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Pharmacists: What do they Do? (Posted On: Friday, March 09, 2007)

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Not long ago while out with a group of friends a few comments were made about my job. “Well, all you do is count by fives right?” A remark made in jest, no doubt, but it was enough to make me think. What does a pharmacist do? Does anyone actually know? Lesley Paul tells us what it’s all about and why Pharmacists are where you need them, when you need them.

I am a university graduate, with a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy. I have been educated on the chemical structure of drugs and how they are made. I have even had the opportunity to make a few different dosage forms, which has turned out to be a larger part of my career than I ever imagined. I have studied the human body and its functions, and how drugs affect the body in both positive and negative ways. My schooling also involved learning to communicate with people at various levels and to educate them on proper medication use. A small segment dealt with pharmacy management, although most of that has come from experience and working under the leadership of my father. There were math and chemistry classes to top off the load. And of course this all ended with many examinations, two internships and licensing exams.

Since then my journey of lifelong learning has provided me with many new experiences and challenges to fill my days. And that is how I can begin to describe my career as it stands today.

I spend my days doing what one would think; I fill prescriptions. I have an exceptional team of pharmacy technicians, assistants and customer service representatives that help to keep the pharmacy running smoothly. My technicians enter the patient data into the computer, process prescriptions, resolve insurance issues, package prescriptions and prepare them for me to conduct the final check. Prescriptions are screened through multiple steps for interactions and inaccuracies, whether it be a drug allergy, an incorrect dosage or an inability to read the physicians handwriting. The process is often lengthy. Insurance issues also seem to consume a substantial amount of time. Contacting busy physicians for clarification or changes to prescriptions or even simple repeats can cause further delays in filling prescriptions. The support staff answers the phones, serves the customers, and performs other clerical duties that are required by law.

Once a prescription is processed and checked twice for accuracy it can be dispensed to the patient. Pharmacists will provide patients with all the information they need to get the most from their prescriptions such as what the medication is for, how and when to take it, any side effects to expect, any foods or activities to avoid and how long to take the medication for.

But the practice of pharmacy has advanced. And it’s not just about the medications any more. Successful pharmaceutical care involves many other aspects of practice. As a pharmacist I also aid my patients in making lifestyle changes and choices that will enable them to live a longer, healthier life. I spend much of my time counseling patients on diet, exercise, nutritional supplements and other ways to complement the medications they are using. Keeping all prescriptions with one pharmacy certainly helps a pharmacist to maintain a complete profile of the patient and provide a higher standard of care.

As a pharmacist I am required to continually update my knowledge and skills. The medical world is continually changing with new, more complicated diseases and drugs to treat them. Education is a key component in my ability to provide quality care.

In my practice I have found a number of ways to keep abreast of all these changes and to cater to the ever-changing world of medicine. Each year I have a student from the University of Toronto, Faculty of Pharmacy. The student is finished his or her core studies and is now entering the world of pharmacy for structured practical experience. Students spend all their time at the site with patients and focusing on providing them with outstanding care. It’s also a tremendous way for my staff to update their skills with the most current methods of pharmacy practice.

Through the years of pharmacy practice I have also found that there are many patients who don’t fall into the generalized dosing of manufactured medications. Custom compounding of medications allows us to prepare a product suited to individual patients. Whether it be a different dosage form such as a liquid or suppository for those who have difficulty swallowing, a topical agent to help minimize side effects from oral agents or a specialized product such as bio-identical hormones, compounding provides us with thousands more options for optimal therapy. Compounding takes extra time and effort but the end result is much better for everyone.

Compounding has led me to another aspect of health care that is close to my heart. Advances in women’s health care, especially for per menopausal and menopausal women, has inspired me to again further my education. Last May I became a Certified Menopause Practitioner through the North American Menopause Society. I am constantly updating my knowledge through this organization and through the Professional Compounding Centers of America in order to provide my female patients with the most current information on women’s health.

When I graduated I took an oath. I swore to devote my professional life to the service of mankind through my profession, and to maintain the highest of moral standards and ethical conduct. Everything that I do is for my patients. My career as pharmacist is so much more than just filling prescriptions. It’s about helping others to reach optimal well-being through preventative health care and effective drug therapy.

Oh and yes, I do count pills, by fives too.

Lesley Paul is a pharmacist at Stuart Ellis Pharmacy. Stop in and visit at 169 Hurontario Street in downtown Collingwood or call with questions you may have 705.445.4711.

March 5-11, 2007 is Pharmacy Awareness Week. Talk to your pharmacist whenever you have questions about your medication or health care.


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