Viewpoint: Is pharmacy a profession or a trade?

October 23, 2006

How many times have you gone to see your doctor and, while addressing your medical concerns, he is also on the phone with an insurance carrier trying to rectify a claim or at the receptionist's desk trying to collect payment from another patient? Although you probably have not witnessed this in a doctor's office, it is a common occurrence in community pharmacy.

It should be obvious there is a problem when one of the most profitable drug chains in the nation, which offers high sign-on incentives and salaries cannot keep pharmacists. The chain is quick to blame the pharmacist shortage. What it, like most retail chains, fails to acknowledge is that the shortage has been created to a great extent by the working conditions behind the counter.

When are we going to realize that this is an albatross around the neck of our profession? The sheer fact that several state boards have attempted to address this issue gives it legitimacy. North Carolina and West Virginia are two that have passed legislation addressing this ongoing problem. In Oklahoma, I formed a committee to come up with a solution. We formulated a plan whereby any pharmacist who felt he did not have sufficient staffing could document it on a state-provided form. The board would investigate each incident, thus encouraging all employers to be competently staffed at all times. We formulated legislation that was passed, only to be blocked by the legal departments of a number of large chains.

I firmly believe that it is in the best interest of the state board and the people we serve each day, and more significantly in the best interest of the profession, that we be adequately staffed at all times. How can we project a professional image and be taken seriously by other healthcare providers as long as we keep trying to provide pharmaceutical care at the same time we are ringing up purchases, fighting with insurance carriers, entering data into the computer, and manning the drive-up window?

The pharmacy schools have been telling us for years that pharmacy should expand from providing products to providing services. But we will never get there until we are willing to recognize that we have a major problem with inadequate staffing and willing to come together as a profession to figure out how to fix it. We must be willing to surgically remove the tumor at all cost so that the patient might survive.

My tenure in this profession is almost over, and when I look back over the years I've invested in this great profession, I have mixed emotions. I know that I've helped many people physically, emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes financially. I know I made a difference when it came to helping people, but what have I done for the profession? In that regard I have failed miserably-primarily because I, like most other pharmacists, have allowed the cancer to grow and done very little to stop it.