What Do Pharmacists Do? (Explained by 5 Licensed Pharmacists)

We asked experts to describe some of the fundamental roles of being a licensed pharmacist.

Jerrica Dodd, PharmD, MS

Jerrica L. Dodd

Founder & CEO, Your Pharmacy Advocate

Train extensively on medications and supplements

Pharmacists are a critical component of the health care team in the hospital, the community, and various other settings.

Pharmacists train extensively on medications and supplements and are sought out for the medication knowledge by other healthcare practitioners as well as patients.

Things a pharmacist can do that many are not aware:

  1. Read and interpret genetic test results to help assist with drug therapy selection (pharmacogenomics)
  2. Read and interpret genetic test results to help assist with food and nutrient selection to support patient health (nutrigenomics)
  3. Assist patients with smoking cessation
  4. Assist patients with preparing for international travel (vaccines, meds, etc)
  5. Assist with patient diets as they relate to medication management
  6. Assist with deprescribing medications (helping patients reduce the number of medications they are taking)

Pharmacist generally provides these functions/activities when taking care of patients and reviewing their medications:

  • Drug-drug interactions
  • Drug-supplement interactions
  • Drug-food interactions
  • Drug/supplement dose review: appropriateness for reported diagnoses, age, co-existing conditions-one condition causing the other (i.e. anxiety & insomnia), etc
  • Nutrient depletion
  • Lab results review
  • Medication list review for adherence, compliance, understanding
  • Medical History review as relates to the medication list
  • Medication reconciliation
  • General recommendations to support patient specific compliance and adherence to medication regimen
  • General lifestyle modification suggestions to support overall improved health
  • Support in helping patients know specific questions to ask their healthcare practitioners regarding their medications and health
  • Advice in preparation from a medication perspective for physician’s visits and/or procedures
  • Communication electronically (or verbally if needed) with the patient’s healthcare practitioner regarding patient action plan or medication suggestions of dosing, interactions, etc.
  • Suggestion of non-prescription recommendations (if applicable) that may support a patient’s specific health
  • Answer patient/caregiver initiated questions regarding medications, supplements, side effects, and interaction

Scott McDougall (MPharm)

Scott McDougall

Co-founder and Registered Manager of The Independent Pharmacy

As an online pharmacist, I’m often asked the difference between what I do and what your everyday drugstore pharmacist does. The truth is, there’s very little difference at all.

We fill out prescriptions, provide advice on healthcare, and help patients find the right treatment

The only real difference is that, for me, all of the above is completed online. Rather than having to speak to a pharmacist face-to-face, my patients complete a short online health assessment.

This involves questions about your current state of health, medical history, and anything else that will help us assess your query and find the right treatment for you. It’s no different to the conversation you’d have with your doctor, and of course, it’s all 100% confidential.

This online questionnaire helps me address my patients’ needs so they receive accurate, safe advice and can make an informed decision about their health.

This is in contrast to potentially dangerous illegitimate prescribing sites. They often won’t ask you to fill out an online healthcare assessment, or will only provide a cursory questionnaire that barely gets to the root of the problem.

A good online pharmacy puts their patients first, keeping them safe and informed throughout the process.

Danielle Plummer, PharmD

Danielle Plummer

Doctor of Pharmacy | Pharmacist Consultant at HGPharmacist

Immunizations, medication reconciliation, and insurance resolution

In the public eye, a pharmacist is a person in the white coat behind the retail counter. Both my father and grandfather were retail pharmacists and embodied the image of the friendly, knowledgeable pharmacist, compounding, dispensing and counseling on medications.

The role of the retail pharmacist has now expanded to include immunizations, medication reconciliation, and insurance resolution.

Another branch of retail pharmacy includes specialty medication, which entails extremely high-priced medication and often difficult to treat disease states. Retail pharmacists also do community outreach services including immunization clinics and blood pressure testing for local organizations.

What most people do not know is that the profession of pharmacy vastly expands beyond the retail role. Pharmacists work in a variety of settings including hospitals, long term care facilities, ambulatory care centers, infusion centers, home health, coumadin clinics, and military treatment facilities.

Within hospital systems, pharmacists can either be centralized as inpatient pharmacists verifying orders and ensuring the medications are made correctly or decentralized clinical pharmacists in areas of care including the emergency room, intensive care unit, oncology wards, and even transplant centers, among others.

These pharmacists work with interdisciplinary teams which include medical doctors, nurses, registered dieticians, respiratory therapists, and cases managers/social workers. Still, other pharmacists work directly in doctor’s offices doing chronic care management, including medication therapy management.

Pharmacist’s specialties include geriatrics, pediatrics, oncology, infectious disease (including HIV), addiction treatment and pharmacogenetics. As the traditional payment model is changing, with insurance companies and Pharmacy Benefit Management Companies (PBMs) reimbursing less and less, other opportunities are opening including consulting and concierge services.

Pharmapreneurs” the new word for a growing number of entrepreneur pharmacists is part of the ever-changing role of a pharmacist which now includes neutrogenics, epigenics, pharmacogenetics, and functional medicine, while other pharmacists are focusing on disease states like thyroid or autoimmune disorders.

Studies have shown that medication errors and adverse effects are the #4 leading cause of death in the US. With the general population on more medications than ever before in history (called polypharmacy) and patients seeing multiple doctors while in and out of hospitals, it is extremely important to have a pharmacist be an integral part of every medical team.

Some say that pharmacists are the unsung heroes of healthcare. After a close friend was in the hospital and found out I was the pharmacist who verified his doctor’s medication orders, he said that I was the guardian angel looking over his shoulder.

Jason Reed, PharmD

Jason Reed

Doctor of Pharmacy | Author, “Prescription for Maximum Savings

Guiding the development of technology products

Pharmacists can wear many different hats. Most people would think that they work in a drug store on the corner and the main choice is between a major chain or a small independent.

