This is the fourth part of a series on how pharmacy professionals have been depicted on TV, both in a positive and negative manner.
This article is the fourth part of a series on memorable pharmacists in television history. For part 3, click here.
Pharmacists are generally considered some of the most trusted and highly regarded professionals. In a 2016 Gallup poll, pharmacists were ranked the No. 2 most trusted professionals by American respondents, just below nurses, with 67% rating the honesty and ethical standards of pharmacists “high” or “very high."
Despite this, pharmacists are often portrayed in movies and television in a negative light. In 2015, researchers conducted a study to determine whether pharmacist characters were depicted in a positive, negative, or neutral manner in films and TV shows available in the United States between 1970 and 2013. Their data found that of the 231 pharmacist portrayals identified, 145 (63%) were negative, 56 (24%) were neutral, and 30 (13%) were positive. Additionally, very few pharmacist characters were recurring ones on TV.1
Here is a look at six more of the most memorable TV characters who are pharmacists:
19. Eddie Walzer in Nurse Jackie2
Nurse Jackie is an award winning medical-comedy series that premiered in June 2009 and concluded in June 2015. The show revolves around Jackie Peyton, an emergency department nurse at All Saints’ hospital in New York City, as she navigates through the drama of her job, personal life, and intricacies of the healthcare system.
Eddie Walzer is one of the show’s main characters, appearing in all 80 episodes, who works as a pharmacist at All Saints' hospital. Early in the very first episode of the series it’s revealed that Jackie is having a secret affair with Eddie. In return, he supplies her with Percocet and other drugs to help with her back pain and ultimately fuel her drug addiction. Later in the series, Eddie goes so far as to show Jackie how to access the automated medication-dispensing machine to steal pain medication. Although initially Jackie seems to view Eddie only as a source of prescription drugs, throughout the show they begin to form a close friendship as Eddie tries to help her deal with her addiction and personal life struggles.
Eddie is far from the ideal image of an actual pharmacist, but he is the first from my list to be a main character in a television series. Overall, Nurse Jackie is a really interesting show which stands out for its realistic portrayal of addiction.
20. Pharmacist in Archer2
An unnamed pharmacist makes an appearance in season 2, episode 9 of the animated spy sitcom Archer.
The episode starts when Sterling Archer, a spy and protagonist of the show, learns that the highly expensive chemotherapy for his breast cancer was counterfeit, containing only sucrose and Zima. Archer becomes enraged over him and others being deceived. He then visits and threatens the pharmacist who dispensed him the chemotherapy. The pharmacist explains that was he following orders and gives Archer intel which leads him to a warehouse used by the Irish Mob.
Archer kills several armed guards and captures three members of the Mob to get information on who was the mastermind behind the fake drug scheme. Archer finds the real chemotherapy drugs in the warehouse and against the advice of Lana, another field agent, takes them immediately which causes him to start vomiting and eventually lose his hair.
As the episode progresses Archer continues to track down the Irish mobsters in an effort to put an end to the illegal drug trade.
21. Tate Staskiewicz in Superstore2
Tate Staskiewicz, played by actor Josh Lawson, is a recurring character on the NBC sitcom series Superstore. The show follows a group of employees who work at a large retail store called Cloud 9 in St. Louis, Missouri. Tate appears in 9 of the 45 episodes that have been aired so far.
Tate is a Cloud 9 pharmacist who often appears to be rude, judgmental, lazy, and overall unprofessional. Still, his character adds to the comedy of the series. In season 1, episode 3 Tate tries to manage the high pace of the pharmacy after it’s announced they will be administering free flu shots. Tate recruits Jonah, a store associate, to the pharmacy and puts him in charge as he ignores his responsibilities. At one point, Tate has Jonah administer a vaccine to a patient who later is seen running out of the store and crying.
In season 3 episode 6, Mateo, another store associate approaches Tate for a medication for his ear infection, despite not having an actual prescription. Tate initially refuses to help, warning he could lose his license, but then brings him to a side counter out of the view of the store’s cameras and pulls out a stash of pills from miscounts. After sampling a pill from his collection, he gives Mateo an expired amoxicillin tablet and tells him they’ll discuss payment later.
