By: The Redheaded Pharmacist
How would you describe the job of pharmacist to someone? What would you list as our primary functions? Is the answer as cut and dry as you’d expect?
I remember years ago sitting with my district pharmacy supervisor during one of those inevitable employee evaluations. Any employee of a larger company knows what I mean. The annual ritual of being evaluated is just one of those little necessary evils we endure as employees.
So as I sat there my district pharmacy supervisor asked me a simple question as part of the generic evaluation process. She asks me “what would you say your job involves?” Simple right? You’d have no problem answering that question would you?
Part of my answer to that question was ”I solve problems so you don’t have to deal with them yourself.” And with just a pause I added “in the name of customer service.”
Search the internet for job listings for pharmacists and look at the job descriptions in those postings. What kind of key words and phrases do you see? Do any of the job listings you found include the phrase “problem solving” as part of the job description? If not, they really should.
If there is one thing I learned on Day 1 of my life in the world of pharmacy, it’s that one of the main functions of a pharmacist or pharmacy technician is problem solving. Problem solving is a fact of life for pharmacists. It wouldn’t be a day of work for any of us without a ton of problems in front of you waiting to be solved.
And what is striking to me is the vast range of problems you potentially face in the pharmacy. Anything from the simple “my doctor hasn’t called back with my blood pressure pills yet” to the more serious ” I think my teenage daughter is suicidal, what should I do?” There’s quite a range of difficulty to the problem sets we must tackle at work.
And as my boss sat there during my evaluation processing my answer to her question, I explained what I meant. I told her that pharmacists see lots of problems at work. I added that I try to solve as many of them as possible legally and within the realm of company policies and procedures so she doesn’t have to clean up my mess or solve a problem herself.
I explained that the core function of community pharmacist work is customer service. And the simple explanation of what customer service means is we solve problems for patients.
Sure pharmacists work as part of a team that fills prescriptions, administers vaccines, counsels patients, and compound medications among other functions. But a lot of what we do for people is attempt to solve some issue for them.
I think upper management teams at many of these larger pharmacy chains conveniently forget this little aspect of community pharmacy. To them our business is reduced to a simple numbers game. How many prescriptions can be filled in one hour? How much profit is possible for one individual store or region? They see pharmacy in terms of numbers, not people. But pharmacy is a people business, not a numbers game.
Anyone that actually works in a pharmacy can see the real workings behind the counter. Life isn’t simply about standing behind a counter filling as many prescriptions as possible. We have issues to resolve and questions to answer for our patients and customers.
I’ve often wondered what it would be like if one of the executives at a big retail pharmacy chain actually worked a shift in a store. How would they handle the array of problems they’d inevitably face? Would they have a new respect for those of us that face the front lines and do this line of work every single day? I sure hope so.
Because for pharmacists and technicians, the bottom line isn’t about numbers. It’s about helping the person on the other side of the counter with whatever they need on that particular day. And in helping that person we call a patient or customer, we are usually solving a problem for them.
Problems are a part of life. And for pharmacists, they are part of the job as well. And being a good pharmacist is as much about how effectively you solve problems as it is drug knowledge or possessing people skills.
Patients are coming to us because they have problems. And it is our job to solve them to the best of our ability. I just hope the powers that be in the pharmacy world recognize that fact and understand what pharmacists really do. We are customer service providers. We are healthcare professionals. We are problem solvers.
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