Are you a role model for the next generation of pharmacists?

January 14, 2013

Thinking about the future of pharmacy? Remember that you serve as a role model for the next generation of pharmacists.

Many of us had role models that influenced us to enter the pharmacy profession. Back in the 1970s, there was an independent retail pharmacy located across the street from the hospital in the small western suburb of Chicago, Berwyn, Ill. They filled prescriptions. No magazines, milk, bread, eggs, or cigarettes. It was purely an ethical pharmacy.

To a youngster, it always seemed busy, with customers continually coming in and out. A brass bell rang when the front door was opened and closed. It even smelled like a pharmacy! The pharmacists were always in motion, typing prescription labels, filling prescriptions, answering the phone, ringing up customers, and counseling patients.  One pharmacist even smoked behind the counter. (It was the 1970s.) 

In any case, these individuals always seemed cheerful, competent, and willing to help. My mother would take me there when I was sick. She would ask the pharmacist what he thought was wrong with me and what she needed to do. The pharmacist would take a brief history of my symptoms from my mother or me, assess me, and advise my mother accordingly. Sometimes, he would recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medications for symptomatic relief for self-limiting illnesses. Once in a while, the recommendation was to “Take Mark to see the doctor!” These pharmacists were well respected in the community. Role models for future pharmacists-including me! 

Over the last 25 years of pharmacy practice, I have had my share of mothers bring their children to me for advice on medical issues. I’ve recommended OTC medications for symptomatic relief of self-limiting illnesses. And, yes, I’ve advised parents to take their child to see their doctor. It’s rewarding to have someone value your opinion and trust your judgment. 

Why a career as a pharmacist?

Frequently, teenagers and young adults approach me to ask why I picked pharmacy as a career choice. I tell them, “Because I enjoyed science and wanted to help people.” Are you a role model in your community? Are you inspiring the next generation of pharmacists? Or are you a negative role model? Does what you say, your nonverbal communication, and your body language communicate “I enjoy being a pharmacist”? At a recent conference I attended, the speaker stressed, accurately, “To succeed in healthcare, you must excel!” Do you add a “wow factor” to your patient and physician interactions?

If you are uncertain, you may need to conduct a personal “reality check.” Am I clinically competent? Am I reading enough? Do I need to go back for a “refresher course” offered through a college of pharmacy? If your state pharmacy organization or college of pharmacy offers a Medication Therapy Management (MTM) certification, obtain it! 

Practicing MTM skills on Sunday

I have the opportunity to practice my MTM skills every Sunday at church. Yes, at church. Every Sunday morning, I usually have a line of older ladies and gentlemen who know I’m a pharmacist and want to ask me questions about medications or a medical condition. If you do not belong to a house of worship, consider offering your availability through a service organization or social club in your community. Consider giving talks at the local junior high or high school on career day. Reach out to contacts at the local college of pharmacy. Perhaps they hold a career fair and would welcome you as a guest speaker for individuals interested in pharmacy.

Keep in mind that, regardless of the practice environment, you are a potential role model for the next generation of pharmacists. If you see yourself as a role model, why not promote the profession? You can start by presenting yourself in a positive manner in your current role. It may be as simple as striving to provide the best customer service, smiling, or listening empathetically to a patient or customer. Like it or not, you are a role model for the next generation of pharmacists!   

Mark E. Greg, PharmD,is a clinical pharmacist with Advocate Physician Partners in Oak Brook, Ill. E-mail him at mark.greg@advocatehealth.com.