Pharmacist Feature Friday: A Pharmacist is a PharmASSIST

Pharmacists play a vital role in the continuum of patient care.

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#APharmacistIs a PharmASSIST!

Why do I say this? It took me a long time to come up with something that encompasses everything we do. We have so much on our plates. In fact, I recently wrote an article about this topic, describing all of the things pharmacists do (pharmacytimes.com/contributor/karen-berger/2018/02/the-abcs-of-community-pharmacy)

I am proud to be a pharmacist, because as a pharmacist, we assist so many!

One day when I was in high school, my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I distinctly remember saying, “I don’t know. I like math and science, but I don’t want to be around blood.”

My dad answered, “You can be a pharmacist!”

I thought that was a great idea to explore. Soon after, he took me to the grocery store to talk to the pharmacist and learn about what a pharmacist does. It sounded like a perfect fit for me. I felt lucky at the time that I had a career path in mind, and that I followed through with it.

I loved the idea of helping people without “getting my hands dirty.” Needless to say, at first I was not happy about giving shots, but eventually just got used to it!

I was so lucky in college to work at an independent pharmacy while attending pharmacy school at the University of Pittsburgh. It felt like a second home and was such a great learning environment. I briefly considered a more clinical specialty and spent a few months working at a health plan, but my love was community pharmacy so I decided to pursue that road.

When my husband and I moved to New Jersey, I accepted a staff pharmacist position at a large chain and landed myself in a unique position. On the first day, I came in and asked, “Where are my techs?”

The store manager laughed. Apparently, the store was so new and not busy, that there were no techs. My first few months of working in a pharmacy were spent alone after only a few days of training on this particular computer system.

It was really difficult to get through, but at the same time, over those 6 months I was able to quickly adapt to typing, filling, checking, ringing the register, taking care of the drive-thru, putting away warehouse orders, etc, all by myself.

Over time, we got busier and got tech help, but I had moved to a PIC position in a store closer to my home. We had just taken over the store from another chain, and again I found myself with no techs. This only lasted a short while, and soon we were a busy pharmacy fully staffed with techs.

I enjoyed my experience, and after having children I returned to part-time floating, filling in at several dozen locations of my chain over the years. My town has a few independents — thinking back to my college internship, I had always wanted to work at one of them.

About 18 months ago, in a stroke of serendipity—as one of my pharmacy school professors always called it—the timing was right and I landed a part-time job at an independent in my town. I was thrilled to be back in the independent environment, and it felt (and still feels) like I was home again.

I was also THRILLED to become a contributing writer for Pharmacy Times about 6 months ago. It is a perfect blend of pharmacy and writing. It has really become a big part of my identity as a pharmacist.

As a pharmacist working in many different environments, I can confidently say our role is more of a pharmASSIST. We help so many people in so many ways.

First and foremost, of course, we help our patients. We help them select proper OTC medications, taking into account their other medications and medical conditions. We look out for drug-drug interactions and make many lifesaving interventions.

We spend a lot of time in person and on the phone, answering questions of all varieties and counseling on new medications and other questions. Some pharmacists have even saved lives on the spot, like Kara Bloom, PharmD, (wkyc.com/article/news/health/pharmacist-finds-skin-cancer-on-woman-getting-flu-shot/95-522122952) who saved a patient’s life by detecting skin cancer while giving a flu shot and urging her to seek immediate medical attention.

We assist, or help, technicians and pharmacy students. Some of the best encounters I had in pharmacy school were with PharmD preceptors who taught us so much about their specialty. In the chain, I used to train our techs as well as new pharmacists. There is always something to learn and pharmacists are always there to teach each other.

Finally, we assist other health care professionals, mostly doctors and nurses. Many times, they have questions on coordinating medication regimens with other doctors and turn to the pharmacy to get a complete picture of the patient’s medications. Or there is a drug interaction that we discover, and we help the doctor to find an alternative medication that will not interact.

Many times, we help the doctor’s office find alternatives to medications when a prior authorization is denied or when the patient requests a less expensive alternative.

I am proud to be a pharmacist! It is a physically demanding and mentally difficult job, but extremely rewarding as well.