6 Memorable Television Pharmacists, Part 6

This is the sixth part of a series on how pharmacy professionals have been depicted on TV, both in a positive and a negative manner.

This article is the sixth part of a series on memorable pharmacists in television history. For part 5, 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 6 more of the most memorable TV characters who are pharmacists:

31. Sally Tishell in Doc Martin2

Selina Cadell plays pharmacist Sally Tishell in the British medical comedy series Doc Martin. She appears in 41 of the series 62 episodes, which aired from 2004 to 2017.

Sally is the only pharmacist in the village of Portwenn, where the show takes place. She is a highly independent woman, as her husband Clive works on an oil rig at sea and is rarely home. Sally is also a big supporter of Dr. Martin Ellingham, the show’s main character, trying to impress him whenever possible, and finding herself falling in love with him throughout the series. Viewers of the show would describe Sally as a successful business woman, however she also is eccentric, and sometimes portrayed in a negative light.

For example, in season 5, episode 8, Sally rebukes her husband when he comes home, and suggests they both retire to spend more time together. Sally offers to watch Martin’s son James for the day, which he accepts. Under a cocktail of self-prescribed drugs, including paroxetine and modafinil, Sally mistakes a young couple coming into the pharmacy as a secret message from Martin, and then dispenses the wrong eye drop prescription to a local police officer, causing him to crash his car. Sally subsequently mistakes James as her own child, and takes him to a nearby home. Martin chases after her and pretends to profess his love for Sally to get his child back. It’s later explained that Sally experienced a psychotic episode due to excessive doses of prescription drugs.

Thanks to twitter user @mm_raymond for this suggestion.

32. Rich and Lisa in Vials2

Vials is a comedy series that details the lives of pharmacists, interns, and technicians as they fill prescriptions for customers at Gateway Drug and Surgical. The series aired its pilot November 2017 on Amazon.

The first episode introduces the staff of the pharmacy including Joe, a pharmacy technician who narrates part of the episode; the pill-popping, and ornery pharmacy owner Rich; his daughter and pharmacist Lisa; and pharmacy intern Doug. Throughout the episode, a number of angry, uneducated, and overreacting customers come into the pharmacy to complain about a variety of issues. Joe also interviews several people to replace him as pharmacy technician.

The show, unfortunately, falls into the Hollywood stereotype of displaying pharmacists as being inept and terrible at their jobs. For example, it’s revealed Lisa has been working unlicensed after failing her boards for 3 years, an obviously unrealistic, and problematic situation. Additionally, 2 of the technicians interviewed were awful, and unrealistic candidates.

Retail pharmacy can certainly be crazy, but this show doesn’t accurately represent the day to day in any sense. Granted, only 1 episode has aired, but it’s not off to a particularly good start.

33. 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.

In season 5 episode 4, Larry enters Cal Oaks Pharmacy to pick up his father’s blood thinner prescription. After a brief hesitation, the pharmacist explains that there’s another drug on the market that he likes a lot better, and that his patients are much happier taking. The pharmacist offers to write down the name of the medication for Larry to bring to his doctor.

Larry subsequently debates the merits of the doctor versus pharmacist’s recommendation. Eventually, Larry leans on the side of the pharmacist, and states that he is going to request the other medication from the doctor. It’s a funny moment, although it could be argued whether or not the pharmacist was acting within his scope of practice to recommend a different medication, especially when he had little to no medical history of the patient. It’s also curious exactly what medication the pharmacist was recommending as the first novel oral anticoagulant wasn’t introduced until 5 years after the episode aired.

Script example:

Larry: “But the doctor prefers this one.”

Pharmacist: “Yes, but I prefer the other one.”

Larry: “But he likes this one.”

Pharmacist: “But I like that one.”

Larry: “Doctor, pharmacist. Doctor! Pharmacist! I'll go with the pharmacist.”

34. Howard Gillespie in Alice2

Alice was an American sitcom series that aired 202 episodes from 1976 to 1985. It features a woman named Alice who attempts to move with her son to Hollywood, in hopes of becoming a singer, after her husband dies in a trucking accident. Instead, their car breaks down in Phoenix, where she works at a local diner.

In the series, there is 1 notable pharmacist interaction in season 2, episode 14 titled 'The Pharmacist.' During the episode a young man named Howard Gillepsie walks into the diner looking for change to make a phone call. Howard is a pharmacist at Canyon Drugstore, and appears to be having a mental breakdown, after his wife left him and his dog died. He decides to place a phone call to President Jimmy Carter to air his grievances against food additives, which he believes are poison and an attempt at genocide of the American public.

After being unable to reach the President, Howard shows the diner staff that he has a cyanide pill, and threatens to swallow the pill unless the President calls him back. Initially, the diner staff tries to distract, and stall Howard. Flo, one of the show’s main characters, attempts unsuccessfully to seduce Howard while Alice, the main character, ultimately talks Howard out of killing himself, and instead encourages him to fight for his beliefs in more productive ways. After Howard leaves the diner, Alice gets a call back from Washington DC, where she relays Howard’s concerns to the Secretary of Health Education and Welfare.

35. Jesse Sturgis in Law & Order: SVU2

Jesse Sturgis is third pharmacist to make the list from the long running series Law & Order: SVU. Jesse makes an appearance in season 14, episode 11, when she is arrested for allegedly killing her boyfriend, Tommy.

Several months prior, Jesse had been raped by a man she was seeing on the side named Michael Provo, after she found out he had a family, and wanted to break up their relationship. After assaulting Jesse, Provo told her that he was a cop, and that she would regret pressing charges. When Detectives Olivia and Nick questioned Jesse, she was scared to say who raped her, and instead made up a different story before eventually revealing the truth about Provo.

The Detectives track the owner of the gun used in the murder who initially says Jesse approached him to purchase a gun as her pharmacy was recently robbed and needed protection. Pressed further, the gun owner reveals that Provo was actually the one who purchased the gun, to frame Jesse.

After investigating the case further, the detectives learn that Tommy’s death was a conspiracy to get Jesse arrested for murder, so Provo would not be prosecuted for her rape.

36. Larry Maclan in Diagnosis: Murder2

Diagnosis: Murder was an American comedy/medical crime series featuring Dick Van Dyke as Dr. Mark Sloan, a medical doctor who solves crimes with the help of his son Steve, a homicide detective.

The storyline in season 2, episode 11 features the search for the person who murdered the realtor of Dora, Mark’s sister. During their investigation, Mark and Steve learn that the man had high levels of cyanide and phenobarbital in his system, which initially leads them to suspect his secretary may have spiked his coffee at work. After clearing the secretary, the investigation leads them to a young pharmacist named Larry Maclan, who had previously assaulted the realtor after having lost a large amount of money from a bad business deal.

Mark and Steve ultimately discover that although Maclan was not the murderer, he did supply a coworker of the realtor with phenobarbital, which he believed she was using to help relax, but instead used to kill the realtor. Maclan confesses his role after having lost his pharmacist license, but not wanting to spend life in prison.

What TV pharmacists are missing from the list? Tweet them to me at @toshea125.

References

  • Yanicak A, Mohorn PL, Monterroyo P, Furgiuele G, Waddington L, Bookstaver PB. Public perception of pharmacists: film and television portrayals from 1970 to 2013. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2015;55(6):578-86. doi: 10.1331/JAPhA.2015.15028.
  • The Internet Movie Database. imdb.com. Accessed April 8, 2018.