Becoming a Pharmacist

Q&A with a Pharmacist

Odds are you’ve visited a pharmacist more than once, whether it was simply to fill a doctor’s prescription or to get advice about a certain medication.

From filling prescriptions to consulting with doctors about a patient’s prescription, to advising patients as to the use of their prescription, pharmacists have to juggle a lot of responsibilities every day. What’s more, they have to be incredibly organized and thorough – a pharmacist’s mistake could be harmful to someone’s health. This is one of those healthcare jobs where there are more open jobs than qualified applicants. So what’s it like to be the person in the long white coat on the other side of the counter?

Tara Strickland, who has worked as a pharmacist for over ten years, gives us the dish.

How long have you been a pharmacist?

Since 1995.

Please describe an average day on the job.

I type all the refill requests and new prescription call-ins via voice mail from the doctors – I also do this continuously throughout the day. After we open… we also answer questions over the phone and in person from patients and doctors, and resolve insurance billing problems.

We also do vaccinations at my pharmacy (not all pharmacies do this). We give flu shots, pneumonia shots and shingles shots. We will start giving the H1N1 soon also. We fill prescriptions all day long. As we fill each prescription, we check for typos, as well as drug interactions/duplications with other drugs, and check that the dose prescribed is correct for the patient. We consult on each new prescription – directions, what it’s for, side effect, when to call a doctor if there’s a problem.

Why did you choose to become a pharmacist?

I originally wanted to be a teacher, but after tutoring for only 2 semesters I realized I needed more variety in my life.

Then I wanted to become a psychiatrist, but I realized I’d probably take people’s problems home with me – besides I only got a “B” in Psych 101.

Then one day, I was watching my mom, who is a pharmacist, at work and I realized she taught people and solved problems all day long – and medicine is always changing, so I can be challenged that way. It was a revelation!

What sort of educational and/or training requirements did you need to fulfill in order to become a pharmacist?

You need at least 2 years of college chemistry (Including a year of Biochemistry) 2 years of biology, calculus (which to this day I wonder why), and some general ED. Then you go to pharmacy school for 3-4 years and follow that with 1 year of “rotations.” It’s about 6-8 years out of high school. It may seem like a long time, but it’s an investment in your future, and it’s worth it!

Did you have to take an exam to become certified?

Yes, state boards.

Do you need to become recertified? How do you go about getting recertified?

You need to complete at least 30 hours of continuous education every 2 years. You have to keep a record of these units for four years in case of an audit.

What do you like about your job?

Helping people to get and feel better, and solving any problems I can. I often contact their doctors for them to request changes or get clarification.

What do you dislike about your job?

Insurance billing and the pressure to do so much perfectly every minute of the day. If I make a mistake, I can severely hurt someone. I take my job very seriously!

Please describe an interesting incident you’ve experienced in your work.

I love it when I get “repeat customers” and when they stuff like, “My wife said to talk to you about….” or “Last year, you told me to get this pink stuff and it worked, where is that?”

What advice do you have for people who are thinking of becoming a pharmacist?

It is a worthy profession, but don’t do it for the money. Nothing is worth doing for the money. Do it because you love to help people.

Is there any other information you would like to share about your job?

I wish employers would realize the value and delicacy of being a pharmacist. It seems we’re just a part of the number crunch that companies are trying to take advantage of. Excellent medical care can’t be rushed.

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