Guest Spot: A personal journey through hospital pharmacy

March 19, 2007

Though modest at its inception, the arc of growth of hospital pharmacy as a specialty area of practice has been virtually unprecedented in its impact and scope. Since August of 1942, when 162 stalwarts formed the American Society of Hospital Pharmacists in Denver, the role and scope of pharmacy practice in American hospitals have evolved into a central and critical element of patient care. Much of this growth is a function of the increasingly important and complex nature of drug therapy in hospital care and the overall growth of acute care in our healthcare delivery system.

As a career hospital pharmacist since 1960, I have been fortunate to experience personally this remarkable transformation in practice, which took root in the 1950s and '60s. Many of my 1960 classmates in U.S. schools of pharmacy viewed hospital practice as a relatively unknown niche of pharmacy. Some may have even considered it the profession's "orphan."

A quick glimpse of the period reveals:

Nowadays, directors of pharmacy play a pivotal role as healthcare executives and leaders-with oversight and stewardship of all aspects of the quality and safety of medication use while managing the complex and costly component of hospital operations. Their departments are highly complex and technology-intensive.

In short, pharmacy departments are no longer viewed as "ancillary" support services but as critical patient care services that have a major stake in ensuring the hospital's mission. Moreover, hospital pharmacy has an enormously bright future, given the pressing and urgent needs of improving the safety and quality of the medication-use process.

A final thought. The world of health-system pharmacy that greeted me in 1960 as a newly "minted" resident is as remote from today's practice as any good fiction writer would have described in an odyssey. We certainly have come a long way!

THE AUTHOR is a former ASHP president and currently a healthcare consultant based in Hilton Head, S.C.