As a group, pharmacists outnumber employers, academe, and the government. What becomes of the profession depends on us.
Larry LaBenneDescriptions of pharmacists’ adverse working conditions abound among professional publications. Equally common are articles describing the profession’s state of perpetual decline. Such articles usually assign responsibility to employers, academia, and various branches of government.
While these parties play a significant role, I believe that pharmacists themselves bear ultimate responsibility. The profession is many times bigger than all other responsible parties combined; therefore pharmacists should be most accountable for allowing the current state of affairs to develop. Positive change for the profession will happen only when pharmacists take action.
If enough pharmacists followed through, significant changes could occur in two areas: the unification of the profession and better pharmacy practice.
Oh, yes. I said it. Many pharmacists need to do a better job.
How can we do a better job? We can start by examining our daily actions and asking ourselves, am I really being the best pharmacist I can be? Passively filling as many prescriptions as possible, focusing on enigmatic metrics, and being a businessperson in a white coat while knowingly allowing our clinical skills to decline - an entirely too common scenario - does not qualify us as good pharmacists and scarcely justifies years of extensive education and training.
The only thing keeping pharmacists in that picture is a set of antique laws, which can easily change - especially if we continue to fail to prove our value to the people we serve.
With regard to professional unity, the reality is simple: There is strength in numbers. So how do we get pharmacists to come together?
Paying dues to APhA and other professional organizations so that they can keep talking while we sit and wait for them to take real action is not a solution.
Pharmacists hiding behind the counter need to come forward, stand together, and refuse to accept the current status quo.
Perhaps a good first step would be for pharmacists to conquer the fears that employers instill in them and speak out. Get your name and voice out there. You just might influence others to do the same.
A unified profession filled with pharmacists making the most of their skills would be a powerful force. Something even more powerful is consumer demand.
We need to let the public know that we can provide services that are useful and valuable - services that they need and want, and can't get from any other healthcare provider.
Just as the electronic gadgets that people did not previously know that they needed have now become indispensable, we need to become indispensible to the people we serve.
The unfortunate reality is that most people just want their pills and consider us their current means to that end. If we cannot effectively show them that we are capable of providing valuable services, sooner or later the antique laws will change and someone making a fraction of our income will be very happy to take the medicine out of the big bottle and put it into the small bottle.
The survival of our profession rests on our creation of an overall demand for our services, which begins with making people realize that they need more than their pills. The best way pharmacists can start to create such a demand is simply by doing the best they can do every day to be good pharmacists.
Making the changes required to come together as a unified profession while practicing good pharmacy may seem challenging, especially if work settings preclude good pharmacy practice. However, if pharmacists were to remove themselves from such settings, it is likely that such actions would have a positive impact on the profession. If all or many would stand up, speak out, and/or get out, employers would have little choice but to change working conditions.
Ultimately, many pharmacists would have to make some temporary sacrifices to ensure a better future for the profession. For many, the worst-case scenario would be loss of a job that causes exhaustion, stress diseases, and desperation.
Are the two areas for opportunity I described realistic? That is up to us. Up to you!
Larry LaBennepractices pharmacy in DuBois, Penn. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.