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Fact Checked

October is American Pharmacists Month: Let’s Celebrate Your Pharmacist

How well do you really know the world of pharmacy? Think of all the times and locations you have ever interacted with or discussed medication with a pharmacist – prescription, over-the-counter, herbal/supplements, etc. As medication experts, pharmacists are an integral member of the healthcare team.  

October is American Pharmacists Month – so let’s celebrate by learning more about this small (~300,000 pharmacists compared to over 750,000 doctors and over 3 million nurses according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) but mighty profession and thanking a pharmacist in your own life.

Test Your Knowledge of Pharmacists

Did you know:

1. Pharmacists have doctoral degrees – They are called “PharmD” degrees. While some practicing pharmacists may still have a bachelor’s level degree (BS Pharm), all pharmacists who’ve graduated since the year 2000 have PharmDs. That’s up to 8 years of schooling! AND many go on to complete post-graduate training such as residencies, fellowships, and additional degrees.

2. Pharmacists can specialize – Either through post-graduate training or special certifications; pharmacists can obtain special expertise in MANY areas, such as oncology, cardiology, infectious diseases, psychiatry, pediatrics, geriatrics, nuclear medicine, emergency medicine, critical care, ambulatory care, administration, informatics, drug information, medication safety, etc. The list goes on! 

3. Pharmacists are an integral part of the healthcare team – Pharmacists work alongside many different healthcare professionals in many different settings. Most people may think of the community pharmacist when they picture a pharmacist because they are out in the community and very visible. Pharmacists work in many other places, such as 

a. The hospital (dispensing medications, taking care of patients on the floor with the rest of the team, administrative roles, etc.) 

b. Outpatient clinics (meeting with patients one-on-one to help control their chronic diseases and keep patients healthy) 

c. Pharmaceutical companies and federal departments (CDC, FDA, NIH, US Public Health Service)

d. Insurance companies, and many more settings 

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There are hundreds of potential career paths for pharmacists!

  • Pharmacists are accessible and trustworthy – Think of all the pharmacies within a 5-mile radius of where you are sitting right now. Every pharmacy is staffed with at least one pharmacist who has extensive knowledge and expertise. They are so accessible because they are all around in our community and integrated within our health system, and you often don’t need an appointment to talk with them! Pharmacists are also consistently touted as one of the most trustworthy professions in Gallup polls, right up there with nurses and doctors. 

Did you ace that “quiz”? Or learn something new? Either way, let’s learn about some exciting new things in the pharmacy world that you might not know.

Expanding Immunization Role

All 50 states allow pharmacists to immunize. You likely know this if you’ve ever gone to your local pharmacy for a flu shot. However, every state’s law differs on a few related items like age allowed to immunize, certification requirements, requiring a prescription or the process involved, etc. 

In August 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services amended the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) to allow pharmacists to immunize children three years of age and older in order to “increase access to lifesaving childhood vaccines and decrease the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks as children across the United States return to daycare, preschool and school.” While this was undoubtedly a big win for pharmacy in the federal acknowledgment of the role pharmacists play in public health, the details in how this is carried out in each state vary. Talk to your local pharmacist if you want to know more about whom they can immunize and which vaccines are available in your state. 

Expanding Primary Care Role

There is a well-known, growing need in primary care due to a shortage of physicians relative to population needs. Several mid-level professionals, such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and pharmacists, are all chipping in to fill in the gaps to help patients. We already talked about how knowledgeable and accessible pharmacists are, so it is a natural fit to meet this growing need. 

In August 2020, J.D. Power released results of their U.S. Pharmacy Study, which showed that by and large, patients like pharmacy’s expanding role into much more health and wellness, preventative, and chronic disease management services within the community pharmacy setting. Some of these services include:

  • Point-of-care testing (blood pressure, cholesterol, A1c, INR, influenza, strep, HIV, hepatitis C, etc.)
  • Medication Therapy Management (MTM)
  • Health coaching (weight loss, healthy eating, etc.)
  • Emergency medication and birth control prescribing (epinephrine, albuterol inhalers, birth control, etc.) – state-dependent 
  • Immunizations
  • Specialty compounding
  • And much more. Talk to your local pharmacy to learn about all the services they provide!

Also, a growing number of ambulatory (outpatient) trained pharmacists are embedded in outpatient clinics to help manage patients’ medications working alongside the physician. Pharmacists can even prescribe medications after the patient is diagnosed in some instances, such as working within the Veterans Affairs (VA) system or under what’s called a collaborative practice agreement (CPA) with a physician. 

Pharmacists could do even more if they were granted federal status as “providers”. This is a long-standing issue that the profession is fighting for and too much to cover in this post. I am mentioning it because we need non-pharmacist advocates. If you love your pharmacist and want to learn more about this issue and how you can help, visit https://pharmacistsprovidecare.com/

Believe it or not, this is just the tip of the iceberg for what the pharmacy is and what pharmacists can do. Hopefully, you learned something new about pharmacy today! If you want to learn more, explore pharmacy organization websites or talk to your local pharmacist! 

And don’t forget to thank a pharmacist in your life this month (or any time) for all they do to keep us healthy!

Reference List

1. American Pharmacists Month 2020. American Pharmacists Association. 2020. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://pharmacistsmonth.com/ 

2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. United States Department of Labor. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://www.bls.gov/ 

3. Reinhart RJ. Nurses Continue to Rate Highest in Honesty, Ethics. Gallup. January 6, 2020. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://news.gallup.com/poll/274673/nurses-continue-rate-highest-honesty-ethics.aspx 

4. HHS Press Office. HHS Expands Access to Childhood Vaccines during COVID-19 Pandemic. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. August 19, 2020. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/08/19/hhs-expands-access-childhood-vaccines-during-covid-19-pandemic.html 

5. J.D. Power finds consumers embrace pharmacy expansion into primary care. Chain Drug Review. August 5, 2020. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://www.chaindrugreview.com/j-d-power-finds-consumers-embrace-pharmacy-expansion-into-primary-care/ 

6. Pharmacists Provide Care. American Pharmacists Association. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://pharmacistsprovidecare.com/ 

Published October 19th, 2020 by Dr. Audrey Kostrzewa, PharmD, MPH, BCPS
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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