A pharmacist is a healthcare professional who is a expert on pharmaceutical drugs and how they act to fight disease and improve the heath of the patient. Pharmacists are responsible for the implementation of drug therapy with the intention of improving the quality of a patient’s life. Some examples of such improvements include curing diseases, reducing or eliminating a patient’s symptoms, slowing the process of a disease, and preventing disease. A pharmacist works with patients and other healthcare professionals in order to design, implement, and monitor a drug therapy plan specifically designed for that patient. Not only do pharmacists advise doctors and patients on prescription drugs, but they also provide information on the best medications that can be purchased “over the counter”.
The most common goal of pharmacists is to move beyond their traditional role of simply dispensing medication and deal with patients more directly and on a more personal level. They strive to be a source of advice on medications for both heath-care professionals and patients. They also are dedicated to providing individualized services to patients. Such services include consultations and providing more understandable information about the side effects of the medications that the patient is receiving.
More than 1,000 years ago, religious and magic practitioners controlled the medical aspects of people’s lives. They believed that many aspects of disease were beyond observation, explanation, and control. The oldest known application of pharmacy was in ancient India and China. They based healing on the belief that disease was caused by spirits in the body. In Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt, and parts of Greece the concept of purification from sin by a purgative existed. In second century Rome, Galen classified medicines by the affects that they had on the four humors of the body: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. The systematic guide he created was, unfortunately, incorrect. Seventh century Arabs contributed a large amount of knowledge on the drugs available from that time through the Middle Ages. In 1240, the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, made great advancements in pharmacy by: issuing three regulations that separate the profession of pharmacy, instituting governmental supervision over pharmacy, and producing an oath that pharmacists had to take promising to prepare drugs reliably. The 19th century brought major pharmacy development throughout the United States. Pharmacy organizations, formal education of pharmacists, official pharmacy books (pharmacopoeias), and setting standards for the identity and purity of drugs are some examples of such developments. Some pharmacy unions that were developed during this time included the American Pharmaceutical Association (1852), the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (1958), and the Federation Internationale Pharmaceutique (1910) which is a worldwide organization base in the Netherlands. Major advancement has taken place in this field in the past 100 years, and pharmacists have started applying scientific method and principles to their work. Beginning in the 1960’s, pharmacists started to practice patient oriented functions, such as drug use review.
The job of a pharmacist consists of many roles. Specific duties vary according to the location of the job for example, community or retail pharmacists counsel patients, answer questions, provide information on over the counter drugs, make drug recommendations, provide advice medical equipment and home heath-care supplies, and, possibly, complete insurance forms and other paperwork. Community pharmacists may sell non-health related merchandise, and also hire and/or supervise other employees. Some community pharmacists provide specialized services such as helping patients with diabetes, asthma, smoking cessation, or high blood pressure. In hospitals and clinics, besides dispensing medications, pharmacists advise medical staff on selection of drugs, make sterile solutions, purchase medical supplies, counsel patients on drug use, and evaluate drug use patterns and outcomes. They are also responsible for assessing, planning, and monitoring drug therapy for patients. Pharmacists who participate in home healthcare are responsible for monitoring drug regimens and preparing infusions and other medications for home use.
Pharmacists are responsible for knowing how their patients manage their medication, they then analyze this regiment searching for problems. Next they determine and implement solutions for these problems and monitor their outcomes. Pharmacists are also responsible for dispensing drugs and providing information about them. Pharmacists must understand drug use, clinical effects, and drug composition (chemical, biological, and physical properties). The pharmacist’s role of making actual pharmaceutical agents is dwindling; and it is now a very small role due to pharmaceutical companies who make the drugs for them. Pharmacists are responsible for the accuracy of every prescription, lately they have been relying on pharmacy technicians and aides to assist them; pharmacists delegate tasks and supervise their outcomes. Finally, pharmacists are responsible for maintaining patient medication profiles in order to advise doctors on prescribing new medication.
Students who desire pursuing a career in pharmacy should achieve scientific aptitude, have good communication skills, a desire to help others, and conscientiousness. There are two entry-level degrees available for such students: a Bachelor of Science degree (BS) in pharmacy, or a PharmD. The BS takes five years to complete and will be obsolete after 2005. The PharmD is a six year program that makes the pharmacists most knowledgeable on medications and their use. The PharmD degree was designed for students with more laboratory and research experience. Many pharmacists who hold their master’s degree or Ph.D. work in research for drug companies or teach at universities. Pharmacists who own and run their own pharmacy may also obtain their MBA. Pharmacy colleges require two years of general pre-pharmacy education. These classes include mathematics and natural sciences such as chemistry, biology, and physics. Another requirement is courses in humanities and social sciences.
