Regardless of the practice specialty chosen, a pharmacist will have many job-related and ethical responsibilities. These include distributing prescribed drugs to patients; demonstrating correct usage of products; office duties; hiring and supervision of staff; record keeping; overseeing community programs; and keeping statistics of clinical trials of new drugs.
When the general population thinks of a pharmacist, they likely think of an individual who distributes prescribed drugs to patients. Any individual taking a prescribed medication, even someone in an inpatient-care setting, relies on a pharmacist to dispense his or medication.
While instructions for medications should be clearly labeled on the prescription container, sometimes additional information is necessary for both patients and physicians. Pharmacists are responsible for demonstrating the proper usage of products. This can include instruction on giving injections or administering total parenteral nutrition.
Many pharmacists are required to perform some basic office duties in addition to their responsibilities for dispensing medications. Pharmacists may be in charge of ordering supplies, paying bills, or dealing with insurance companies. Additionally, pharmacists may need to make hiring decisions and supervise a staff of individuals.
There are several job tasks that may require a pharmacist to keep records. Inventory needs to be kept and checked periodically, and statistics of clinical trials need to be maintained. Financial records should be kept and reviewed in order to be of help when writing a business plan and defining medication pricing.
Finally, a pharmacist may be responsible for overseeing community programs. Pharmacists may help coordinate programs in which community members can have their blood ressure or cholesterol checked, in an effort to keep the community healthy.
The responsibilities of a pharmacist are vast, and they require many different skill sets. Pharmacy schools will prepare one as much as possible in these areas, but the responsibilities should all be carefully considered by those considering becoming pharmacists.
Distributing Prescribed Drugs to Patients
Perhaps the defining characteristic of a pharmacist is the distribution of prescribed drugs to patients. This distribution of medications is what separates a pharmacist from a physician.
The pharmacist takes a prescription request (verifying its accuracy), counts tablets of medication to fill the prescription, labels the bottle for the prescription, and packages the medication with all of the required labels. The pharmacist is then responsible for obtaining the stocked medication and acquiring the appropriate amount of the medication. Finally, the pharmacist prices the medication and files the prescription for pickup.
In certain work settings, a pharmacist may, in addition, be responsible for the delivery of a medication to support staff for administration to a patient. In other settings, the prescribed medications are distributed directly from the pharmacist to the patient. In either case, it is the responsibility of the pharmacist to maintain stock of medications and to dispense medications so that they can be distributed to patients.
To the general population, a pharmacist is the individual who distributes their prescription medications to them. While this is just one of the many functions a pharmacist performs, it is the most well known and recognized. Pharmacy schools will surely prepare one for this familiar task.
Demonstrate Correct Usage of Products
Sometimes a patient requires a prescription medication that has a route of administration that is unfamiliar to the patient. It is the responsibility of the pharmacist to educate the patient in the correct use of products. Pharmacy schools teach students how medications and products are used, along with ways to teach these methods to patients.
While many medications can be taken orally or applied topically, some require injection, inhalation, or special handling. In these cases, the instructions printed on the label of the prescription may be inadequate for those obtaining the product for the first time. Pharmacists are tasked with the responsibility of demonstrating the use of these medications or products to patients.
For example, certain fertility medications are delivered via injection. Some are meant to be injected subcutaneously, while others are meant to be delivered into muscle tissue. The pharmacist may need to demonstrate not just how and where to inject oneself, but also how to properly load medication into the syringe or injection device. Another example would be regarding breathing treatments that require inhalation. The pharmacist can show the patient how to use a rescue inhaler for asthma or how to give a nebulizer treatment.
Pharmacists not only demonstrate how to properly use medications, but they can also be responsible for demonstrating other products that are sold or available for rent in the pharmacy. Pharmacists can demonstrate how to take one’s blood pressure and, for those with diabetes, how to check sugar levels. Some pharmacies also have products available for rent, like hospital-grade breast pumps. The pharmacist will instruct individuals on how the pump operates and how to clean the pump, in addition to facilitating the rental itself.
Pharmacists do more than dispense medications to patients. They are also responsible for demonstrating the correct use of medications and other products. What may seem like common sense to a pharmacist can be very confusing and illogical to someone who has not attended pharmacy school. Pharmacists must use both their training and their communication skills to help customers understand their medications and products.
Office Duties (Ordering Supplies, Paying Bills)
Individuals who are thinking about attending pharmacy school should remember that pharmacists have duties beyond filling prescriptions. Office duties can include ordering supplies, paying bills, and dealing with insurance companies.
While office duties may have a larger presence in some areas of pharmacy practice than in others, there is a reasonably good chance that all pharmacists will need to perform some office duties at some point during their careers.
If there is a single thing that the general population expects of a pharmacist, it is that he or she has the ability to fill their prescription(s) within a reasonable amount of time. In order to accomplish this, the pharmacist must keep a supply of medications readily available. This means that ordering supplies must be done with regularity so that all medications and related containers are available for daily use.
Once supplies have been ordered, it is likely that the pharmacist will be responsible for setting up payments for those supplies. In addition, other bill payments may also be necessary. This is especially true for an independent pharmacist. The independent pharmacist will also need to be organized enough to keep track of other bill payments that are necessary to keep his or her operation up and running, such as paying rent or a mortgage, paying utility bills, and keeping a payroll.
Sometimes viewed as the most unsavory aspect of the job, pharmacists may also need to deal with insurance companies for payment. This office duty can be so complex and time-consuming that larger pharmacies will sometimes hire someone full-time to tackle the task. For smaller pharmacies, it is likely that the pharmacist himself or herself may take on this role.
