WRITTEN BY MADISON SCHMIDT AND DR. SWATHI
In honor of American Pharmacists Month, this article will cover the basics on the role pharmacists play as health care professionals and the role they play in your health!
What degree does a pharmacist have?
In the United States, you must receive a Doctorate of Pharmacy (PharmD) in order to practice as a pharmacist. However, there was a time when graduating with a PharmD was not required. On July 1, 2000, those enrolling into pharmacy schools had the option to enroll in either a PharmD or Bachelor of Pharmacy degree (BPharm) program, depending on the school. After this date however, the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) made the standard accredited degree for pharmacy practice the PharmD. Since most practicing pharmacist to this date do have their doctorate degree, technically, your pharmacist is also a doctor (1,2,3)!
What does a pharmacist learn in school?
As you may expect, a PharmD program teaches future pharmacists the in’s and out’s about medications, but there is much more to their curriculum. As a pharmacy student myself, I could go on about this month, but I will stick to the basics for now. Pharmacy school curriculums, in part, include teaching students:
- Appropriate prescribing practices by reviewing clinical guidelines that prescribers use to diagnose and treat. This allows pharmacists to confidently review medication orders submitted by prescribers to ensure efficacy and safety to patients.
- Skills such as medication reconciliations and counseling.
- How to administer vaccinations and the appropriate immunization schedules.
- Pharmacokinetics (PK), or in other words, how drugs move within our bodies. The pneumonic used in PK is ADME- absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion.
- Pharmacodynamics (PD), or what medications do to our bodies. The focus here is on the mechanism of action of drugs.
- How to compound medications such as capsules, ointments, and intravenous (IV) medications.
- Medicinal chemistry, or how the chemical structure of drugs play a role chemically in the body.
- How to review and interpret medical literature to establish its significance.
- Interactions between drugs and drugs, drugs and food, and drugs with certain disease states.
- So much more!
Where do pharmacists work?
Examples of community pharmacists are the pharmacist at your local pharmacy such as Walgreens or CVS. These pharmacists are in charge of prescription verification, product review, counseling, vaccinations and much more. One of the more notable responsibilities of a community pharmacist is making sure medications coming from multiple prescribers for one patient do not interact, as pharmacists are usually the only health care professional who know all of the medications patients are taking (4).
Hospital pharmacists verify and product check similarly to community pharmacists but the products they verify may include acute medication orders such as intravenous (IV) formulations. Many times pharmacists will be responsible for compounding and dosing medications too! Hospital pharmacists also can participate in medication reconciliations where they will review patients’ home medications before admission and compare them to their discharge medications to ensure there are no concerns such as interactions (4).
There can be varying specialties within a hospital as well such as a clinical pharmacist, transplant pharmacist, cardiac pharmacist, etc. There pharmacists usually participate in daily rounds with the medical team to track patients’ daily progress and make medication recommendations.
Ambulatory Care Pharmacist
Ambulatory care pharmacists work in a doctor’s office where they provide direct patient care on long term disease management medications such as diabetes and hypertension. This could include patient interviews and physical assessments. Pharmacists who practice ambulatory care usually have what’s called a Collaborative Practice Agreement (CPA) with the physician they work with which allows them to also make medication adjustments (4).
Integrative Health Pharmacist
As integrative health continues to emerge, so do integrative pharmacists! Integrative health refers to looking at a person as a whole including mind, body, and spirit. Integrative health pharmacists apply their knowledge on integrative health to conventional medicine to obtain optimal health outcomes for patients while maintaining safety and efficacy of their medications (4,5).
What is a Pharmacist's Role in the COVID-19 Pandemic?
In the light of uncertainty throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of studies have been published exploring potential drug therapies for treating COVID-19 and related symptoms. Hospitals are constantly scrambling for the best options to treat patients, but how are the best therapies decided upon? The answer is by interpreting primary literature which pharmacists are trained to do! Throughout the pandemic, pharmacists have played a huge role in breaking down the research studies to find what medications have the best evidence to date for treating COVID-19.
Another huge role that pharmacists have played throughout the pandemic relates to vaccinations. Pharmacists are trained immunizers and have been called to attend mass vaccination clinics and administer vaccines in their pharmacies to limit the spread of COVID-19. In addition to administering vaccines, pharmacists also play a role in educating patients on the vaccine itself and the authorization process. If you have any questions or concerns about the pandemic or the vaccine don’t hesitate to ask your pharmacist, they would be happy to help (6)!
- Supapaan T, Low BY, Wongpoowarak P, et al. A transition from the BPharm to the PharmD degree in five selected countries. Pharm Pract (Granada). 2019 Jul-Sep; 17(3): 1611.
- Council on Credentialing in Pharmacy. Credentialing in pharmacy. The Council on Credentialing in Pharmacy. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2001 Jan 1;58(1):69-76.
- Bright DR, Adams AJ, Black CD, Powers MF. The mandatory residency dilemma: parallels to historical transitions in pharmacy education. Ann Pharmacother. 2010 Nov;44(11):1793-9.
- American Society of Health System Pharmacists. Careers in Health System Pharmacy. https://www.ashp.org/pharmacy-student/careers-in-health-system-pharmacy/explore-careers. Accessed September 5, 2021.
- Witt C. A new definition of integrative health. Institute for Integrative Health. 2017 March 20. https://tiih.org/who/blog/new-definition-integrative-health/. Accessed September 5, 2021.
This article was edited by Dr. Swathi and was written by Element Apothec Scientific Communications Intern, Madison Schmidt. She is a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Pharmacy in Edwardsville, Illinois.