Hard Work is Familiar to All Pharmacists

MARCH 28, 2018
I recently found myself engaged in a Facebook discussion where a pharmacist was asking for advice. She worked alone in a pharmacy, with no help at all, filling approximately 100 prescriptions per day. She was looking for advice on how to deal with those crunch times, when you have patients coming at you from all directions and multiple phone lines ringing. “You’re lucky,” mentioned a few of the comments. “I would love to work in a pharmacy that did only 100 Rx’s per day.”

Oh no! I can speak from personal experience—that is not the case. When I started out, my employer had just taken over a pharmacy that was doing 600 prescriptions on a good week. I did not have a technician, at all, until the volume increased. Sure, there was downtime here and there, but imagine all the things you have to do all by yourself, and all at the same time, when you work alone.

How many times was I at the drive through window, with a phone ringing and a few patients waiting to pick up prescriptions? That did not feel lucky to me. Probably the only saving grace is that the patients seem a little more understanding when they see you working alone.

Working with 3 techs? A patient will bring 5 prescriptions from 6 weeks ago and want them to be ready in 5 minutes. They'll ask, 'Can’t you just slap a label on it?'

Working alone? 'You’re busy, I’ll come back in a few hours for my Z-pak,' they'll say.

Think of all the regular AND extra things you have to do—besides data entry, checking DUR, filling, verifying, and ringing up the patient (while giving the grand inquisition of questions), there are also so many other tasks. Checking expirations and processing monthly returns, checking in and putting away the daily and weekly order, counseling—the list is endless. I may show my age here, but luckily ,at the time, we did not yet vaccinate.

Not to mention, working alone all day is lonely! I know it sounds crazy, because we spend much of the day talking to patients, doctors, and nurses, but there is nothing like the camaraderie of a great group of pharmacy coworkers. It is boring and lonely to work alone all day.

I remember, on one of my first days, a doctor from a nearby medical office came in and handed me a prescription. He saw that I was by myself and had no mercy. After I kindly asked him to have a seat in the waiting area, he hovered over the counter, watching me go back and forth from drop off to pick up to drive through, knowing fully well that I did not even have a chance to get back to the computer to fill his maintenance medication, and after a few minutes, asked “How’s that prescription coming?”  I wanted to cry (and say a few choice words.)

You take it for granted, when you have help, that someone else will grab the phone while you’re on hold with the insurance company for 20 minutes. You take it for granted, that if you manage to find time to go to the bathroom, you don’t have to find someone to watch the pharmacy for you.

Even when my store became busier, and we usually had one technician all day, with a few hours of overlap, my colleagues would say, “You’re lucky you are in such a slow store.” I would say that it’s all relative—2 employees filling 120 Rxs versus 5 employees filling 300 Rx’s—it’s all stressful and we are all pushed to the limits.

Generally, a day in the pharmacy is chaotic. No matter what volume the pharmacy, you can encounter more problems than usual and have a rough day or have very few problems and have an easier day. And in a busy store, even if you’re lucky enough to have a sufficient amount of technician help, if one person is sick, your whole day is ruined.

I remember 1 extremely busy store, where I floated, that had very strong technicians. I never felt too stressed working there. One day, in the first 2 hours, 2 of those techs focused on production, and I checked almost 200 refills in just over 2 hours. It felt much less stressful than working in a slower store, filling 25 Rxs by myself in the same amount of time with no help, a few rejections thrown in, and everything else happening at the same time.

The bottom line? We ALL work hard!

It doesn’t matter if you’re filling 500 prescriptions per week or 3,000 prescriptions per week. It doesn’t matter if you work alone or with a full crew of technicians. We all have stressful moments/days. We all feel overwhelmed at times, or more realistically, 'much' of the time! You think the grass is greener at the other pharmacy, but it is probably exactly the same. We are all working hard, we are all helping patients, we are all pharmacists, and we are all in this together!

Karen Berger, PharmD
Karen Berger, PharmD
Karen Berger, PharmD, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy in 2001. She has worked in community pharmacies for over 17 years as a Pharmacist in Charge, staff, and floater pharmacist for a large chain. Currently, she is a pharmacist at an independent pharmacy in Northern NJ. She can be reached at karenmichelleberger@gmail.com
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