When pharmacy meant community, we showed up for each other

September 4, 2009

Before the concept of "networking" became necessary, professional colleagues were often friends as well as peers, gathering regularly to compare notes, have fun, and support each other through difficult times. The loss of that connection has impoverished today's practice of pharmacy.

Last week I was talking with a pharmacist in Michigan. After the transfer, we chewed the fat awhile. I really like my job, I said. He said he hated his. My PIC is terrific; his is a seven-letter word that starts with "A" and ends with "E." He said that where he worked, Billy Bill's Car Wash and Pharmacy, the store manager butted in all the time and told him how to practice pharmacy.

"Customers know that they can complain to this guy and he will jump all over me when I have to refuse a refill." His voice rose in pitch. "It's too stressful."

"I've been here 20 years," he said. "I wouldn't know where to start looking for a new job."

"Start with your buddies," I suggested. "Your pharmacist friends in town."

There was an awkward pause. He blurted, "I don't have any pharmacist friends."

Holy Moly, Batman, has it gotten to this point? I shuddered as I realized that I don't have any pharmacist friends either. I have a network of 700+ pharmacists, but they are readers of this column. Real people, in real time, in Galveston, whom I see on occasion? None!

There was a time when I played golf with pharmacists. We put on a winter holiday dinner dance. Maybe it would be corny in 2009, but it was fun to get dressed up. And there was the Fourth of July cocktails and barbecue in a fellow pharmacist's large backyard.

There were all the times we met for after-the-store-was-closed restaurant meals. This was before Big Pharma and CE; one detail man or another could be counted on to write a check. We laughed and joked. We had a hell of a good time, but we would be serious if one of us needed help, like finding a new job.

Divorce? The first person I told about my toxic first marriage was an older pharmacist. Early one Sunday morning we were on his boat on the Sacramento River delta, fishing. I talked. He listened. He asked all the right questions. Twelve hours later, his wife served comfort food. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes. She asked me how I could continue living with an alcoholic.

"I've lasted nine years."

The pharmacist said, "Jim, that's enough."

In the 21st century, something is missing in our profession. We have reached the point where we, as individuals, are on our own. We are rudderless. We are spinning almost out of control. Whoever heard of a profession in which the individual practitioners have no well-established support system?

Don't talk to me about the big pharmacy organizations. We both know what it feels like to be abandoned.

Pharmacy network sites, where I call myself jpgakis, are where I get to interact with pharmacists who give themselves monickers like Rxbabe and SmoothPharmD. My own Web site has its share of incessant nattering about a $4 professional embarrassment and other assorted whines and complaints.

The Drug Monkey uses adult language and pharmacists love it. That's telling them, goddammit. But telling whom? Nobody who counts is really listening.

You can visit Pharmacy Forum UK and see that pharmacy in England is no better. The Pharmacy Alliance maintains a more dignified conversation. Discussion there can actually offer constructive dialogue, but it is not the same as six pharmacists eating an early breakfast around a table in the local coffee shop.

We must rediscover the center we lost about 20 years ago - to the benefit of outfits like Billy Bill's. It's an easy task to smack-slap one pharmacist who's twisting all alone in the wind. Not so easy when there are 10 of us talking on a regular basis. Not so easy!

JIM PLAGAKIS is a community pharmacist in Galveston, Texas. You can e-mail him at jpgakis@hotmail.com
and cc us at drugtopics@advanstar.com
. You can also check out his Web site at http://jimplagakis.com/.