What do pharmacists do?

I know the basic answer – dispense pharmaceuticals – but my experience with pharmacists is limited to the guy in the back of the grocery store.

I’m not intending to disparage pharmacists – I’m seeking enlightenment. I know they go to school for a long time and that they know a lot about medications, but the ones I’ve seen in action don’t seem to need a lot of skill beyond deciphering doctors’ handwriting and counting pills.

Many jobs have a lot of drudgery and most jobs can be reduced to repeating a few simple things over and over again but the case for druggists seems extreme. My question is: What am I missing? What do they do behind the scenes that requires all that education? Or do they just like the white coats?


“You have no choice but to be impressed.”
Tony Rothman and George Sudarshan
Doubt and Certainty

All I can say is, if I were a pharmacist, I would steal and quickly become addicted to every type of mind altering grug or substance I could get my hands on. After which I would most likly be locked away, and forced into something like a Methadone program. I guess thats why the local apothecary keeps turning me down for a job.


And what takes so long? Count out the damn pills and put them in the bottle, already!

I sorry to say that they don’t do a lot. In other countries they can be assistants. A lot of this in America has to do with job inflation which increases their education and which in turn “justifies” their inflated salaries.

I’m in the medical field and I have many cases in point. Because so many people are getting into college now and eligible to get into Pharm. school they’re making it harder.

Pharmacy school is now at least 5 years and you can get a PharmD. In other countries: no degrees needed, just experience.

Optometrist. Now you call them doctors, but they don’t need to be. You just need opthalmologists and a bunch of salespeople to fit glasses.

Physical therapists: Now a 5 year degree, but only 2 years is really needed. In actual fact they can make do with 1 year including internship or practice, like dental techs now.

MDs. Get rid of the stupid 4 yr pre-requisite. And also stupid 1st and 2nd year classes like biochemistry and embrylogy. They are just a waste of time. Diagnosis is all based on a good solid background of diseases and experience.

If all these stupid classes could be cut down, less education would be needed and there would be more health care providers and everything would cost less. But vested health care workers don’t want that. They all want to make $100-200,000 a year. This is the only thing to make health care available to all not stupid universal health care coverage. The political candidates don’t know their asses from their heads when they talk about health care reform.

Seems like it was not that long ago that pharmacists actually did produce drugs. By mixing chemicals and other substances to get whatever was prescribed by the MD. I wonder what has happened in the last 20 years to change the job from being complicated (thus requiring all that scholastic knowledge) to being a glorified stock boy on a raised platform.
Just another service industry where customer service has gone by the waist-side. Used to be the pharmacist would take the time to talk to you about the drug. Now some 20 year old pharm-assistant gives you a pamphlet and moves you along. Sad.


"_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ".

Check out the dueling Andy Rooneys.

The world went down the crapper once the pharmacists didn’t want to chat about my hemerrhoids, lemme tell ya.


Gypsy: Tom, I don’t get you.
Tom Servo: Nobody does. I’m the wind, baby.

I thought the pharmacists raised cows and chickens and ducks and the like, on their pharms.

Um, I think you mean way-side. Though your version does present a more fitting image, with the pharmacists up on their platforms and bending down to dispense healing balms to the masses

…but when you get blue, and you’ve lost all your dreams, there’s nothing like a campfire and a can of beans!

Our pharmacy has extremely young beautiful women working behind there counting stuff…odd. They always have an older pharmist who can, get this, compound solutions for ya. Guess they actually put that education to use.

“The Bikini Pharmacy.”

Not bad. Has possibilities. “T&A Tonics.” “Pulchritude 'n Potions”

Pharmacists don’t just dispense pills, they provide medical advice, just like doctors do. Doctors don’t always “do” something to you; they listen, diagnose, and give advice. Pharmacists do this, too, although if your only contact with them is to go get your scrip filled and then leave, you don’t see that part of the job. Watch one for a full day sometime. If your pharmacist doesn’t take the time to talk to you about the drug, and a pharm-assistant gives you a pamphlet and moves you along, then you’ve got a bad pharmacist. I doubt that you have a typical one, though; pharmacists usually score at the top of any poll of most trusted professionals.

Couple of points…

First, my pharmacist is more than happy to talk to me about the medicine I am taking. (In fact, she seemed delighted that I was asking her.) If they are busy I’ve been asked to come back later but they have always answered my questions.

I have also had good experience asking them about OTC medicines. If I have a minor problem that I don’t go to the doctor with (like minor stomach problems or rashes or allergies) I have asked the pharmacist and they have usually recommended what medicine to take.

I think the reason they “just give you a brochure” has more to do with the customers than the pharmacists. Most people are of the “just give me my medicine and let me get on my way” attitude, but if you take the time to talk to them I have always found them to be very helpful. (Moreso than my doctor in many cases.)

Pharmacists also are the ones who keep track of all the medicines you are taking (assuming you always use the same pharmacy, which is a good idea). With the medicines they have given you on file they can know if the latest perscription your doctor has given you will react adversely with something you are already taking (this happened to me once). They can then contact the doctor to determine an alternate medicine.


