Pharmacy then and now


In his 200th column for Drug Topics' "JP at Large," Jim Plagakis reflects on some moments that stand out.

In 1989, an RPh complained that she was expected to work off the clock after her shift had ended. I told her that she should not put up with it. I told her that she was a pharmacist, not a high school dropout stocking shelves. The day I work off the clock will be the day your company starts paying for a catered deli lunch every day. You're a professional. You always have choices. You can be passive, or you can be smart. The company will always take what it can get.

January 23, 1989. Publication date of the first "JP at Large." My stomach did flips when a woman who suffered from bipolar disorder told me that she was going to jump off the Deception Pass Bridge. Life was just too tough. I just listened. That's all she wanted. She promised to go back on her meds.

1990s. I thought I was a jazzman for a time. I took my troubles down to Madame Ruth/You know that Gypsy with the gold-capped tooth/She's got a shop down at 34th and Vine/Selling little bottles of/Love Potion Number Nine.

If you get your juju on, you can see how that song about Madame Ruth epitomizes what we do. Rite-Aid's got a shop near a Pennsylvania mine/it sells Viagra and/cheap red Italian wine.

1998. A store manager accused me of being unprofessional because I refused to refill an Rx for his friend. I told him to get a dictionary. I was on the professional train for the long ride.

Mid-1990s. I did a stealth interview with the produce manager at a local market. I asked him if the OTC famotidine was any good. Lettuce leaves started flying all over the place. "How the hell do I know?" He was red-faced from the cooler. "Ask a pharmacist!"

It was my first justification for a BTC class of drugs. A month earlier, famotidine had been Rx Only and too dangerous for self-use. All of a sudden, it could be sold at truck stops. Pathetic oversight from effete regulators. Profit rules!

1990. An elderly man who had been watching me work asked, "How long you been a registered man?" It was the old-fashioned distinction between a registered pharmacist and an apprentice. We talked and he told me about being paid in eggs, 2 dozen every week, by a cash-poor farm family.

"The people were the best part," he said. "I went to weddings and funerals. Pharmacists don't seem to have time for people these days." 1990 was 2 decades before the Prescription Mill Red Warning Timers of 2010.

2004. I did everything I could to shame a young mother because she had problems understanding how to dose her baby with the Prednisolone 15 mg/5 ml syrup. Then I realized that she did not know how to read. After that I did everything I could to help her, including sending her to the adult reading program at the local library. Months later, there were tears on my cheeks when she proudly showed me the first book she had read by herself: "Snuggle Piggy and the Magic Blanket."

A retail pharmacist today

I often wrote about the absurdity of working in a modern drugstore. You know you are a pharmacist when you are frequently referred to as "Hey" and one of the most common questions you are asked is "Hey, where are the lawn chairs for $9.99?"

You know you are a pharmacist when you get home at 10:30 p.m. and your spouse says, "I fed the kids. You can make your own dinner." Your spouse likes your money but isn't willing to dance the dance.

Pharmacists often complain that the profession is in the pits. I invite them to focus more closely. It's the job, stupid. The profession is just fine.

Jim Plagakis is a community pharmacist in Galveston, Texas. You can e-mail him at and cc us at
. You can also check out his website at

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