Pharmacy – More than Meets the EyeMore in this issue
One profession, one white coat, but myriad tracks and responsibilities.
The pharmacy profession is deeply entrenched in the life sciences as it involves the application of science, practice and art. It provides countless career pathways with a variety of engaging responsibilities.
Pharmacists have great flexibility in career tracks and can apply their skills and abilities in different settings such as a community, hospitals and health systems, clinical specialties, the pharmaceutical industry, academia, regulatory affairs and public policy. As public health professionals, they also play a major role in preventing disease and promoting health and wellness. It has been said that “pharmacists wear white coats and many hats,”1 which is absolutely true.
Community pharmacists are the easily accessible, frontline health professionals who hold greater value than it seems on the surface. They attend to the needs and care of outpatients, and independent community pharmacists typically follow their own practice management and business operation styles.
While pharmacies provide the needed supply of medications, community pharmacists compound and dispense medications, review the adequacy of prescriptions, provide drug information and medication-use advice. They also advise patients and clients on over-the-counter medications, supplements and self-care, and offer select health screenings and risk assessments for diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, tobacco use and smoking cessation.
Their interaction with physicians is therefore essential in order to ensure the accuracy of prescriptions and safety of medication therapies.
Hospital and health system pharmacists work in the inpatient settings of hospital pharmacies and health systems. They have a wide set of responsibilities that are mostly unknown to the outside world. They ensure the acquisition and timely supply of medications used throughout the hospital for all types of patient populations and clinical conditions, and ascertain that the right medication is safely and properly administered to the individual patient at the right time.
They also screen for drug allergies, drug interactions and incompatibilities, and oversee the preparation and dispensing of sterile, injectable and intravenous medications. They coordinate with physicians and nurses to ensure safe and cost-effective medication therapy. These pharmacists can be under great pressure, especially when dealing with emergencies and complicated patient cases.
Clinical pharmacy specialists work directly with patients and healthcare professionals as part of the interprofessional team. They determine whether medication therapies are appropriate, effective, safe, and improve health outcomes. Clinical pharmacists typically undergo intensive postgraduate residency trainings and develop specialized knowledge to address specific disease management and appropriate medication use in areas such as oncology, infectious disease, neurology, psychiatry, nutrition support, transplants, critical care, home care, and drug information, to name a few.
Industrial pharmacists work with the pharmaceutical industry and can assume various roles and responsibilities such as research and development, drug product development, quality control, sales and marketing, clinical trials, medical science liaison, drug information, regulatory and scientific affairs, and administration.
Academic pharmacists hold school faculty positions and engage in students’ teaching and learning. This mostly includes a practice component and clinical research, as part of clinical, social and administrative sciences or the pharmaceutical sciences.
Regulatory affairs pharmacists work with the guidelines and regulations in clinical trials and the protection of human subjects who participate in the studies. Public policy pharmacists engage in population-based analyses and help define how laws and regulations affect patients. These pharmacists can also be part of governmental agencies engaged in reviewing new drug applications, research, clinical, policymaking and administrative roles.
So, is pharmacy right for you? If you enjoy science, have an interest in drug development and clinical drug effects, care about patients’ health and possess people skills, then it may very well be.
What might the future hold for pharmacy? With the aging population, fast pace of new and innovative drug discoveries, complexity of medication therapies and increase in healthcare costs, there is a growing demand for prescription medications and pharmacy services to optimize patient outcomes and provide cost-effective medication therapies. Furthermore, as machines are taking over dispensing, and with the fast development of eHealth technology and e-commerce, pharmacists must rapidly transform themselves from the product (i.e. medication) to deliver more patient-focused services. They should also seek legislation for a “provider status” to be able to bill directly for their patient care services.
Moreover, pharmacists need to be on the cutting edge of preventive and precision medicine (drug treatment of patients based on genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors). They should seize the opportunity to prove their absolute worth in chronic disease management where interprofessional coordination and team-based care are of utmost necessity to improve patient care and quality of life and reduce healthcare costs.
Up until now, pharmacists remain under-appreciated and under-utilized healthcare resources. Pharmacists’ advanced and multidimensional skills in all practice settings have much added value in the anticipated upcoming transformational changes of healthcare delivery systems.
So, can one even imagine people getting the best results of their medications where a pharmacist does not exist?
Dr. Imad F. Btaiche is Professor and Dean of the School of Pharmacy at LAU and Chair of LAU’s Interprofessional Education Program (IPE).