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How the public view pharmacy...

Blogs are not edited by PJ staff*. The opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Pharmaceutical Journal.

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By Rachael Allison
13 Apr 2011

What does a pharmacist actually do?  A question that I have been asked many times in the last year since I was accepted into the course, and it worries me that there is a lack of understanding to what the profession actually is.   Most of the population can name fields of medicine that doctors would work in, but are unable to give a description of what pharmacists actually do. 

On asking some members of the public, who are out-with the medical field, their opinion on what a pharmacist is was along the lines of “an individual in the back of a dispensary wearing a white coat and counting pills”. Some thought maybe they advise on which medication can be taken to treat specific conditions.  None however knew that there can be many types of pharmacists, such as ones in GP surgeries.  In addition, hospital pharmacists are just thought to be the same as community pharmacists, i.e. just count pills all day. 

I found that this was not just one part of the public, this was all age ranges.  From what I can see, not a lot of people are aware of all the services a pharmacy in the community offer such as the chronic medication service, for people on long term continuous medication, and the emergency hormonal contraception service.  The weight management and smoking cessation is also not well publicised.   If the public knew more about these services maybe there would be a decrease in the demand for doctor’s appointments. 

Another part of the profession that is not clearly understood by the public is the fact there are pharmacists, and pharmacy graduates, in many different careers who are using their degree in different ways.  I can safely say that most people I know wouldn’t be aware of the use of pharmacists in some GP’s surgeries to cut NHS spending by advising the most effective way for the patient to be treated and to take any ineffective drugs from the prescribing  practices.  Not to mention the graduates who go on to work in industry, academics and other fields such as education. 

I think the public have to be educated more in the developing role of the pharmacist in today’s society, as this would allow the pharmacist to work closer with the public and other health care professionals’.  This will hopefully result in better patient care and wellbeing. If more education were given to schoolchildren and to the public through pharmacies and other healthcare professionals, this will lead to a better understanding of the roles of a pharmacist. 

Great point

Hello Rachel,

You raise a lot of important points.  Only a few weeks ago, I was speaking to one of my patients and she said 'you are a doctor'. I was taken aback by that comment. It would appear that when we focus on looking after the interests of our patients, they think you must be a doctor.

I was quick to point out that I am a pharmacist. I like doctors but I am not a medical doctor. I am the man that looks after the medicines that you take and I work in co-operation with doctors. I do not wish nor want to pretend that I am a medical doctor. My sphere of expertise is different but when we work together, the patient benefits a lot.

Maybe when next our patients refer to us as a doctor, we should take it as a compliment whilst educating them that pharmacists are there equally to look after their medicine-related interests.

...and that goes for our relationship with other allied healthcare professionals.


Kazeem Olalekan