Pharmacists are allied health professionals who practice in pharmacy, the field of health sciences focusing on safe and effective medication use. The role of the pharmacist has shifted from the classical “lick, stick, and pour” dispensary role (that is, “lick & stick the labels, count & pour the pills”), to being an integrated member of the health care team directly involved in patient care. Pharmacists undergo university-level education to understand biochemical mechanisms of action of drugs, drug uses and therapeutic roles, side effects, potential interactions, and monitoring parameters. This is mated to education in anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology. Professional interpretation and communication of this specialized knowledge to patients, physicians, and other health care providers are functions which pharmacists provide, and are central to the provision of safe and effective drug therapy.
In many countries, pharmacists must hold the title of Doctor of Pharmacy in order to exercise their profession.
The most common pharmacist positions are that of a community pharmacist (also referred to as “retail pharmacist” or “dispensing chemist“), or a hospital pharmacist, where they instruct and counsel on the proper use and adverse effects of medically prescribed drugs and medicines. In most countries, the profession is subject to professional regulation. Depending on the legal scope of practice, pharmacists may contribute to prescribing (also referred to as “pharmacist prescriber”) and administering certain medications (e.g. immunizations in some jurisdictions). Pharmacists may also practice in a variety of other settings, including industry, research, academia, military, and government.
Nature of the work
Historically, the fundamental role of pharmacists as a healthcare practitioner was to distribute drugs to doctors for medication that had been prescribed to patients. In more modern times, pharmacists advise patients and health care providers on the selection, dosages, interactions, and side effects of medications, and act as a learned intermediarybetween a prescriber and a patient. Pharmacists monitor the health and progress of patients to ensure the safe and effective use of medication. Pharmacists may practice compounding; however, many medicines are now produced by pharmaceutical companies in a standard dosage and drug delivery form. In some jurisdictions, pharmacists haveprescriptive authority to either independently prescribe under their own authority or in collaboration with a primary care physician through an agreed upon protocol.
Increased numbers of drug therapies, ageing but more knowledgeable and demanding populations, and deficiencies in other areas of the health care system seem to be driving increased demand for the clinical counselling skills of the pharmacist. One of the most important roles that pharmacists are currently taking on is one of pharmaceutical care. Pharmaceutical care involves taking direct responsibility for patients and their disease states, medications, and the management of each in order to improve the outcome for each individual patient. Pharmaceutical care has many benefits that may include but are not limited to: decreased medication errors; increased patient compliance in medication regimen; better chronic disease state management; strong pharmacist-patient relationship; and decreased long-term costs of medical care.
Pharmacists are often the first point-of-contact for patients with health inquiries. This means that pharmacists have large roles in the assessing medication management in patients, and in referring patients to physicians. These roles may include, but are not limited to:
Education and credentialing
The role of pharmacy education, pharmacist licensing, and continuing education vary from country to country and between regions/localities within countries. In most countries, pharmacists must obtain a university degree at apharmacy school or related institution, and/or satisfy other national/local credentialing requirements. In many contexts, students are required to first complete pre-professional (undergraduate) coursework followed by about four years of professional academic studies in order to obtain a degree in pharmacy (e.g. PharmD). Pharmacists are educated in pharmacology, pharmacognosy, chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry,microbiology, pharmacy practice (including drug interactions, medicine monitoring, medication management),pharmaceutics, pharmacy law, physiology, anatomy, pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, drug delivery, pharmaceutical care, nephrology, hepatology, and compounding of medications. Additional curriculum may cover diagnosis with emphasis on laboratory tests, disease state management, therapeutics and prescribing (selecting the most appropriate medication for a given patient).
Upon graduation, pharmacists are licensed either nationally or by region to dispense medication of various types in the settings for which they have been trained. Some may undergo further specialized training, such as in cardiology or oncology.