Introducing Appropriate Language to Those New to the Profession

What we say to patients, to those in other professions, and even to those who are our colleagues in pharmacy is very important.

As teacher of the course Pharmacy as a Profession, during pharmacy students’ first professional year, I have the important role of instilling in them the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately about professional topics. This course introduces them to evolution of the profession, organizations serving members of the profession, and selected contemporary issues and topics of professional importance. We also discuss the societal and legal framework for pharmacy practice, and the expanding legal authority of a pharmacist.

What we say to patients, to those in other professions, and even to those who are our colleagues in pharmacy is very important. But it also is important how we speak—do our conversations and writings reflect credit on our profession? Our words, conversations, and writings should reflect respect for our professional roles and responsibilities. While there may be jargon or shortcuts we use in pharmacy when speaking among ourselves, we should be cognizant of how we present our profession and our duties to others.

The pharmacy curriculum does a great job of training students how to use proper terminology and pronunciation when speaking about disease states or pharmacotherapy. Equal emphasis should be placed on shaping the communication of our students about professional topics.

Pharmacists are called upon frequently to serve as a translator for patients, taking the information about a disease state or medication use that the physician discussed with the individual and making it understandable. This helps to enhance our credibility with patients and colleagues and advance our effectiveness.

It is important for those of us who work with individuals embarking on a career in pharmacy—students, interns, technicians, and other personnel—to help them appreciate proper use of language related to professional activities.

What follows is an exercise that can be used to assess one’s understanding of appropriate professional language. It is used with our first-year pharmacy students to introduce them to appropriate language. See how you do and share it with others.

Don’t Say Do Say


Drug Store



Medical doctor


Medical care

Retail pharmacy



Generic substitution

And the answers are:

Don’t Say Do Say

Druggist Pharmacist

Drug Store Pharmacy

Doctor Physician

Fill Dispense

Medical doctor Allopathic physician

Pill Tablet or capsule

Medical care Health care

Retail pharmacy Community pharmacy

Drug Medication or pharmaceutical

Filled Prepared

Generic substitution Brand interchange or drug product selection

Joseph L. Fink III, BSPharm, JD, DSc (Hon), FAPhA, is a professor of pharmacy law and policy and the Kentucky Pharmacists Association Endowed Professor of Leadership at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy.


Feldmann EG. Speaking Out: All in a Name. Pharmacy Today 2008(April);14:4.

Griffenhagen G. Commentary: Careful with Words. Drug Topics 1990(January 8);134:8.