Pharmacists are a mysterious breed of healthcare staff. Nobody knows quite what we do, hidden behind that dispensary counter. And to tell you the truth, sometimes pharmacists find themselves in odd situations where they wonder… ‘what on Earth am I doing?’
Working in healthcare brings with it a fair share of bizarre and peculiar moments, some perhaps more touching than others.
But let’s put the serious topics to the side for today, and focus on the weird and wonderful world of pharmacy.
1. You know the name of a tablet just by looking at it
Clopidogrel is a pinky shade.
Aspirin is small, white and marked with a large ‘75’.
Rivaroxaban is a dark maroon red.
(I swear I didn’t pick the antithrombotics on purpose…)
It’s natural, I suppose, when you work with tablets 90% of the time. You get to know them in intimate detail.
During my pre-registration year, I produced dosette boxes for our patients every Thursday morning. My hands were sore from popping pills out of their blisters. My head throbbed from listening to Little Mix’s ‘Shout Out To My Ex’ for the fifth time in one day.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s when the appearance of each and every tablet was burned into memory.
2. When you screen odd directions on prescriptions and you just roll with it
Prescriptions are usually cut and dry with their directions. Sometimes there’ll be requests and extra instructions from the prescriber (I even got a rather lovely personal ‘thank you!’ from a GP once).
But there are some label directions that have you scratching your head for a second before shrugging your shoulders and not amending the label…
3. Counselling a patient about their fungal foot infection in the middle of your lunch
Or anything else that’s worthy of putting a regular person off their meal deal sandwich.
Sadly, it can be common practice for pharmacists to have a ‘working lunch’, though they’re not by any means the only profession to do so. Working in community pharmacy means you can be at the mercy of the general public. Most patients are absolutely lovely, but you can never tell what query they’ll come into the pharmacy with.
So, while we’re more than happy to help, could you please wait to take off your socks and shoes after I’ve digested my food?
4. Trying to keep a straight face when your patient tells you he’s cut off a skin growth on his face with scissors
(Luckily, it’s a bit easier with a mask on.)
Patients can be quite resourceful about their problems before they come to us. To be honest, that’s not a bad thing. If you can solve your own problems first, that’s great! But if it leads to less-than-orthodox (or even dangerous) solutions, it might be better to contact a professional to avoid any harm to yourself.
And yes, I did tell that patient to see the GP to get that growth checked out.
And yes, I did tell him not to use the scissors again.
5. When you wake up to three different medication queries on WhatsApp from family & friends on the weekend
Again: pharmacists are always happy to help. I’ve got absolutely no issues answering queries from anyone; that’s what I’m here for.
No problem at all.
But… can I have my morning shot of caffeine first before you message me, please?
6. Opening the medication cupboard at home and feeling the tight constriction of your blood vessels
You’ve spent a long, hard day staring at the four walls of the dispensary. Your prescription checking signature has morphed from an enthusiastic initial to a simple line.
A banging headache punches at your concentration, but you muscle on through. Your polite smile starts to slip, but thankfully the time to go home has arrived.
You open up the cupboard at home for some pain relief, only to be reminded of
that one prescription
did I check it properly?
did I tell the patient about the side effects?
7. When you’re mistaken for a doctor on a hospital ward and you’re silently grateful that you never went to med school
Pharmacists aren’t required to wear a work uniform in hospitals, so it’s quite easy to be mistaken for another member of staff.
I’ve been mistaken for a doctor several times, and while that esteemed title is something I did long for in days past, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was definitely the right decision for me not to go to medical school.
I’m not cut out for the gruelling training and long hours that medics have to go through! I think I’ll stick to my dispensary and drug charts, thanks 🙂
8. Being asked ‘So what do pharmacists actually do?’ and not knowing how to answer despite being on your feet all day
It’s not that we don’t know what we do! It’s just that pharmacists do so much in one day that it can be difficult to explain the nuances of our role.
Generally speaking, pharmacists are called ‘the experts on medication’.
But what is an expert?
Someone who has a great deal of knowledge and/or experience in a particular area.
Pharmacists study every part of the journey of medications, from the discovery of new drugs to the formulation of tablets, capsules, injections and more. We then convert all this scientific knowledge into clinical practice, communicating with patients and colleagues about the how’s and why’s of a medication.
We play with both sides of the clinical coin, with our firm grounding in the pharmaceutical principles of medications mixed with our compassion and empathy for our patients.
Alright, that doesn’t really answer the question, does it?
9. When you think you’ve seen it all in the dispensary until you come across ‘Maggot Therapy’
Most prescriptions follow a standard protocol. You’ve seen them once, you’ve seen them a thousand times before.
Bisoprolol 2.5mg OD
Candesartan 4mg OD
Atorvastatin 40mg ON
… I could go on.
If you choose a clinical speciality, even the specialised prescriptions will become quite standard to you; it’s all about practice and experience.
But even the most experienced pharmacist will come across something that makes them stop and think… ‘what?!’
10. You’ve definitely been referred to as a ‘drug dealer’ more than once
Yes, this was the cake I had after I’d passed my pre-reg. Cakes are fine, however, because they’re cakes.
To be honest, you’ve probably called yourself that at one point. It’s funny the first few times, and after a while you learn to resist the urge to roll your eyes.
But why is it whenever you’re asked what you do for a living in a social gathering, there’s always that one guy who cracks that oft-repeated joke, and adds:
‘Oh, so can you get some drugs for free for me?’
No, Brian. I can’t.
11. Spending half the time at work daydreaming about what you’d do instead of pharmacy… and never really coming to a conclusion
I spent a long time struggling to even want to be a pharmacist.
This started from university: I enjoyed my course and loved to learn about physiology and therapeutics, but there was always something niggling in the corner of my mind. I just felt like it wasn’t enough.
When I started practising, I found some parts of the job tougher than others, and some parts mind-numbing. I also found joy in the interactions with lovely patients and colleagues and knowing that my simple assistance made a difference to someone’s day.
But it just wasn’t me.
Now, I’ve found a home in writing. I look forward to the work that needs to be done each day (well, most days!). I’ve always loved science, so being able to write about it with freedom and creativity is extremely fulfilling.
I don’t regret studying pharmacy, not one bit. But I also appreciate that life can go in many directions, and you can wear as many hats as you’d like.
You don’t need to let go of one part of your life in order to enjoy another.