3 Words Nobody Should Say in the Pharmacy


Each day you encounter patients with multiple and various disease states, alignments, and questions. For some, questions they initially didn’t think they even had.

Just last week a gentleman came to our busy pharmacy counter asking if his daughter’s prescription was ready. After asking some questions we found out the father had just left the physician’s office, only several minutes ago. He came directly to pick up the medication eager to get his little girl home.

Upon review, the medication didn’t seem the best medication for his 6-year old-daughter. In fact the medication was contraindicated. Despite the circumstance, the physician wasn’t able to come to the phone to speak to the pharmacist. The only option was to leave a message. The pharmacist took a few minutes to fully evaluate the information she had available and began to formulate a response to this man who was anxiously waiting for the prescription.

In speaking to the father, the little girl was not a “customer,” she was a patient. The pharmacist did not explain how she couldn’t sell a “product, but used her knowledge and communication skills to express her concerns and provided patient care. As they discussed the situation, including the indication for the medication and other potential options, the father, pharmacist, and daughter were not in a “store”, they were in a pharmacy. A pharmacy that was located in a community, a community pharmacy. The mother quickly arrived, upset that her husband was not done yet. The father explained to her the pharmacist’s concerns, and her frown soon became a look of equal concern, then gratitude.

Now, if the family had only come in to purchase the stuffed animal the little girl picked out from the toy aisle to console herself, they would have been “customers,” in a “retail setting,” in a “store.” However, they were in a pharmacy waiting to a pick-up a prescription, that they unknowingly realized would not just be billed and dispensed, but be reviewed for both efficacy and safety.

The recent post titled, “5 Things You Should Not Say at the Pharmacy,” caught my attention as a great opportunity to share my own take on things that should not be said in the pharmacy, and I felt compelled to write my own post, "3 Words Nobody Should Say in Pharmacy," which are: retail, customer, and store.

When the message was left for the physician, it wasn’t left on the refill voicemail line pharmacists are often directed to. The same words used when speaking to the patient and her family were used with the physician’s office. The pharmacist did provide the pharmacy’s name, but only after stating she was a pharmacist calling, not “the pharmacy calling” and was sure to provided her name. She clearly explained the reason she needed to speak to the prescriber, concerning the patient.

In community pharmacy, most times there isn’t a specialty. Each day you encounter patients with multiple and various disease states, alignments, and questions. For some, questions they initially didn’t think they even had.

Community pharmacists are responsible for ensuring the safe, appropriate and efficacious use of each medication, prescription or non-prescription while monitoring patients’ blood pressures and screening/administering lifesaving vaccinations to say the least; all this while trying to run a viable business.

Ask yourself do the 3 words, customer, retail, store, describe the pharmacist you are or want to be? If everyone exemplifies the true definition of a pharmacist, regardless of setting, one by one, these 3 words will not be used, not only in a pharmacy, but anywhere regarding community pharmacists.

Carmela Avena-Woods is an Associate Clinical Professor at St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences with a community pharmacy practice site at Walgreens in Garden City, New York. Prior to starting her position at St. John’s University in 2009, Carmela worked in community practice for over 10 years and was among the first to train pharmacists in providing immunizations and Medication Therapy Management consults for Rite Aid pharmacy. Dr. Avena-Woods is also a Board Certified Geriatric Pharmacist. She continues to participate in numerous community programs focusing on medication safety for seniors and others in the community. Some of her research interests include approaches to facilitate MTM services, celiac disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and interprofessional education. She is dedicated to community practice and in helping to advance the profession with each patient she encounters and the students she meets.

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