I am trying oh-so-very hard NOT to make this site all about pharmacy. It is only so named because it is a VERY big part of my life. Given the social media platform that I am using, I feel like I should at least take advantage of it, JUST ONCE, to get on my soap box.
Pharmacy has DRASTICALLY changed over the past few years. To become a licensed pharmacist, you must first complete a Doctor of Pharmacy Curriculum. This comes about in 2 ways: enter a 6-year program right out of high school, or attend a 4-year university (with or without a degree), complete the pre-requisites for a 4-year PharmD. I personally chose the latter because I wanted a true undergraduate experience. The PharmD Curriculum focuses on clinical application for patient care. No longer are pharmacists just people who stand behind the counter at a CVS or Rite Aid and count pills all day.
Most people who graduate from the PharmD program go on to do residencies to become clinical specialists in different settings: hospitals, clinics, specialty wards, and government entities. Pharmacists who are clinical specialists are often those who make drug recommendations for the doctor (meaning, the doctors diagnose, and refer to the pharmacist for the appropriate medication). Pharmacy is moving in this direction, and a lot of the pharmacists that you and I know have a vast medication knowledge. Physicans continually refer to pharmacists as the medication experts. To break it down, physicians study physiology (to know what is happening to your body and to diagnose the problem). Pharmacists study pharmacology (to know what changes are occurring and what chemical compounds–medications–can help). Thanks to the Doctor of Pharmacy degree, the Surgeon General of the United States now recognizes pharmacists as health care providers!
Most of our interactions with a pharmacist, however, usually is just through your local community pharmacy. Not everyone in the pharmacy is a pharmacist! Here is the breakdown:
- Pharmacist: usually, at any given time, there is only ONE pharmacist on the clock. If the store has a particularly high volume, sometimes there are 2. The pharmacist’s role is to check prescriptions for dangerous interactions and accuracy, and to call your doctor if there are any problems that may cause potential harm to you or your family. The pharmacist is also the only person who can legally make recommendations for you over the counter. Most national chains are now offering flu shots and other vaccinations, also given by the pharmacist!
- Pharmacy Technician: a Pharm Tech is an assistant to the pharmacist who had to pass either state or national certification to be handling your medications. These are the people whom you usually interact with. They are responsible for the entering and counting of prescriptions. If there are any problems with insurance processing, they are usually the ones who call your insurance company for you.
- Pharmacy Clerk: Clerks run the cash register and have been trained to maintain patient confidentiality. They are not responsible for counting or insurance mediation. They must also defer all questions to the pharmacist.
- Pharmacy Intern: An Intern is a current pharmacy student with an Intern License from the State Board of Pharmacy. Do not let the title fool you: an intern is the second-highest rank in the pharmacy. I am currently an intern with a national chain pharmacy. We are allowed to answer questions about your medications and make recommendations on over the counter medications under the supervision of a pharmacist. An intern is kind of a go-between. Most of the time, we are performing technician duties with some limited responsibility of the pharmacist. Most interns go on to become Pharmacists with the chain they are working for upon graduation (I already had my pharmacist interview, what?)
So let’s recap: Pharmacists have the Doctor of Pharmacy degree, so pharmacists are by definition, DOCTORS (not to be confused with physicians). Pharmacists are no longer just counting in the retail setting, they are making clinical consultations and giving vaccinations.
Be nice to your local pharmacist! They can help you!
If you are still wondering why it takes “so long” for your medications to be filled, I’m going to have to direct your questions to The Angry Pharmacist