Making Friends Across the Counter

Before I started my pharmacy rotations, the last job I held was bartending at a golf course. Believe it or not, it really helped prepare me for my career as a pharmacist.

Before I started my pharmacy rotations, the last job I held was bartending at a golf course. Believe it or not, it really helped prepare me for my career as a pharmacist.

Being a bartender is so similar to being a pharmacist that I am often tempted to put out a tip jar at work. Think about it for a second: both jobs require standing behind a counter for the whole shift, compounding concoctions while paying attention to ratios, dispensing sometimes mind-altering substances, and most important of all, just listening to somebody and perhaps offering a bit of advice.

While this is a tongue-in-cheek look at my employment history, it addresses a very important point. Listening to patients talk can benefit them more than anything I can dispense them.

I have had patients break down and sob in my arms on more than one occasion about a cancer diagnosis, the horrid loss of a child, or the stress of being a long-term caregiver, just to name a few. When this happens, I usually wipe a tear or 2 out of my own eyes.

I am sick of independent pharmacies advertising how personal their care is compared with the “you are a number and a dollar sign” view of chain retail pharmacy. Speaking for myself, I can say that this is a huge pile of rubbish. There are many patients who I consider extended family, and when bad things happen to them, I get upset.

A patient I had been taking care of since I started at my store 15 years ago had been diagnosed with cancer, and the outlook was not good. He was a fantastic patient and friend. He always gave us a day to fill his maintenance medications, and at least once a month, he would bring the pharmacy staff a dozen donuts.

When family members started to pick up his prescriptions, we started to get worried. I was working one Thursday, and someone wanted to see me in the drive-thru. It was my patient and he didn’t look good. The cancer was winning.

He waved to me, and I waved back. I thought he was waving hello, but when I read his obituary the following Monday, I realized he was saying goodbye.

Whether you are bartending or playing pharmacist, you make friends on the other side of the counter. Sometimes, all you can offer are your ears, arms, and sympathies. That may just be the best medicine there is.

Jay Sochoka, RPh, is going to mix a drink.