Practicing Pharmacy


With increasing pressure to serve an ever-greater volume of prescriptions, the art of community pharmacy is in danger of being lost.

What does the concept of practicing pharmacy mean to you? Is it some abstract idea only taught in pharmacy schools or is it a road map to your professional activities on the job?

I’ve been a community pharmacist my whole career. With the exception of brief stints as a hospital pharmacy technician while in school, even my pre-pharmacist years were spent behind the counter of a local community drugstore. It’s my roots and it is what I know professionally.

And since I’ve been doing this job for a while now I’ve noticed a few things. I’ve seen community pharmacy evolve rapidly over the years. Both good changes and bad have been a part of life for any community pharmacist.

But one thing that strikes me about my job now and what it entails is this struggle between what is expected of me and what I know the position of pharmacist actually involves. It is a battle between the demands of the job and the requirements of the profession.

You see, to practice pharmacy in a professional sense means more to me than filling X number of prescriptions or meeting some quota such as a flu shot administration goal. The practice of pharmacy is much more complex than some pie or graph chart a large corporation e-mails to their employees.

Practicing pharmacy involves listening, learning, sharing, and coping with the inevitable challenges you will face as a pharmacist. It means helping patients on an individual level that can’t be described by conventional metrics or measured in numbers.

What we really do as pharmacists is attempt to listen to patients and help them in ways they might not be helped otherwise. We will hear their problems and respond to their questions. We listen as much as we talk.

It is as much an art as it is science or professional knowledge. The picture or painting we create is a solution to a medical problem or question, not a series of lines of paint or a photograph or sculpture.

The problem I see, though, is that practicing pharmacy, like all fine art, takes time. Pharmacists have come to the realization that the most valuable commodity they now cherish at work is time. It is the key to our effectiveness and the challenge we all must now face--how do we find the time to do what we know needs to be done?

I think it is a shame that pharmacists like myself feel like we have to practice pharmacy despite the working environments we are given. We should not have to battle our surroundings to accomplish our goals as professionals.

But that is what life is like now in modern community pharmacy. Many of us must overcome roadblocks and volume burdens that keep us from our central functions. Practicing pharmacy is a challenge because of the conditions that exist, not because of the task itself.

I don’t want to simply be a dispenser. It cheapens my profession. The distribution of prescription drugs is important. But it is not the end-all to the profession of pharmacy. It isn’t by itself the idea of practicing pharmacy.

I hope community pharmacy can overcome the challenges it now faces. It seems daunting to try and go to work and practice pharmacy when you aren’t even guaranteed a lunch break or time to unwind or take a bathroom break. The current volume-based focus has consumed our profession.

But I am stubborn. I believe in the patient-centered practice of pharmacy. I am not simply a drug dealer. I am a pharmacist. I just hope I have the time.

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