It is October (already)! Besides pumpkin-spiced everything and Halloween, October is Pharmacist month! While some people have been led to view community pharmacies like their local fast-food chain, the work that the pharmacy staff is doing is much more important than “do you want fries with that”. There are a lot of things that the pharmacy staff does, and they deserve to be recognized for their hard work.
Pharmacists are the most widely accessible healthcare professionals. You can walk up or call the pharmacy and get expert advise for your healthcare needs for no additional charge! Pharmacists are specialists in medication therapy, how they work, how they are dosed, how they get absorbed, how they are metabolized, and how they interact with other medications.
So, while some of you may think that all your pharmacist does is count pills from a big bottle, put them in a small bottle and slap a label on it, your pharmacist is the one behind the counter thinking about whether this medication is a good fit for you (with your diseases, the other medications you take, possible side effects, the right dose, allergies, etc.). Pharmacists can catch many mistakes in medication therapies! Doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other practitioners are human. Sometimes they make mistakes. Luckily you have a pharmacist to catch some of those oversights. We aren't perfect, but we are a last line of defense!
In order to perform those complex interaction checks, the pharmacist needs time to critically think through all the variables that may exist. Unfortunately, during these crazy, pandemic times, it becomes increasingly more difficult for pharmacists to do their job effectively. With increasing demands on the pharmacists to dispense more medications, give more vaccinations, supervise or perform more point-of-care tests, and fill in staffing gaps, the pharmacist has very little time for the critical-thinking part of their job. They also have less time to counsel patients on the proper use of their medications, which is a vital step to catching potential medication errors. So, be proactive with your prescriptions. Know what you are taking and why. When in doubt, ask your pharmacist or pharmacy technician to double check!
The pharmacy technicians are also highly trained individuals in the pharmacy. Many become nationally certified (look for CPhT on their nametag) which means they have taken courses and passed a nationally recognized exam to learn more about the medication classes and function, as well as calculations and dosing. This allows them to expand their roles in the pharmacy in certain states. Depending on state regulations, they may be able to transcribe prescription orders from a doctor’s office, call for medication clarification, trouble-shoot complex billing procedures, make a compounded medication, give vaccinations, perform point-of-care testing – all under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist. Pharmacy technicians have pivotal roles in the pharmacy and the pharmacy would not be able to function properly without them.
Perhaps you have noticed that your local pharmacy seems a bit busier than normal lately and that has caused some frustration. Perhaps your doctor’s office sent a prescription order to the pharmacy in the morning, and it still isn’t done by 5:00pm. Perhaps, you figured you could quickly pickup your prescription order after work through the drive-thru, but the line is backed up to the street. What in the world is going on in there?
Currently, most community pharmacies are experiencing an increase in the demands of their job without the proper staffing to meet these demands. They are expected to provide point-of-care COVID testing through the drive-thru, multiple vaccinations like COVID, flu, pneumonia, shingles and more, fill acute and routine prescription orders, answer the phones that are constantly ringing, and usually there is just one pharmacist and a couple of technicians. Typically, pharmacy staff is good at multi-tasking, but with this overwhelming increase in expectations with no additional staffing, it is impossible for them to keep up. As the staff becomes overwhelmed with the unrealistic expectations, they are starting to burn-out. Good, experienced pharmacists and technicians are leaving due to stress, mental-health issues, and frustration with the system. That means new, inexperienced staff need to be brought in and trained, which causes more strain on the experienced staff in an already overwhelming situation. This leads to more burn-out and more frustration and the cycle keeps repeating itself.
Trust me, the pharmacy staff would love to be able to answer the phones on the first ring, have a prescription done in less than 10 minutes, provide your vaccination in 15-20 minutes (including the waiting time afterwards), keep the drive-thru line moving, but it simply isn’t possible with the staffing levels right now.
SO, what is my point? Please be patient. Please be kind. Please thank your pharmacy staff for being there. Please be understanding. Please show empathy. Please don't add to their stress.
October is pharmacist month. What can you do to show gratitude to these hard-working people who are being crushed by the burden of unrealistic expectations and less than ideal staffing levels? How can you show them kindness? Remember, a little goes a long way.