You're smart, but can you ink a Bates?


Polish up your skills and support each other or face irrelevancy like the Bates Stamper.

The skillset that makes you a competent pharmacist now is very different from when I graduated. Many of the tasks that were important daily functions back in 1977 don't come up much today.

How many of us know how to put a ribbon in a typewriter, fill out a universal claim form, or work an old-style torsion balance? Which side does that weight go on again? How about converting a patient from U-80 insulin to U-100? What kind of film/flashbulb does my camera use? Can you show me how to use this TV tube tester? What kind of battery does this watch take? Is the town pet parade this Saturday or the next?

Out of sight, but not out of mind

One piece of pharmacy equipment you never see used anymore is the Bates Stamping Machine. The Bates Manufacturing Company made the first one in 1892, designed primarily to stamp legal documents. The machine numbers documents and the number increases by 1 each time you stamp it. They were perfect for numbering prescriptions, so pharmacies started using them also. They only stopped using them when computers started numbering prescriptions automatically. If you work in a pharmacy that's been around for awhile, I'll bet there's 1 in a drawer somewhere. Pharmacists never throw away anything.

Putting ink on the inkpad of the Bates machine was a learned skill also, something that you were not taught in pharmacy school. Too much ink and every time you stamped a script, ink went everywhere. It also made an inky glob on the script instead of a number, which would get a look of disapproval from whoever you were working with.

If you didn't ink the Bates, your co-worker knew that you were either lazy or didn't know how to do it. In those days, since no one wanted to work with a lazy pharmacist, I made it a point to learn this skill quickly. Just like learning to ride a bicycle, I could ink a Bates Stamper right now if I needed to.

Doing what pharmacists should do

My current colleagues would not be impressed with any of these skills. We are a clinically oriented hospital pharmacy department, with a lot of responsibilities. We dose antibiotics, parenteral nutrition, and insulin, and therapeutically substitute 1 drug for another. This is expected of all pharmacists that work in the department, and we do it every day, on all shifts.

We also do patient education on different drugs and health conditions. We use renal dosing and pharmacokinetics to adjust dosages on drug orders. We actually have the authority to change a doctor's order if we have good reason to. We do what pharmacists should do. I have a challenging but very rewarding job, and for the first time in a long time, I enjoy going to work. I never thought I would have a job like this or was intelligent enough to do it.

A different frame of mind

My point is, if an old guy like me, in the sunset of his career, can find this kind of job, I think anybody can. There's a lot of unhappiness and discontent out there. I read what everyone in the business is writing, so I feel the pain. However, I know how smart you all are because I see it every day.

So let's polish up our skills, set some boundaries, and act like the professionals we were trained to be. Let's adopt a positive attitude and support each other. We need to make our professional organizations relevant and hold them accountable. It's time to throw the old ways and ideas in the pharmacy junk drawer where they belong.

Right there with the Bates Stamper.

Jim "Goose" Rawlings, RPh, is a senior pharmacist in central Indiana. He can be reached at

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