How does society perceive pharmacy? How do pharmacists, in fact, perceive pharmacy?
Long before I started pharmacy school, and made a choice to be a pharmacist, I was oblivious to how diverse and versatile the profession is. However, over the years I have been in awe of the various opportunities that are available to a person that holds a pharmacy degree.
In our society, the pharmacist may easily be perceived as a dispenser or ‘counter’ of pills. Some people cannot even understand why pharmacists have to spend so long in training only to finish school to ‘count pills’. But, that is not the case, as most pharmacists would know. Even at the basic level, beyond just counting pills, we know how much mental (and physical work in fact) goes into assessing a prescription, checking for medication errors, possible drug interactions, availability of medicines on the prescriptions among other things.
A common scenario of the public’s ignorance of the pharmacist’s key role in providing safe medication can be found in any busy out-patient pharmacy department or retail pharmacy. Patients expect to drop their prescriptions and receive their medicines instantly, pretty much like a vending machine, eh? They might even grumble and scream and ask why ‘simple’ prescription filling is taking so long. Some might even take it a notch higher and refer to the pharmacist as ‘nurse’ (Now I have nothing against nurses. My only problem is why can’t some people identify a pharmacist? Topic for another day.)
Before you find yourself confused, I would like to let you know the many opportunities available to pharmacists apart from the traditional and more commonly known aspects of community pharmacy, hospital pharmacy, and manufacturing;
- Clinical pharmacy: Clinical pharmacy has a special place in my heart. You may find it on this list and think ‘What! Is that not the same thing as hospital pharmacy?’ Nope, it isn’t. While every hospital would have a pharmacy department (ideally), it is important to know there is a distinction between providing hospital pharmacy services (in form of dispensing, inventory control and medicines information), and clinical pharmacy services, which can span (in addition to basic hospital pharmacy duties) providing dedicated one-on-one counselling to patients, attending ward rounds and intervening in a patient’s care in collaboration with other healthcare professionals, developing clinical pharmacy services (medication reconciliation, discharge counselling, and in developed countries, pharmacist-led clinics), and specializing in specific clinical areas.
Also, clinical pharmacists do not have to practice only in hospitals. They also undergo specialized postgraduate training in clinical pharmacy or undergo residency training in specialist clinical areas. They are an invaluable resource to any healthcare team
- Clinical research: Pharmacists are very well placed to be researchers whether in the academic or practice setting. We always have to remember we are scientists :). And while getting a doctoral research degree will arm one with the skills and experience to carry out innovative research, you don’t necessarily need a PhD to make use of data (which is also available, but not actually collected and made meaningful use of) and carry out research in an area that interests you.
It is very important to carry out research in order to be able to advance practice, and provide evidence to policymakers and government about how important pharmacists are!
- Medical writing and editing: A career in medical writing and editing is exciting. Remember all those hours spent writing and re-writing lab reports and typing up your research project (which hopefully I hope you did by yourself. Just kidding. Errm not really :D). Well, the good news is you can put all this to use and build a career in medical writing if you have an interest. Something as basic as starting a medical blog, writing for health magazines or editing posts, are a good way to start. However, it gets even more exciting. Armed with a masters degree or PhD you will have a competitive advantage of getting roles in medical communications and creating original content in form of research reports, clinical trial protocols, editing of journal articles, textbooks and manuscripts. This area can be very lucrative too depending on how much work you are able to take on and your skill.
- Public health: We cannot deny the key role pharmacists play in public health. Community pharmacists are especially well placed to promote public health as they are in the closest proximity to patients. Taking a few pointers from Carmen Peña’s opening speech at the opening ceremony of the 77th World Congress of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, pharmacists as public health personnel can act as providers of information to their community on health-related topics. They can develop disease prevention and control programmes, provide health education, carry out public health research, and play their role in acting for the good health of women and children.
- Elderly care: This is an untapped area in Nigeria. Quite frankly a great factor in its underdevelopment would be our culture of caring for our old by ourselves in our own homes. Amazing culture! We don’t have many elderly care homes that employ a large number of health workers to care for the elderly. Although this is starting to change a bit, especially with startups dedicated to providing elderly care in clients’ homes. In developed countries with such institutions, some clinical pharmacists specialize in elderly care and provide medication therapy management services to elderly people in care homes. We know how important a group the elderly are, and how commonly they are on several medications for different co-morbidities. So, you can only imagine the invaluable care a pharmacist will provide in this setting.
- Medicines information services: At a national level, medicines information services are practically non-existent in Nigeria. There are a few hospitals that have functioning medicines information centres (commonly referred to as DICs-Drug information centres). As medication experts, pharmacists are well placed to provide medicines information to the public, and other healthcare professionals. We need to roll-out institutional, regional and national medicines information centres, fully equipped with research tools, libraries, and skilled personnel.
- Health information technology: As the profession of pharmacy evolves, and health care on a large scale continues to grow rapidly, so are the tools we use to make our work efficient. This can cut across developing electronic patient records (with seamless linkage to electronic medication records and electronic medicines administration charts), the development of clinical decision support systems (CDSS) or developing software used in tracking patient information and health indices that make collecting data for research easier. It could also involve the development of devices that aid medicines adherence or make it easier to communicate with patients. If you feel like you are more suited for a career in developing technology tools and software that will revolutionize pharmacy practice and healthcare in general, then a career in this sector may be for you.
So, if you have been confused about what next steps to take in your pharmacy journey, or you are trying to make a case to somebody about how awesome and brilliant pharmacists are, you can just share this post with them 🙂
Are there any other innovative areas pharmacists can get involved in that I have left out? Or do you have any questions? Please, kindly let me know in the comments section. Let’s discuss!