In 2000, the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education named 82 accredited colleges of pharmacy. Some of these colleges require that students take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test. All of these colleges offer courses in pharmacy practice in order to teach the dispensing of drugs, communication skills, and dealing with other health professionals. Such courses strengthen students understanding of professional ethics and practice managerial responsibilities. All pharmacists must know the drug laws, assessment skills, problem-solving approaches, and have managerial and communication abilities. Every pharmacist must obtain a license, however in order to do this they must serve under a licensed pharmacist, graduate form and accredited college, and pass a state exam. Some states require continued education for license renewal. For pharmacists there are many areas of graduate study such as pharmaceutics, pharmaceutical chemistry, pharmacology, and pharmacy administration. Some pharmacists specialize in specific drug therapy areas. These areas include intravenous nutrition support, oncology, nuclear pharmacy, and pharmacotherapy.
There are many different places where pharmacists are needed; community pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, pharmaceutical companies, mail service, managed care, and in government are a few. There are approximately 112,000 community pharmacists, 66,000 pharmacists in chain pharmacies and 46,000 in self-owned pharmacies. As for the rest of pharmacists, there are 40,000 in hospitals, 21,000 in consulting, government, academics, and industry (http://www.pharmacyandyou.org/about/pharmacyfacts.html). The median annual earnings for pharmacists in 2000 was $70,950. The middle 50% were between $61,860 and $81,690, the lowest 10 % earned less than $51,570, and the highest 10% made more than $89,010. Job location definitely effects earnings for pharmacists, the following are the median earnings in different locations: department store pharmacists earned $73,730, grocery store pharmacists earned $72,440, pharmacists in drug stores and proprietary stores made $72,110, and finally hospital pharmacists earned $68,760. The average starting base salary for full-time pharmacists was $67,824. Further compensation comes in such forms as bonuses, overtime, and profit sharing.
Working conditions for pharmacists are among the most favorable of all professions. Clean, well lit, ventilated areas are customary facilities. Pharmacists wear gloves and masks, along with other protective equipment on order to protect themselves. Although pharmacy may seem to be a good job with great benefits it does have its downfalls, for example, pharmacists are on their feet a lot, hours are unreliable, you may be required to work evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays, consultant pharmacists often travel on order to monitor patients, and the job of a pharmacist is mentally demanding. Pharmacists are required to know the properties of thousands of drugs and learn hundreds of new drugs which are introduced every year. One out of seven pharmacists only worked part time in 2000, full time pharmacists work approximately 40 hours per week. Pharmacists in privately owned pharmacies averaged 50 or more hours a week. Pharmacists held about 217,000 jobs on 2000. Six out of ten in community pharmacies, 21 % in hospitals, and all others in clinics, mail-order pharmacies, pharmaceutical wholesalers, home health agencies, or in government.
Room for advancement in the field of pharmacy is limited; it all depends on the location or site of each individual job. In community pharmacies, most new employees start on the “staff” level and can advance to the managerial, part owner, or owner status. In chain drug stores, pharmacists begin as staff, may become the pharmacy supervisor or manager at the store level, may obtain responsibilities at the district or regional level, and could possibly rise to an executive position within the headquarters of the company. The highest level of advancement for hospital pharmacists is supervisory or administrative positions. In the pharmaceutical industries, pharmacists can obtain positions in marketing, sales, research, quality control, production, or packaging.
The job outlook for pharmacists is very hopeful. Currently there are more job openings than degrees being granted. This is the case due to the increased needs of a growing older population, scientific advances, new developments in genome research and medication distribution system, and more sophisticated consumers. Due to declining dispensing fees, pharmacists are trying to increase prescription volume; automated drug dispensing will be implemented which will raise the demand for pharmacy technicians and aides. Due to the increasing number of chain drugstores, the need for community pharmacies is dwindling, therefore retail pharmacies are expected to have faster than average employment growth. The need for pharmacists in hospitals is expected to grow as fast as average although their services are shifting toward long-term, ambulatory, and home healthcare. New opportunities for pharmacists are developing rapidly, such opportunities exist in managed care organizations (analyzing trends and patterns in medication use), research, disease management, and pharmacoeconomics (determining costs and benefits of different drug therapies). According to the California projections of Employment, the estimated number of jobs for pharmacists in 2005 is 18,550 (in California). The role of the dispensing pharmacist is in most danger. Due to automated filling and the use of pharmacy technicians these pharmacy jobs are becoming obsolete.
Pharmacists play very important roles in the everyday lives of many people. From dispensing medications to advising consumers on the most effective products, pharmacists effect most every citizen’s life every day.