JP at Large: Women are the changing face of pharmacy

May 1, 2008

The face of American pharmacy is young and female in the 21st century.

"My pharmacist was like that," this young woman said. "Mister Duncan at Duncan's Drug Store. My mother always took me to him for minor things like a scraped knee or a runny nose." She chuckled, "I secretly loved it because I knew that I would get an ice cream cone."

The speaker was a fourth-year medical student. I trust my medical care to The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. The medical student who had been interviewing me before my neurologist showed up had asked me what kind of work I did. I took that as an invitation to teach her something. She was a medical student after all and there were some things that she needed to know.

She gave me a look. "I thought that pharmacy was a male-dominated profession."

"The Mister Duncan effect," I said. "When I started, pharmacy was a Mister Duncan profession. My pharmacy graduating class had 24 students and only two were women. It is not that way anymore."

"Medicine too," she said. "Don't teenage boys want to be pharmacists anymore?"

I threw up my hands. "Of course there are boys who want to be pharmacists. I know a son of a pharmacy owner who is going to inherit the store that he has worked in since he was a little boy. He can't get into a pharmacy school. He has tried and tried, but cannot get accepted."

She shook her head. "My dad is a doctor and he really wanted my brother to follow in his footsteps." She looked up. "He'll have to settle for me. My brother decided that he wanted to be a teacher." She shrugged her shoulders and I felt sorry for her.

"That young man who is going to own a pharmacy did not have the foresight to get the grades he needed in high school. Too many teenage boys screw around, looking for kicks, while teenage girls keep their eyes on the prize and get admitted to pharmacy school."

"Is it that hard to get in?" She gave me a quizzical grin. She was skeptical.

"It is that hard," I said. I had a small package of butterscotch drops. I popped one into my mouth and offered the bag to her. She accepted. I continued, "I have been told that it is harder to get into pharmacy school than medical school these days."

This attractive young woman leaned forward on her chair and made a face, "Are you sure? I thought that medical school was the hardest."

I did not want to burst her elitist bubble, but she needed to understand that the medical pyramid is flattening every day. Doctors are no longer at the tippy top with the pharmacist way down below, almost out of the picture. "You have an entire career ahead of you," I said. "Working hand in hand with the pharmacist is going to make your job so much easier."

"Why do so many people want to go into pharmacy?" She asked.

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