“It turns out it isn’t so much a law of physics as it is a local ordinance.”

Correcting myself - pharmacists are not permitted to diagnose, just give advice on medication, as tanstaafl pointed out. They usually consider themselves to provide supplemental medical care; supplementing a doctor’s care.

Well, this may be just rambling, but it’s my $0.02 - so here goes.

My great-grandfather was a pharmacist and I heard a number of stories from my great-aunt about what he did for work. It certainly seemed to require a deep knowledge of chemistry and general medicine, simply because these were the days when the pharmacists mixed their own compounds. You had to be a pretty savvy businessman too, since most pharmacists those days were independent operators. (The only picture I have of him is him standing in front of his store in Ludlow, Mass.) My great-aunt would have followed in his footsteps, but his untimely death left her without the financial means to earn a pharmaceutical degree.
Now, of course, with the advent of mass production and the expansion of convenience stores to cover all sorts of services, the role of the pharmacist has been whittled down to pretty much pill-counting. But the commercials you see for CVS and Walgreen’s and Eckerd’s tout the knowledgeability of the pharmaceutical staff so it’s pretty clear the importance of the knowledge behind the job hasn’t lessened any.
So next time you’re in Ludlow, or at the bar on the corner of State & Walnut in Springfield, MA… raise a glass to the memory of what pharmacists used to be & ask whatever deities color your life that the next one you have business with takes his job more seriously than some of the posters here :wink:


Cave Diem! Carpe Canem!

Apparently pharmacist still do have to make compounds.

Just last week when I was in line at the pharmacy, the woman in front of me in line was told it would be a couple of minutes before her prescription was ready. When she asked why, they told her the pharmacist had to prepare her medicine. The pharmacist was mixing some sort of solution.

My roomie is in pharmacy school at UNC and though for all I know he could be speaking gibberish, he certainly seems to know his stuff, particularly about drug interactions and medical conditions. On occasion he brings back samples of things they make in lab. (I’ve only actually tried one thing he’s made, a Tylenol capsule.) He’s counseled patient “actors” on prescriptions and made diagnoses. If I recall correctly it’s possible that soon pharmacists will be, in a limited way, able to make prescriptions as well.

Good pharmacists also serve as kind of a proofreader for doctors, who are capable of making mistakes like anyone else. If a pharmacist sees that the doctor has made some sort of ridiculous prescription, he/she ought to be able to catch it before it does any harm to the patient.

Actually my roomie gets kinda irritated when I joke to people that he spends all day in class learning how to count pills!

Well in response to the above comments, an assistant can mix solutions, give advice, keep track of your meds etc.

My hunch: In the most extreme cases, druggists (wearing those white coats they like so much), are sometimes required to step from behind the scenes or from the back of the grocery store to apply all that education for the purpose of repeatedly, over and over again, well: farm a cyst.

Well, farm a cyst. That’s the gist, they farm a cyst. And when they’re done, they hug and kiss. They hug and kiss, and bottle the cyst, then shake it up and watch it miss. Indeed, it missed! It missed the lid—cause they slid the lid off and shook the squid. I meant to say cyst. The thing that went splish — cause the ceiling it hit. That’s it for this poem, I’m out, I quit!

Well, I suppose that there are good, caring, knowledgable pharmacists, and lazy stupid ones too. And stupid pharmacy clerks…

I have a good friend who was too embarrassed to go into her doctor or a clinic to get an HIV test. She had heard that you could buy a kit at the pharmacy which would allow you to send in a blood sample and call for the results anonymously. But she was too embarrassed to go in and buy the kit.

I mentioned that the last time I was at the pharmacy, there was a little pad of papers attached to the register. The papers said something like “If you want to buy the HIV test kit, and you are embarrassed, you can take this paper and give it to the clerk as if it were a prescription. He will then give you the HIV test kit wrapped as if it were a prescription. This will maintain your confidentiality.”

Still, she was too embarrassed to go buy it. I was embarrassed, too, but I said I would go buy it for her.

I went in to the very crowded pharmacy, took the paper, and gave it to the clerk. She looked at it and said “What’s this? Oh, YOU WANT THE AIDS TEST! CHARLIE, WHERE DID WE PUT THE AIDS TESTS? THE AIDS TESTS ARE RIGHT THERE ON THAT SHELF. DIDN’T YOU SEE THEM?” So I quietly said that she was supposed to give it to me wrapped, to maintain confidentiality. She said “WHY DO YOU WANT THE AIDS TEST WRAPPED LIKE A PRESCRIPTION? I MEAN, I CAN DO IT THAT WAY IF YOU WANT. HAND ME AN AIDS TEST, AND I’LL WRAP IT UP FOR YOU.”

Good thing my sensitive friend didn’t have to deal with that. She would have run screaming from the store, never to return.

By the way, her test came out negative. Not that we were worried…