers teaching other students, or more advanced models such as discussion seminars and collaborative projects. Students engaged in peer teaching can improve their academic performance by explaining concepts to others, as well as developing organizational and planning skills.

Peer health education is defined as the teaching of health information, attitudes, beliefs, values ​​and behaviors by members of similar age groups or experience (White and al., 2009). Peer health education has proven to be a very effective way to reach students on the topic of opioid use and abuse (Anderson, 2020; Hines et al., 2018) . The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated that drug overdose deaths in the United States will top 100,000 for the first time in a 12-month period. Opioid medications are driving this increase (CDC, 2021). Therefore, there is a critical need for innovative outreach programs to help educate college students on this topic. The ability to deliver this outreach in a variety of ways is also important given the in-person limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 2018, pharmacy students enrolled at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (ACPHS) participate in an effective peer education program, which is delivered to other students enrolled at local colleges and universities, and in 2021, our students began delivering the presentation to high school students. Our student pharmacists developed an engaging and interactive program that was offered in person and remotely; the program was well received with requests for return visits.

Program design

Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences faculty and instructional designers helped students craft a presentation that would be engaging to peers. The students attending the presentation were largely enrolled in liberal arts programs at local colleges and universities. Albany College student presenters paired their presentation with a quiz delivered via the Kahoot! application. The students receiving the presentation were then asked to rate their level of agreement with a series of statements using a Likert scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”. These questions were first posed to the students before the start of the presentation. More questions were interspersed throughout each learning module in the presentation where students answered the relevant questions covered in the learning module. Incentives for answering the questions were offered, such as water bottles, t-shirts and gift cards. The presentation ended with the re-administration of the same pre-presentation questions via the Kahoot! app, followed by a Q&A session. Along with the in-person events, an overdose rescue workshop was offered, with a demonstration on how to administer rescue medication. This presentation was first offered in person from April 2018 to October 2019, and remotely in the spring of 2021. We continue to offer the program remotely during the current pandemic period. Student affairs staff from other schools have been very involved in logistics throughout this program.

Benefits for our students

Our students have derived many benefits from their participation in this initiative. They improved their public speaking skills as well as their research skills, learned how to organize and develop formal presentations, learned how to effectively deploy a polling tool in an existing presentation, and our students gained a better knowledge of opioid crisis. They continue to drive the program forward through a professional organization on our campus, and one of our students was able to share her personal story of a family member’s addiction.

Benefits for the host institution

We were able to assess the benefits of this program in three ways. First, the program is highly regarded, with a local college making several requests for return visits. After our first visit to this local college, we received the following feedback from the Office of Student Affairs:

“Last night I received several emails from students thanking us for the presentation. They thought the presenters had done a great job and it seemed to all of them that they had learned a lot of new information.

Second, we analyzed differences in responses to questions, before and after presentation of the material, to determine any increase in knowledge on this topic. Differences in responses to the following questions were statistically significant (p

  • I am comfortable talking about substance abuse recovery with peers or staff on campus.
  • I know the purpose of a halfway house in the addiction recovery process.
  • I know the warning signs of substance abuse and addiction.

Finally, the program achieved a positive result which cannot be quantified, but which is undoubtedly the most important achievement. A student who attended the in-person presentation with an overdose rescue workshop was able to respond quickly to an overdose situation, applying the knowledge and skills learned at our event. This person was able to revive an unresponsive person, saving a life. This student came to our campus to speak to our pharmacy students and said that because of her participation in our program, she felt more comfortable and confident practicing these vital skills.

How health education instructors can develop similar programs

Our program started in 2018 in response to the opioid crisis. We believed, and now know, that students enrolled in colleges and universities in our area can benefit from this program. Today, the program is needed more than ever. Health education programs often have professional student organizations or other student organizations with a health education mission. These organizations want students to conduct community outreach activities for the purpose of educating the public and/or promoting a particular health profession. These organizations often offer awards to student chapters of their organization who have done exemplary work in the area of ​​community outreach. Faculty can recruit and encourage students to work on such initiatives.

Teachers and students must first identify a community need. It may be helpful to partner with a community organization that meets the general needs of the community. In our case, we partnered with student affairs offices at other colleges. This partnership can help with organizing events, scheduling events and other logistical matters. Once you have identified your audience, consider partnering with an instructional designer who can help your students create a presentation that the audience will find informative and engaging. Our program is a continuous program within a student professional organization. Student involvement is ever-increasing, as students advance in their education and degree. New students are coming to this initiative with new ideas and new ways of collaborating.

Peer educators and learners benefit greatly from this program, as does someone who has never attended our sessions but is now alive thanks to someone who has. As we have shown, the benefits of this type of program are vast and extremely rewarding for both students and faculty.


Jane Boyd is an instructor and co-director of the Pharmacy Practice Laboratory at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (ACPHS) which teaches year P3 of the Pharmacy Practice Skills course sequence and the principal advisor to the largest organization campus professional, American. Association of Pharmacists – Academy of Pharmacist Students (APhA-ASP). Boyd is a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) and keeps up to date with community pharmacy practice, substance use disorders, immunizations, COVID-19 testing and leads a program local diabetes support group.

Angela Dominelli is an associate professor of pharmaceutical administration at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. His teaching and research interests include pharmaceutical administration, total quality management in healthcare, leadership, and the social aspects associated with healthcare delivery.

John Polimeni is an associate professor of economics at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He received his Ph.D. in ecological economics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Polimeni has published over 60 peer-reviewed research articles, published four books and eleven chapters in edited books, presented his research at numerous international conferences, and served on 14 academic journal editorial boards.

The references

White S, Park Y, Israel T, Corderao E (2009). “Longitudinal evaluation of peer health education on a university campus: impact on health behaviors.” J Am Coll Health 57, no. 5:497-505.

Anderson, G. (2019). “Colleges are determining how to protect students from the opioid epidemic.” Inside Higher Education. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/11/15/colleges-determine-how-protect-students-opioid-epidemic

Hines J, Deja E, Black E (2018). “Student pharmacists’ perceptions of participation in practical advice on naloxone.” Curr Pharm Teach Learn 10, no. 6: 712-716.

Centers for Control and Prevention of Disasters. (2021). National Center for Health Statistics, Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm


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