Fun trivia fact: October is American Pharmacists Month, and I couldn’t be more excited to write about the profession that I am so very proud of.
When you think of pharmacists, most people picture the typical white coat, counting pills by fives, while ignoring ringing phones and drive-thru notifications. Most people have probably experienced the frustration of being told by the pharmacist (or pharmacy staff) that their prescription will be ready in an hour or two: “Why can’t it be ready in 10 to 15 minutes?” you think to yourself. “Isn’t it eyedrops that are already available on the shelf, just needing a label?”
I’m here to dispel the myth that pharmacists are no more than glorified pill counters, that prescription eyedrops need nothing more than a label slapped on before they are dispensed, and that all pharmacists wear white coats.
Pharmacists are one of the most underrated health care professions, yet consistently ranked as the most accessible. They are found on almost every street corner in the city, and even in rural areas, they are usually not more than a 20- or 30-minute drive away. Pharmacists hold a doctorate degree in (you guessed it) pharmacy, which means that they receive more training on the actual drugs than medical doctors do.
In addition to the common community pharmacist, pharmacists are involved in the hospital setting, where they can be found helping with transitions of care as patients are admitted and discharged, mixing IV solutions, and reviewing medication lists to make sure that the right medicines are on board at the right doses and given at the right times.
Pharmacists are involved in the research setting, developing new drugs and vaccines.
A “librarian” pharmacist can be found at every single pharmaceutical company, specializing in researching and locating answers to the most obscure questions from other healthcare professionals and patients.
Pharmacists collect and write the adverse event reports that are compiled and submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), ensuring that prescribers know as much as possible about what to expect from medications.
Some pharmacists can prescribe certain medications, including oral contraceptives and COVID-19 medications like Paxlovid; disclaimer – this varies by state and nuances of where the pharmacist practices, but we’re fighting to expand our prescribing rights!
The community pharmacist, in addition to being a wizard at counting by fives, reviews the patient’s profile for any potential drug interactions, troubleshoots insurance issues, and ensures that there were no medication errors when the prescription was written. They can tell you about similar (and likely lower-cost) medications that you can talk to your doctor about if your copay is too high. They can also recommend appropriate over-the-counter treatments and vitamins, and make sure that nothing will interact with your prescriptions.
Pharmacists even work for health plans, like Colorado Access, where we review medications for cost-effectiveness, set the formulary (the list of what medications are covered by the plan), help review medical authorization requests, and can answer medication-related questions that come up from our members. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have a clinical or medication question!
For American Pharmacists Month, I invite you to look at the world a little bit differently and consider all the ways that a pharmacist has helped you – from the medicine you take every day, to the COVID-19 vaccine that helped to end the pandemic, to the free medication resource that is just a call away at your local pharmacy!