Pharmacists’ job description expands

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Jim checks Debbie’s bone density to see if she has signs of osteoporosis, he gives Chris his immunizations, he gives John a flu shot, and he informs Gene about diabetes prevention.  Jim is not a doctor, but rather a pharmacist at a local drug store.

Being a pharmacist is a job that has more meaning to it than just sitting behind the counter and filling bottles with pills.  For many patients, their local pharmacist plays an important role in providing them the care they need.

The pharmacist profession started out as a small business in every small community.  The pharmacist owned their own pharmacy; they knew everyone in town, provided medication, advice for treatment and they worked alongside the local physician.  The profession was very community based, and as services expanded it has grown to larger community corporations like Walgreen’s and Rite Aid.

“In the process our profession kind of got caught in all the hustle and bustle of big corporations getting engaged in that relationship between the pharmacist caring for the patient,” said Director of Pharmacy Susan Stein.

Today, patients can go to their local pharmacy to get their immunizations and Stein said this is a great example of profession re-engaging with the idea that the patient comes first.  Pharmacists are also able to check blood pressure, cholesterol and hepatitis screenings.  Stein added that if a patient is diagnosed with something like diabetes the pharmacist’s role should be to educate the patient of all the part of what it’s like to be diabetic. The patient should be educated on how other influences such as diet and exercise can make their medication more effective.

There are a variety of self-care evaluation tools for patients, which can be viewed as preventative medicine, that pharmacists have the ability to use in Oregon.  Stein said each state determines what practices are allowed and varies depending on the relationship the pharmacist and the community have with each other, with other health professions and with legislators about what happens in particular states.

One big change Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Jennifer Jordan said she has seen is collaborative practice agreements with physicians.  Pharmacists are being seen working in physicians’ offices, where they have prescribing privileges and the ability to adjust a patient’s medication.  The role has also expanded in hospitals to consultations with physicians about whether or not the patients the right medication and dose.

“You see us on the forefront as far as adapting to some of the changes in overall medication management,” said Jordan.

Jordan also said that a lot of students only think they can only practice in a community setting like Rite Aid or at a hospital. There are more than 100 responsibilities one can hold with a pharmacy degree that most students are not aware of when they enter the program.

The School of Pharmacy has a speaker series where they bring in people that have careers off the beaten path.  Some of the speakers have been from nuclear or research pharmacy, managed care organizations and talk about business skill in owning a pharmacy.

“It’s a great way to connect the students with pharmacists in the community and expose them do different career paths,” said Jordan.

Stein said the Pharmacy program is designed very hands on, they do a lot of cases, activities such as learning how to give immunizations.

Jordan, who runs a flu clinic, said, “Being able to vaccinate really brought the public perception of pharmacists to the spotlight.  There are a lot of wonderful things that we can do.”

“We don’t spend a lot of time talking at students, we discuss with students.  If we can get the student that’s very competent by the time they get into the clinical setting, they should excel in the clinical setting,” said Stein.  “When they go out and look for jobs, they can continue to advance practice to be much more involved in the medical home and the medical team.   We’re creating skill sets that can transform our profession.”


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