While one certainly does not need to attend one of the many pharmacy schools to complete office tasks associated with the job, it is difficult to find a pharmacy position in which office duties will not be at least a small part of one’s daily routine.
Hiring and Supervision of Staff
While pharmacists may not have these job responsibilities immediately upon graduation, more experienced pharmacists will likely have to hire and supervise staff.
Any pharmacist working in an organization large enough to have multiple pharmacy employees will likely eventually be in a position with enough clout that hiring employees will be necessary. Hiring employees to work in the pharmacy is not likely to have been something learned in pharmacy school. Rather, one will need to rely on one’s interpersonal skills and mind for business to complete this task. Hiring individuals to work in the pharmacy will involve more than interviewing and offering positions to the most likable individuals. Evaluation of applicants’ resumes, education level, and work experience will be necessary. Furthermore, when offering a position, the pharmacist will need to be knowledgeable about the total compensation package for the potential employee and will need to be comfortable discussing things like paid time off and insurance benefits.
If one is in a position to hire staff, it is also likely that one will have to supervise that staff. Supervision of staff can include devising a schedule to cover the pharmacy, directly supervising subordinates’ work, and completing performance evaluations. Again, this is not likely to have been something encountered during pharmacy school, but usually one does not find oneself in this position immediately upon graduation. One should take time to learn these tasks while working under a pharmacist with more experience and should glean any necessary skills through observation and clinical experience.
Hiring and supervising staff are just some of the many job responsibilities a pharmacist may need to undertake. This can be especially difficult for some, since many pharmacy schools will not likely teach these skills as part of the curriculum.
Accurate record keeping is just one of the many responsibilities of a pharmacist. Record keeping is a requirement for several aspects of the job, including inventory assessment, keeping track of relevant financial information, and documentation for programs like the Drug Utilization Review program.
As discussed in previous sections, having a well-stocked pharmacy is of critical importance to the pharmacist. Having well-stocked shelves is accomplished through carefully inventorying supplies on a regular basis and keeping records to help track the supply and demand of particular medications and supplies.
Because a pharmacy should be designed to be a profitable venture, it is imperative that the pharmacist keep track of profits and expenses through careful record keeping. This type of record keeping also enables the pharmacist to devise a reasonable budget for the operation of the pharmacy, and it can be an aid when composing annual statements.
One area of record keeping that may be state-mandated is the Drug Utilization Review program. This program was designed to help improve patient safety, evaluate prescribing habits of health-care professionals, and assess money savings by reviewing drug prescriptions for outpatients. The measure for success in these areas is preventing drug interactions, medication duplication, and overprescribing. This program requires such careful record keeping that it was incentivized through funding for special systems to monitor outpatient drug prescriptions.
While record keeping is not likely to be something that was emphasized in most pharmacy schools, it is a necessary component of the job. It is important for the financial maintenance of the pharmacy, for keeping track of inventory, and for abiding by state-mandated programs.
Overseeing Community Programs
Some pharmacists will have additional job responsibilities beyond the day-to-day grind of dispensing and distributing medications. Certain communities will have health programs designed to better the overall health of their members. Pharmacists are sometimes in charge of overseeing these programs.
Pharmacists overseeing community programs can provide a valuable service to community members who are unwilling or unable to visit their primary care physicians regularly. Some pharmacists will perform blood pressure checks and blood glucose testing and will provide immunizations.
Additional services to the community can include diabetic counseling and the provision of educational classes on certain health topics. Sometimes a pharmacist will attend a health fair to further educate the community in some of these areas. Less commonly, pharmacists have reported participating in smoking-cessation programs and providing additional screenings beyond blood sugar screenings for diabetes. These screening programs can include testing for hearing loss, cholesterol levels, asthma, or even osteoporosis.
For individuals who do not see their primary care physicians regularly, or who do not have a primary care physician, community health programs are an invaluable resource. Pharmacists who participate and oversee these programs are aiming to help better the overall health of the community members. Pharmacy schools shouldemphasize this job responsibility as both an added component of the job and as an opportunity to help community members.
Keeping Statistics for Clinical Trials of New Drugs
The pharmaceutical industry is a constantly evolving entity, producing new drugs at a rapid pace. Some of these medications are newly developed to treat illnesses, while others are newly approved to treat additional conditions beyond those they were first developed to treat. In any case, before medications are given to human patients, they must undergo rigorous testing. When a drug gets to the clinical trial phase, many health-care providers become involved, including pharmacists.
In addition to being responsible for stocking new and experimental drugs used in clinical trials, some pharmacists will be responsible for keeping statistics related to the clinical trials. When investigating a new medication, all aspects of the drug are pertinent, including not only how efficacious it is, but also its safety and potential interactions with other medications or disease states.
Pharmacists may be responsible for the collection of data, tracking of the data, and ensuring that the data is complete, accurate, and consistent. In the compilation of this information, pharmacists become responsible for keeping the overall statistics related to the safety of a clinical trial medication.
Because the pharmacist could potentially encounter complex statistical analyses, many pharmacy schools offer courses in statistics. These classes emphasize the types of statistical analyses that one might encounter while participating in a clinical trial.
For pharmacists working in a setting where they would be likely to work on clinical trials of new drugs (e.g., a university hospital), one of the job responsibilities encountered may be the keeping of statistics for the clinical trials.