Are pharmacists slipping in the popularity polls?


Are pharmacists losing the love?

 “Well I’m not surprised,” my friend said on the phone as we caught up on old times. “I always knew that would happen once you graduated.” The conversation had turned to matters professional, and I had just mentioned that we as pharmacists no longer ranked first in the annual Gallup poll that asks the public to rate professions based on honesty and ethics.

While pharmacy consistently ranked No. 1 through the ’90s, that honor now belongs to nurses and has for quite a few years now.

“I mean, how many classes did you cut, exactly?” my friend went on.

It was a joke, of course. Neither one of us actually thought pharmacy’s fall to the second most-trusted profession in the country had much to do with my attendance record in college, but we both agreed a lot had happened since the days of grunge that might taint the public’s perception of us.

Fraud, felons, and the “Big 3”

Several former executives of one of the “Big 3” pharmacy chains have done time in federal prison for accounting fraud.

A quick Google search shows one of the other chains to be connected to at least 10 scandals over the years, everything from overbilling Medicare and Medicaid to accusations of attempted bribery of a state senator, to having stores that dispensed 21 times the amount of oxycodone of an average pharmacy, not to mention hiring an employee who apparently had no trouble functioning as a pharmacist until the Texas Pharmacy Board asked a question that the chain never did, “Where’s your license?”

You can’t really say that organizations like that do a lot to enhance our image.

Not just the chains

Lest you think the damage has been done by large corporate actors alone, consider the case of Robert Courtney, a Kansas City pharmacist who was convicted and sentenced in 2002 to 30 years in prison for diluting the chemotherapy prescriptions of more than 4,200 patients.

And I probably don’t have to remind you of The New England Compounding Center, the “pharmacy” that took advantage of regulations intended to govern the small-scale preparation of individual prescriptions to become, for all intents and purposes, a sloppily run pharmaceutical factory that turned out tainted products responsible for 44 deaths. So far.

Mulling all this over, I wasn’t surprised at all the public’s perception of us might have slipped a bit. Except that it hasn’t.

A closer look at those Gallup numbers shows that nurses weren’t included in its survey until 1999, whereupon they instantly claimed the No. 1 spot. The number of people who rank pharmacists’ ethics and honesty as “Very High” or “High” is now 75%, the highest it’s ever been in the history of the survey and more than 15 points higher than when I was snoozing through pharmacokinetics. It’s not that the public likes us any less than it used to, it’s that it probably has always liked nurses a little more - I suspect because nurses rarely have to explain what a prior authorization is at the point of care.

The public can tell

So despite chains that sign patients up for auto-fill programs that they never asked for, executives who raid the corporate coffers so they can finance a basketball league for players 6 feet 5 and under, and the blatant hypocrisy of claiming concern for customers’ health while peddling an impressive selection of tobacco products, the public seems able to distinguish between those who control the profession and those who practice it. The public understands that the profession isn’t made up of just The New England Compounding Center and the “Big 3,” but of the countless practitioners toiling away at ground level, struggling to do the best they can.

Maybe, I thought to myself as I recalled that conversation with my college friend, people really do understand that we’re trying to hold things together in what seems at times like a world gone insane. Maybe I’ll go to work tomorrow a little less discouraged. 

David Stanleyis a pharmacist, blogger, and professional writer in northern California. He can be reached at

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