When I worked in retail pharmacies, one of the most common questions I had was, “What side effects will this drug cause?” Another popular question was “How long will it take for this pill to work?”
I remember some of my favorite customers, especially the funny ones or those who gifted me with flowers, hand-made jewelry or pickled herring (which I craved during my pregnancy in 1993). I had a good relationship with all of my patients. Many became my friends over the years.
My career evolved, and today I write holistic health books and I recently created a dietary supplement line. But back in the 90s and 2000s, I worked 14-hour shifts, day after day. I worked holidays, I “floated” all around central Florida. Whenever a pharmacy was closed, I was the pharmacist called upon to open it. I would get there and soothe the irritated customers who had been waiting for an hour or two.
Forget about a lunch break; I hardly had 20 minutes to sit during my whole entire shift. I’m certainly not complaining, as my time spent in retail pharmacy was awesome, and I truly loved it! In fact, I thrived in that setting, working as a “float pharmacist” walking into a mess, and catching the store up, making all the customers happy.
There’s a lot of gratification that comes with being a pharmacist. But there’s a ton of mental chatter to reconcile in our brain, for example, here are 3 things we wrestle with:
- We’re dispensing amedication, but we may secretly be uncertain if you really need what your doctor has prescribed.
- We fill your prescription, and it costs you a lot of money (and will induce side effects). Should we mention that there’s a natural vitamin across the aisle that might help you just as well?
- We know side effects inside and out. What if we realize the side effects of your particular medication will be far worse for you than your condition itself.
We are never sure if we should say these things out loud.
Like… should we tell you everything? I personally think so (and always did when I was in practice) and I still do in these columns archived here at my site (please just use my search box).
It’s a condundrum at times, but we manage and do the best we can to honestly inform you on how to stay safe on the medication your doctor prescribed. Collectively speaking, we as pharmacists are not supposed to get in between you and your doctor.
Pharmacists may “lick, stick, and pour” as they say… but we are definitely not robotic in our thinking. We are human beings too, and some pharmacists (especially the young ones fresh out of school) may not fully grasp the horror of your illness, or the level of pain that you as the patient are suffering. I want you to know that most pharmacists love to help, and are generally willing to lend an ear during the slower hours.
Pharmacists are your front-line practitioners, available on every corner.
People trust us. American citizens have deemed pharmacy to be among the most honest professions, maintaining the highest ethical standards. That’s why pharmacists have been rated in the top two “most trusted professionals in the United States” in a Gallup poll yet again. For years, we held the top spot, but the past two years, we are rated second as a profession right behind nurses. (I think nurses are pretty awesome, too!) According to Steven C. Anderson, President and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), “The rating that pharmacists earned in this annual Gallup survey is built on established pharmacist-patient relationships in neighborhoods throughout the nation.”
I haven’t met Mr. Anderson yet, however I did work for the NACDS in the past. My work with the NACDS was centered around making YOU -the consumer- aware that a pharmacist is always available to answer your questions and to help you maintain health. We are a safety net between your physician and your medication.
I truly do feel that pharmacists are an often untapped resource!
We can keep you safe. Pharmacists (not doctors) are clinically trained and licensed medication experts. They are the best person to consult if you are experiencing side effects. They are really great at detecting a potential interaction. They’re also great at catching errors in a prescription that was written with the wrong drug or dosage. There are many medications that have a similar spelling, and doctors are human and often in a hurry. Occasionally, one drug is intended, but another drug with a similar name is prescribed by accident. Maybe Zyrtec for Zantac, Actos for Actonel or Neurontin for Noroxin… there are so many drugs that get easily mixed up. Your pharmacist should catch these errors.
We tend to be accessible and fast. They are always present if the pharmacy is open. That’s the law, so even if you have to sit and wait a little bit, you certainly don’t have to make appointments days or weeks in advance to get advice.
We are intelligent. If you have a skin rash from poison ivy or a bee sting, your pharmacist can suggest an over-the-counter remedy. If you’re trying to figure out what the best cough medicine is considering that other pill you take… no doubt about it, there’s a pharmacist happy to advise you.
We don’t have conflicts of interest with pharmaceutical companies. Pharmacists work for YOU, not the company that sent a drug rep over with catered meals, trinkets for your employees and golf trips. This may color the decision-making process of some (thankfully, not all) physicians. Capiche?
We fill a gap. There’s an Emergency Room for urgent needs, and there is the chronic sick care system. (Sorry, I can’t call it health care because it doesn’t produce too much “health” in my opinion.) What’s in between? Your pharmacist, that’s who! If you need assistance, there’s a pharmacist open 24/7 somewhere. We don’t get into this profession for the money, it’s more about being in service to people.
We save you money. Pharmacists always have at least one Pharmacy Tech on site who runs your prescription through your insurance company online to generate the price. It happens quickly, not over days, but within minutes. If you have a good technician, he’ll check the cash price against your insurance co-pay to see which is cheaper, or call your insurance company to authorize a less expensive therapeutic alternative. Having a good relationship with your local pharmacy translates to saving hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars per year. How much does this perk cost? Nothing.
Pharmacists know about food too. They’ll suggest you avoid grapefruit if you take statins, or avoid MSG if you’re on benzodiazepine sedatives. Bananas are constipating, so avoid those with opiates like hydrocodone, but it’s a good idea to eat them with some diuretics like HCTZ. Tips like this are worth their weight in gold.
Your pharmacist may be high up and partially hidden behind glass (that’s for security reasons… you do realize they are in charge of millions of dollars of drugs, right?!) but it’s worth developing a relationship with him/her, as your pharmacist can be your greatest ally in your health. Your pharmacist is on your side!
(I know some of you will email me with a question, so I’ll answer it now: YES that is me in the picture)
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.