What is the first thing that pops into your head when someone asks you to picture a pharmacist? Sitting back in your chair, you might purse your lips and tap your fingers on the arm rest and think for a moment. Or you might just blurt out an answer such as, "a person standing behind a counter at a generic retail pharmacy counting pills and labeling bottles". Are they wearing a white coat? Maybe, maybe not. When a patient thinks of a pharmacist they think of a person who might give them a monthly bottle of pills with some directions such as "take 1 tablet by mouth daily" and a see you next month smile and wave. We often get asked why it takes so long to fill a prescription. After all, we are only putting pills in a bottle. How hard can that be? What if I told you that there are over 72 listed positions that a general pharmacist can hold? That means that those pharmacists working in a retail setting are only one type. So what do the other 71 pharmacy positions entail?
For starters, pharmacists are a valuable link between their patient and their doctor. We answer questions and we field questions. We catch errors and we prevent errors from occurring. We monitor for drug interactions between not only the medicines that are prescribed to the patient but also with those over the counter weight loss supplements or vitamins they might be taking. Pharmacists are taking on the role of provider. We can be diabetes educators-talking with patients about their diabetes and helping them to develop a plan to manage it. This may or may not require a prescription, but with new protocols we can provide that too. We can run an anticoagulation clinic. This means that we can evaluate how a patient might be doing on a blood thinner such as Coumadin (a pill) or Lovenox (an injection). With the new additions to Medicare Part D, many of us are beginning to evaluate the medications a patient may be on and help to determine if any changes can be made to save the patient money and improve their medical outcomes. We also help to find patient assistance programs for those patients that cannot afford their medications. For all of the actions listed above I could hire a full-time pharmacist to fullfill these needs, and that is just in an outpatient setting!
In a hospital, a pharmacist evaluates a drug therapy that has been ordered and determines if it is appropriate. Does the dosing match your weight and kidney function? Can your body handle the medication or do we need to search for an alternative? Does the patient have an allergy? Oftentimes orders are written by several different physicians and medications can conflict with each other. We step in to reduce those problems. In a hospital setting we are what is called "decentralized". A pharmacist will be in each unit of the hospital-working in the intensive care unit (ICU) or the critical care unit (CCU) or even just out on the floor evaluating patients that were admitted from the emergency room for various illness.
As pharmacists we are also educators. We educate patients, providers, students, other professions. You could be a speaker for a drug company or a faculty member specializing in infectious diseases and give lectures all across the country to interested parties. As a pharmacist you could also participate in legislative actions that would benefit patients and providers and pharmacists.
There is no end to what a pharmacist can do. As a profession pharmacy continues to grow and expand. It is in need of new faces and fresh ideas.