The challenges of relief pharmacy


A relief pharmacist should spend the first 10 minutes with an internal checklist. Its items may be small in themselves, but overlooked, they will make the day considerably harder.

Key Points

Every pharmacy is required to have a pharmacist on duty, and many small towns have no backup pharmacists sitting around, so relief pharmacists are a necessary presence. They are a subset of practitioner types and should be given the credit and resources they need to be successful. Employers should not underestimate the challenge of arriving at a new place of work, learning how the department operates, and taking charge of it to provide optimal care for the local population.

Relief pharmacists can be called at little or no notice to fill in at a pharmacy for varying periods. Members of a chain or company "float pool" may be covering a different store in their area. In that case, they will be familiar with the corporate governance of the company, any proprietary requirements of the company's employees, and - perhaps most important - the all-powerful computer system.

An agency pharmacist, on the contrary, may have to walk into a store without ever having worked for that chain before. No matter how capable, at first the pharmacist will be limited by lack of familiarity with store circumstances. It doesn't matter how powerful a practitioner's drug-use review (DUR) skills are, without the ability to access that information on the computer.

Checklist: Drug arrangement

Checklist: Administrative

Checklist: Workflow

While not exhaustive, this list will help orient the relief pharmacist and reduce the need to keep asking questions. It should take about 5 minutes to go through.

Next, the relief pharmacist should grab a label printout, making a copy if necessary, and highlight the following:

Checklist: Labels

Finally, there's a pharmacist's worst nightmare, a brand-new computer system. If you are pleasant to the technicians and let them know you're using the system for the first time, they will often help you learn the fundamentals. Within the first 30 minutes, it is most important to be able to perform the following:

Checklist: Computer

When relief pharmacists do not take the time to orient themselves, the other staff members are frustrated, especially on busy days.

Even when striving to blend in as seamlessly as possible, an incoming pharmacist simply cannot learn everything in such a brief period. For that reason it is vital to try to establish a rapport with the regular staff members.

Many of the items discussed here pertain to retail pharmacy. Agency pharmacists working in hospitals have similar challenges, but usually these assignments are longer in duration and almost always involve more orientation.

Darius Randeria founded PharmStat staffing in 2001 and currently serves as vice president of staffing for AHS PharmStat. Contact him at

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