Tate: “Okay, so do you have any questions about the hydrochlorothiazide?”
Customer: “No, could you also ring up a few other things for me, please?”
Tate: “Sure, yeah. I have a doctorate in pharmacy, so this is a great use of my time. I live to serve. Thank you.”
22. Normal Shales in Grey's Anatomy2
Grey’s Anatomy is a popular medical drama series that premiered in 2005 and is still running after over 300 episodes. Dr. Norman Shales makes an appearance in three episodes throughout season 4 as a surgical intern who arrived at Seattle Grace from UCLA. It’s explained that Norman previously worked as a pharmacist for thirty years before making a career change into surgical medicine. Due to his age, he is often confused as an attending; however in reality he struggles to keep up with the younger interns.
In one episode, Norman asks Dr. Alex Karev if he can go home early as he’s feeling under the weather and doesn’t want to spread his illness to patients in surgery. His request is denied as Alex explains that surgeons can’t take breaks and are often on their feet for hours upon end without complaining. Later during surgery, Norman collapses due to a stroke and is operated on by his colleagues at the hospital. He ends up making a full recovery and decides he’s going to move into psych instead of surgery.
Surprisingly there were no other notable pharmacist characters on a medical series that’s aired for over 12 years.
23. Pharmacist in Law & Order: SVU2
There’s a brief but notable pharmacist encounter in season 10 episode 8 of Law & Order: SVU. The episode begins with a young woman cautiously approaching the pharmacy counter to ask the female pharmacist for the morning after pill. The pharmacist asks the woman if she’s ever talked to her doctor about emergency contraception to which the woman states that she didn’t think she needed a prescription.
The pharmacist refuses the sale and instead asks the woman if she’s considered adoption. Frustrated, the woman assaults the pharmacist and explains she needs it because she was raped. When detectives Stabler and Benson arrive to the scene they find the woman handcuffed in the back room by security with the pharmacist wanting to press charges.
Although the episode is based on fiction there has been considerable debate over whether pharmacists should be allowed to refuse dispensing emergency contraception or any medication based on their religious or moral beliefs. Current laws generally do allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense any medication when there are concerns over patient safety (e.g. a potential drug interaction) or if there is another legitimate reason (e.g. a suspected forged prescription). However state law varies over whether this would expand to dispense emergency contraception. For example Georgia law allows pharmacists to refuse any prescription “based on his/her professional judgment or ethical or moral beliefs” yet a number of states have laws that oblige pharmacists to dispense all medications or they must provide “meaningful” referral/transfer to another pharmacist/pharmacy.3
Regardless of your opinion on whether a pharmacist should be obligated to dispense emergency contraception, anyone who views the episode can agree that the pharmacist was extremely rude and unprofessional.
24. Pharmacist in Curb Your Enthusiasm2
There are several memorable pharmacist interactions in Larry David's comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm which aired for 9 seasons and was nominated for 38 Primetime Emmy Awards.
One memorable interaction occurs in season 6, episode 8 when Larry starts dating Dr. Shiela Flomm, a woman who constantly acts like a doctor in all aspects of her personal life. At one point she gives Larry a note to better express her feelings to him. Larry is unable to read her handwriting so he visits his pharmacist to ask him to read the note.
The African American pharmacist reads the note out loud which references “brothers and sisters” and “the blacks” which he perceives as racist, rather than Dr. Flomm’s actual brother and sister and the Black family who has been staying with Larry. In a fit of rage, the pharmacist grabs the wrong prescription and instead gives Larry a patient’s estrogen instead of his cyclobenzaprine. Larry tries to clarify the miscommunication as hilarity ensues. Larry later takes the medication and experiences nausea and erectile dysfunction to Dr. Flomm’s dismay.
What TV pharmacists are missing from the list? Tweet them to me at @toshea125.