Pharmacists are colleagues, not competitors!

May 1, 2009

"A pharmacist on the line is a priority; I won't make a pharmacist wait unnecessarily. When a colleague calls me, I'll drop everything to take that call."

Key Points

"Is this a local pharmacy?"

I was holding a dead phone. No person, no music, not even static.

I craned the phone against my shoulder while I continued to work. It was three minutes later when the pharmacist in Wisconsin came back. He didn't say anything. I knew he was there because of the background clatter. Muffled voices. Loud laughter and the clacking sound of counting tablets. Not capsules. I can tell the difference. These were large tablets.

"Hello, Wisconsin," I said. "Where did you go?"

"You're here already?" He sounded surprised. "Hold on one second." He continued to count the pills and then he said hello to someone named Margaret. "I'm back," he said to her. "I have your bottles. The first number is -"

"Hold on there, Wisconsin," I said. "You noticed that I was on the line when you got back to the phone."

"Yes," he said. "That's good, because it's Monday morning and I'm getting slammed." Once more he put the phone down. This time he talked with a technician. "That's the correct copay," he said. "You know that, Millie. Geezuz. Why are you bothering me?" He was the quintessential treat-the-techs-like-crap pharmacist. "Tell her to call her insurance company if she doesn't like it. The number is on the back of the card."

"Here is the first number," he said to me. "It's for levothyr -"

"Wisconsin," I demanded. "Listen to me."

"I'm busy," he said, "I don't have time to listen to -"

"You're not getting anything until you pay attention for 30 seconds."

"Who do you think you are?"

"I'm your morning nightmare," I said. "I can keep you on the phone forever if I want. Just listen to me."

"What do you want?" His voice was strained. Pitched too high.

"I want you to know that I picked up the phone twenty seconds after the tech told me it was a pharmacist on the line. You are a fellow pharmacist. You are my colleague. A pharmacist on the line is a priority for me. I will never make a pharmacist wait unnecessarily. When a colleague calls me, I will drop everything to take that call."

"That's an original idea."

Getting transfers has been a problem ever since it was legal for patients to jump from pharmacy to pharmacy and take their prescriptions with them.

It is a bigger problem with the additional challenge of so many different accents and enunciations. Pharmacists who are on the immigration track seem to be trying. They will spell for me.

H-1B visa holders occasionally make my head spin. These folks are here as learned professionals. H-1B is good for three years; they aren't interested in citizenship. A minority of these guys don't even know the protocol. I had a pharmacist named Abdul ask me to call the doctor for refills before we made the transfer. Holy Moly, Batman, how can this huge chain trust this guy?

One of my cronies at a chain store always seems to show an enemy's attitude when I call her for a transfer, but is gratuitously friendly when she calls me.

Her frostiness and formality stopped me one day. "Linda," I said, interrupting her parrotlike recitation. "Linda, why are you talking to me like I am a rival? Like I am out to hurt you?"

"Well ... We don't like to lose customers."

"Linda," I said. "Who cares?"

"Well, I am supposed to care."

"Linda, we are not competitors. Our companies hate each other. Let them fight it out. You and I can behave in a dignified manner. We are colleagues in a noble profession."

JIM PLAGAKIS is a community pharmacist in Galveston, Texas. You can e-mail him at and cc us at
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