The Pharmacist: Who are they? What is their value?

If you were asked the following questions about a pharmacist:
a. What kind of education and training do they have?
b. What is their value?
What would you say?

I believe that most people think of a pharmacist as someone who wears a white coat and fills prescriptions in a chain pharmacy like Walgreens, CVS or RiteAide. Other than that, most people do not know the years of education and training required to become a pharmacist. Also, people don’t realize the vast healthcare setting where pharmacist practices.

The pharmacist is a highly educated and trained health-care professional. Their education training is similar to becoming physician or dentist.  They must go to a college or university to take the prerequisite courses in order to get into a pharmacy school. Many pharmacy schools require a bachelor’s degree. Pharmacy school is four years in length. Some schools are three years long but there are no summer breaks. The pharmacist who successfully completes pharmacy school earns a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree (Pharm.D).

Some pharmacists decide to do a residency after earning their Doctor of Pharmacy Degree. Just a medical doctor who specializes in a particular field of medicine, the pharmacist can choose to specialize by doing a residency.  Pharmacy residencies are typically one or two years long. Some areas of focus include emergency medicine, diabetes, geriatrics, neonatal intensive care, pediatrics, etc., to name just a few. Getting accepted into a pharmacy residency program is extremely difficult. There are approximately a 60-80 applicants for one position nationwide.

Medication dispensing has historically been the primary role of the pharmacist, but the pharmacist’s scope of practice has greatly expanded to a cognitive role, specializing in medication management. The primary role of the pharmacist is to assure that the medications are safe and effective for all the patients they take care of.  They must assure that their patients are not allergic to the medication, screen for disease-drug interactions, drug-drug interactions and assures that the medication dose and administration and frequency is appropriate.

In California, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill, SB 493, on October 1, 2013. This legislation gave the pharmacist provider status. This allows pharmacists to collaboratively work with other members of the healthcare team to manage patient’s medication. In healthcare setting where pharmacists are being used to practice as a provider, the pharmacists have shown to be of great value. One example is a pharmacist working in a diabetes clinic where multiple medications are used to treat this chronic disease. Pharmacists have shown that they can manage these patients and have good outcomes. In addition, in these setting where pharmacists are being utilized in this capacity, it has greatly offset the workload for the overworked physicians.

Federal provider status for pharmacists is currently in the legislative process. Assembly bill, H.R. 592,  was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives in January of 2017. This bill has reviewed has been referred to the Committee of Finance.

People often ask, doesn’t the physicians check all potential medication risks before prescribing? The answer is yes, but they can be missed. In addition, there are multiple providers who may be writing medication orders for a patient such a nurse practitioner, physician’s assistants as well as other doctors. The potential risk of medication errors is quite high when multiple prescribers write medication orders.  Medication review buy pharmacist has proven to prevent many medication errors from occurring.

In summary, pharmacists are highly trained healthcare professionals who are medication experts. The pharmacist’s scope of practice has dramatically changed from dispensing medications to actively managing a patient’s medication in order to optimize medication therapy.

Is a pharmacist a member of your healthcare team?

Live long…live healthy!

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