Thankfully, that is not the only practice settings available. I took a non-traditional route by getting into health information technology. I use my clinical expertise in a business role to guide the development of technology products. These products include things such as e-Prescribing, eligibility, formulary and benefit, electronic prior authorization and real-time benefit check.

All of these allow a prescriber to have a real-time look at the benefits and pharmacy information that is specific to the patient in the exam room while they are in the visit.

These prevent unwanted problems for the patient when they arrive a the pharmacy to get the prescription. In addition to building these products for my company, I have become involved in standards organizations like X12, NCPDP, and HL-7 that facilitate the electronic exchange of health information.

I have also moonlighted as a staff pharmacist in an inpatient pharmacy setting for over 10 years. In this role, I verify orders in an electronic medical record system. In addition to dosing antibiotics, preparing intravenous therapy, chemotherapy, and total parenteral nutrition.

There are numerous other clinical interventions that pharmacists make on the inpatient side to prevent drug interactions or dosing errors.

Christina Habib

Licensed Pharmacist, Community Choice Pharmacy

Ensuring safe and proper medication

As a Pharmacist, it’s my obligation to ensure the proper medication prescribed to each person is indeed a safe and correct script to assist their condition.

My passion for pharmacy goes beyond the importance of guidance and compliance, I believe in bringing a level of compassion outside the typical Pharmacist and Patient relationship is paramount for enhanced communication and well-being. One key aspect is to really have the ability to listen, not only regarding the condition but the concerns and stresses that I am able to assist with.

My favorite thing to do as a pharmacist is to make things simple for my patients so that they are relieved when they leave as they know they will get better.

This allows the opportunity for each individual to feel more at ease and better understand the best way to get better faster. Having the ability to bring simplicity to the Pharmacist’s role delivers a level of compassion in which helps all patients communicate much easier.

As a pharmacist, I help my patient feel less anxious when they come in with serious illnesses and have a lot of questions. I try to reassure them that I am always here for them.

Understanding that as Pharmacists, we have the ability to build a regimented plan for their medications and how best to use them is key to a fast recovery and sustainability. Giving the patient the ability to disarm their worries is crucial for a more compassionate delivery.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How has the role of pharmacists evolved over time?

The role of pharmacists has changed significantly over time. In the past, pharmacists primarily dispensed medications and gave basic advice on their use.

Today, however, pharmacists are much more involved in patient care. They play an important role in managing chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. In addition, many pharmacists now offer immunizations and perform health screenings.

What are the different types of pharmacists?

There are different types of pharmacists, each with its own specialized area of practice. Some common types of pharmacists include:

Retail pharmacists: Retail pharmacists work in chain drug stores or independent pharmacies and dispense medications to patients. They also provide medication counseling and may manage medication therapy for patients.

Hospital pharmacists: Hospital pharmacists work in hospitals and collaborate with physicians and other healthcare providers to ensure that medications are used safely and effectively in a hospital setting. They may also provide medication counseling and manage medication therapy for patients.

Clinical pharmacists: Clinical pharmacists work in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities.

They provide medication therapy management, collaborate with other healthcare providers, and may specialize in a particular area, such as geriatric pharmacy or oncology pharmacy.

Ambulatory care pharmacists: They work in outpatient settings such as clinics or community health centers, providing medication therapy management to patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes or hypertension.

Nuclear pharmacists: Nuclear pharmacists specialize in preparing and using radioactive drugs for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, such as nuclear imaging or cancer treatment.

Industrial pharmacists: Industrial pharmacists work in pharmaceutical companies or other healthcare industries and may be involved in drug development, clinical trials, or drug safety monitoring.

Government pharmacists: Government pharmacists work for federal or state agencies such as the FDA or CDC and may be involved in drug regulation, drug safety monitoring, or public health initiatives.

Do all pharmacies offer the same services?

No, not all pharmacies offer the same services. Some pharmacies provide additional services, such as compounding medications or specialized care for chronic disease patients.

Also, different pharmacies may participate in various insurance plans or offer different pricing structures. It’s important to choose a pharmacy that meets your specific needs and preferences.

What skills and attributes are essential for pharmacists?

Pharmacists must have good communication skills to effectively counsel patients and collaborate with other healthcare providers. Other important skills and qualities for pharmacists include:

Attention to detail: Pharmacists must be accurate when filling prescriptions and managing medication therapy.

Critical thinking: Pharmacists must be able to analyze information to make appropriate recommendations for medication changes or adjustments.

Empathy: Pharmacists must be able to understand and empathize with their patients’ needs.

Integrity: Pharmacists must adhere to ethical standards and maintain patient confidentiality.

Technical skills: Pharmacists must be knowledgeable about pharmaceuticals and medication therapy management and thoroughly understand the regulatory and legal requirements related to their practice.

What are the most common misconceptions about pharmacists?

There are several common misconceptions about pharmacists, including:

Pharmacists only count pills and fill prescriptions: While dispensing medications is an integral part of pharmacists’ jobs, they also provide medication counseling, manage medication therapy, and collaborate with other health care providers.

Pharmacists are not real healthcare providers: Pharmacists are licensed healthcare professionals who undergo extensive education and training to manage drug therapy and improve patient outcomes.

Pharmacists are not accessible: Many pharmacies have extended hours, including evenings and weekends, to provide convenient access to medications and medication counseling.

Pharmacists are not knowledgeable about alternative medicine: Pharmacists are knowledgeable about alternative medicine and can provide advice on the safe use of supplements and other alternative therapies.

All pharmacies are the same: Pharmacies may differ in the services they offer, such as medication synchronization programs, medication therapy management, and home delivery services. It is vital to choose a pharmacy that meets your specific needs.

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