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Pharmacists’ Plates Are Piled High

Drug Topics Journal, Drug Topics January 2022, Volume 166, Issue 01

As pharmacists administer more immunizations than ever, managers must provide a larger tray (pharmacy technicians) or smaller plates (fewer responsibilities) to balance things out.

January 2022 has finally rolled around, and every pharmacist’s plate is full and—in most cases—running over. I use this plate analogy knowing full well that we are in the midst of “eating season,” which starts with Thanksgiving and ends with the Super Bowl. Having fought the “Battle of the Bulge” since elementary school, gaining weight is something I am an expert in. People can gain as much as 10 pounds during the eating season, often because they overload their plates.

Unless they are an owner, the average pharmacist doesn’t really have control over what is put on their plate. Unlike our university dining hall days, when students could take their fill and discard the rest, pharmacists must eat everything on their daily plate. It doesn’t matter how large the plate is, or how high it is piled, it is expected to be cleaned off by the end of the shift.

We might look around at our fellow pharmacists who have big plates piled high. Social media tells us of pharmacies providing upwards of 50,000 COVID-19 vaccines. I read about these amazing achievements with widening eyes. My wife Denise managed COVID-19 clinics in State College, Pennsylvania, immunizing thousands of patients on 1 Saturday. I was able to help her out by reconstituting and drawing up vaccines.

She had at least 24 volunteer immunizers, at least a dozen reconstituting and drawing vaccines, and at least 2 dozen more helping out with intake, monitoring, and tra. c control. It was a fun 8 hours, working with at least 60 health professionals and run-of-the-mill volunteers. Doing the math, Denise’s 8-hour clinic administered 2400 shots with 60 workers, coming out to 40 shots per person which equals 5 shots per person per hour. By the way, they did no billing whatsoever and only used the computer to enter data into the Statewide Immunization Information System.

Can we extrapolate these efforts down to the community pharmacy level, where you have 1 pharmacist to do the drawing up, administering, and monitoring? In the pharmacy where I work, we are required to use 3 different databases—all clunky at best—when we administer a COVID-19 vaccine. One database links to our federal health partner, our pharmacy software is used for billing, and another system is used to access the Statewide Immunization Information System.

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There are, essentially, 3 different operations to fill 1 prescription, all before the shot can even be administered. And did I mention that we’re still filling prescriptions at a sometimes breakneck pace? We as pharmacists need to start looking at our own plate. No longer should our plate consist of liver, onions, and brussels sprouts day after day, but it should have an occasional filet mignon and baked potato. We need to go to the pharmacy cafeteria and fill our plates with well-balanced activities.

If we are to provide immunizations,then we must take something off our plates. If someone keeps piling up our plates, and insisting we clean off the plates, it is only a matter of time until something must give. Either a larger tray with more plates (technicians) or a smaller one with fewer plates (less responsibilities) is needed in exchange for pharmacists providing immunizations. In Malay, Indonesia there is a term used instead of the word “no,” which is too absolute.

The word belum means “not yet”—a response that reflects on the possibilities of uncertainty and a positive answer that needs to be considered more deeply. Belum is a word that I would like to see incorporated into every pharmacist’s vocabulary. When the district manager has another addition to an already busy schedule, we can avoid saying “no” and instead say “belum”—not just yet. Our plates are full and we can’t eat another bite.


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