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

Students raise their hands smiling during presentation

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

Peer health education is defined as the teaching of health information, attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors by members of groups who are similar in age or experience (White et al., 2009). Peer health education has proven to be a highly effective manner to reach college 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 would exceed 100,000 for the first time over a 12-month period.  Opioid drugs are the drivers of this increase (CDC, 2021).  Therefore, there is a critical need for innovative outreach programs to help inform college students on this topic.  The ability to offer this outreach in a variety of ways is also important given the in person limitations from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Since 2018, pharmacy students enrolled at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (ACPHS) have been engaged in an effective peer education program, which is delivered to other college students enrolled at local colleges and universities, and in 2021, our students started delivering the presentation to high school seniors. Our student pharmacists developed an engaging and interactive program which has been delivered in person and remotely; the program has been well received with requests for return visits.

Design of the program

Faculty and instructional designers at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences supported students with the development of a presentation that would be appealing to peer audiences. Students attending the presentation were largely enrolled in liberal arts programs at local colleges and universities. The Albany College student presenters coupled their presentation with a game of questions delivered through the Kahoot! app.  Students receiving the presentation were then asked to register their level of agreement to a series of statements using a Likert scale of “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”.  These questions were first delivered to students prior to the beginning of the presentation.  More questions were interspersed throughout each learning module within the presentation where students answered relevant questions covered in the learning module. Incentives for responding to 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 through the Kahoot! app, followed by a question-and-answer session. With in-person events, a workshop on overdose rescue was offered, complete with a demonstration on how to administer rescue medications. This presentation was first offered in-person in April 2018 through October 2019, and remotely in the spring of 2021. We continue to offer the program on a remote basis during the current pandemic period.  Student affairs staff at other schools have been very involved with logistics throughout this program.       

Benefits to our students

Our students derived several benefits from participating in this initiative.  They enhanced their public speaking skills as well as 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 became more knowledgeable about the opioid crisis.  They continue to move the program forward within a professional organization at our campus, and one of our students was able to share her personal story regarding a family member’s addiction. 

Benefits to receiving institution  

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

“I received multiple emails from students last night thanking us for the presentation.  They thought the presenters did a great job and it sounded from all of them that they learned a lot of new information.”

Second, we analyzed the differences in question responses, pre- and post-presentation of material, to determine any increase in knowledge regarding this topic.  Differences in responses to the following questions were statistically significant (p < 0.00002): 

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

Finally, the program achieved a positive outcome that cannot be quantified but is, arguably, the most important achievement.  A student who attended the in-person presentation with a workshop on overdose rescue was able to quickly respond to an overdose situation, applying the knowledge and skills learned through 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 stated that because of her attendance at our program, she felt more comfortable and confident putting these life-saving skills into action. 

How health education instructors can develop similar programs

Our program began in 2018 in response to the opioid crisis. We believed, and now know, that the 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 health education as a mission.  These organizations want students to conduct community outreach for the purpose of educating the public and/or promoting a specific health profession.  These organizations often provide awards to student chapters of their organization who have done exemplary work in community outreach.  Faculty can recruit and encourage students to work on such initiatives. 

Faculty and students should first identify a community need.  It may be helpful to partner with a community-based organization which supports the overall community need.  In our case, we partnered with student affair offices from other colleges.  This partnership can assist by hosting events, scheduling events, and other logistical matters.  Once your audience is identified, consider partnering with an instructional designer who can assist your students in the creation of a presentation which the audience will find informative and engaging.   Our program is a rolling program within a student professional organization.  Student involvement is perpetually moving forward, with student advancement in their education and graduation.  New students rotate into this initiative bringing new ideas and new ways to collaborate. 

Peer educators and learners benefit greatly from this program, as did one individual who never attended our sessions but is now alive because of someone who did.  As we have shown, the benefits of this type of program are wide-reaching and extremely gratifying to students and faculty alike.

Jane Boyd is an instructor and co-director of the pharmacy practice laboratory at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (ACPHS) teaching in the P3 year of the Pharmacy Practice Skills Course sequence and the primary advisor to the largest professional organization on campus, American Pharmacist Association – Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP). Boyd is a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) and keeps current with community pharmacy practice, substance use disorders, immunizations, COVID-19 testing, and facilitates a local diabetes support group program.

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

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


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

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

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

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