Aug 25 2014
Who are your partners in wellness? Surely your doctors, their nurses and support staff. But do you also consider your local pharmacist a partner in your wellness? After all, “Ask your pharmacist about …,” is one of the most oft repeated phrases in advertising because the manufacturers of prescription drugs and over-the-counter health goods know that their products should be purchased with some knowledge and forethought. And the responsibility to guide the customer (you!) to make the right purchases is on the shoulders of your local pharmacist.
Like many other professions, over the years, the job of pharmacist has changed. Once upon a time pharmacies were locally owned and operated and were the quintessential “mom & pop” operation. The pharmacist/owner knew everyone by name, knew their families, and knew their health issues. And when you consulted with the pharmacists, you were confident about with whom you were speaking because they were your neighbors. Their children went to the same schools as your kids. They grew up learning customer service working behind the counter or stocking shelves with sundries. Their family matured with yours. But today, most pharmacies are owned by giant conglomerates, chain and franchise operations, and you can also get prescriptions filled in big box stores and supermarkets.
And the evolution of the industry has brought about other major changes, particularly the way prescriptions are sold. There are certainly far more federal laws and restrictions concerning prescription medications than ever before, including volume limitations and documentation about product distributions. And instead of actually mixing up potions and poultices behind the counter as the mom & pop stores once did, the local pharmacist is (with the aid of pharmacy technicians) mostly counting, weighing, measuring and labeling pre prepared meds that have arrived to their location in bulk.
The primary role of the pharmacist is still to put doctor ordered medications in the hands of the patients who need them, and provide confidence, along with relevant and knowledgeable details that customers/patients can understand and follow. Therefore their job still requires a great deal of study, knowledge retention and continued learning.
At the very least, to be successful as a pharmacist one must have much more than an elemental grasp of medicine and dentistry, chemistry, biology, law, governmental regulations, regulatory agency policies and rules, in addition to good language and communication skills, customer service, administration, counseling and a broad array of computer and software skills.
Those pharmacists who work behind the counter need to be aware of so many small details, not just about the drugs themselves, but also about their interactions with other medications a patient may be taking. They must have an awareness of possible side effects and a patient’s reactions to various meds based on other health information at their disposal. And this is a herculean task because of so many variables.
Additionally, pharmacists are responsible for inventory management and controlling the volumes of medications they must stock, or be able to quickly acquire. And as the pharmacology evolves, so must the pharmacists’ knowledge base and inventory.
While we tend to think of pharmacists as working in a predominantly retail occupation, there are many drug stores where those “mixing up the medicines” may not deal with the public, except for the occasional consult with a patient about their meds. But opportunities exist for pharmacy professionals in other, albeit mostly related industries. Insurance companies hire pharmacists with special knowledge about the drugs and medications their patients use and monitor their outcomes. Pharmaceutical companies are constantly developing new drugs, prescription and non-prescription – and need knowledgeable pros to help them in that process. Medical and testing laboratories also need people with pharmacological backgrounds and training with increasing numbers.
In addition to all the knowledge of the prescriptions they handle, the pharmacists must also have a working and up-to-date knowledge of a vast array of over the counter, non-prescription medications and health aids, as well as vitamins and a wide variety of related sundries. When you think about the diversity of products available in a drug store these days, you realize how much learning and attention to detail must be managed by these dedicated professionals.
So, even though the size and ownership of the neighborhood drug store has changed, and the role of pharmacist has evolved, those who are filling these positions (and your prescriptions) are still worthy of your trust. Pharmacists are still your neighbors and a part of your community. The road to being a pharmacist may not be an easy one, but the position is still one of respect and trust. Pharmacists continue to be your partner in wellness.
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