Why I Love Being a Pharmacist
Kevin T. Hope, RPh
It almost seems like an odd question to ask in the context of today’s professional unrest. The news is homed in on pharmacist walk-outs and the unveiling of some rather serious medication safety allegations in some of the nation’s leading pharmacies.
Facing decreasing reimbursement, pharmacies struggle to balance adequate staffing with patients’ needs. Add in a pandemic where spikes in the demand for pharmacy services surged, we witnessed the formation of the “perfect storm” as the fronts merged in 2020. Throughout the pandemic, pharmacists reported record numbers of burnout as additional demands were added to an already grossly overwhelmed system.
Fast forward to 2023. The plexiglass has started to come down in many stores. The masks have dwindled from required, to optional, to a rarity. Things have seemingly returned to “normal” … except, they haven’t. Demands at the pharmacy remain high with a new generation of vaccines and new rounds of reimbursement and staffing challenges. Pharmacists are exhausted and the prospect of a new “hill to climb” can be too daunting to consider for some. Retail pharmacy, in particular, has seen its share of professional exodus.
To even engage in a blog entitled, “Why I Love Being a Pharmacist”, then, almost seems treasonous. It’s not the mood that is reflected nationally, and it’s not the perception readily displayed on most pharmacy social media pages. It only takes one excited student to ask an opinion about which pharmacy they should sign up with to create a flood of responses, most of which would leave the poor student running for the hills! Not surprisingly, pharmacy school enrollment has markedly declined as colleges struggle to find qualified applicants, while some colleges have closed the doors entirely.
Likewise, some of the major chains have announced plans to close record numbers of stores, citing everything from shifting market trends to shoplifting. Professionally, then, we find ourselves at a critical crossroads. It’s apparent that everyone, both corporate America and pharmacists alike, agrees that things cannot continue as they currently stand. More than ever before, the pharmacist’s voice is an essential one. It’s the voice that must guide the path forward and remain patient-focused.
So, in preparation for what was a seemingly simple prompt, I did some social media research of my own. I posed the same question on our South Carolina Pharmacists Facebook page. To be honest, I fully anticipated a few serious responses mixed in with a flood of sarcasm and pointed humor. And, as a Generation X writer, I must fully disclose that I find nothing wrong with sarcasm nor pointed humor. In fact, I find it a useful tool in pointing out the otherwise inexplicably absurd. I was prepared for it and anxiously awaited with popcorn in hand for the challenge that never came.
Truth be told, I absolutely love being a pharmacist, although my own endeavors fall outside the traditional definition. In some sense, I was hoping to get validation from others that this would be a worthwhile blog. Indeed, the comments were quite affirmative! Several pharmacists pointed to “those moments when you know that you made a difference.” Others pointed to the diverse career paths of a pharmacist. Dr. Wayne Weart, one my own heroes, was quick to point out that it was a calling. He fully recognizes that teaching evidence-based pharmacotherapy makes a difference to the patients that both he and his students serve. Others commented on the opportunity to learn so many new things each day while working on the health care team. The necessity of the pharmacist’s voice, too, was echoed by several, including my friend and SCPhA’s CEO, Brian Clark.
Still the question remains, why do I love being a pharmacist? I think back over my own tenure as a technician, extern, retail pharmacist, nuclear pharmacist, and instructor. Certainly, there are moments that stand out: I became a pharmacy technician in high school after being promoted from the front end of the store stocking Halloween candy (this was the level of training required of pharmacy technicians at the time!). I was given a white lab jacket and a tag that said “pharmacy technician”. It was a different era in many ways. I worked alongside terrific pharmacists who always put the patient first. They did all sorts of things to wiggle around whatever red tape might be in place if it was in the best interest of the patient. It was their enthusiasm and passion that initially led me down the path toward pharmacy school.
As an extern, I was afforded a variety of experiences, including working with patients in a variety of settings. I encountered those who desperately needed psychiatric care. I encountered those who needed compounding pharmacy services. I was introduced to professional advocacy by regularly attending meetings as a student. I loved the variety … and was humbled by the fact that we, are indeed, needed. I love being a pharmacist!
As a nuclear pharmacist, I recall getting a call from a nuclear technician about an unusual uptake of radiopharmaceutical in a patient’s breast. From my studies with these agents, we were able to quickly ascertain that there might be a tumor that the patient was not aware of. Indeed, what could have been easily dismissed, led to a “side discovery” of breast cancer, which was still in a treatable stage. I love being a pharmacist!
As an instructor, I was exhilarated by seeing the “light come on” in a student’s head! Teaching at the community college, we often got students who were terrified of math and unconfident in their abilities. To see them move into the “hey, I can do this” mentality was inexplicably extraordinary. Many of them went on to become pharmacy technicians; for others, new doors were unlocked. Regardless, my own abilities as a pharmacist helped me help others. I love being a pharmacist!
Finally, as I hear from you all about your current educational needs, I hear the passion. Yes, I hear the frustration. And, yes, that frustration is valid. But the passion still bleeds through! Now is the time for your voice. Do you love being a pharmacist, too?