Pharmacist Day – More Than Just A ‘Medication Dispenser’

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Did you know that January 12th is observed annually as Pharmacist Day? Most people aren’t even aware there is such a day. However, pharmacists play an important role in our lives as we all get sick from time to time and they are the ones we run to for our medicines and pills. However, this is only one aspect of their jobs.

We spoke to Patricia Robinson, a lecturer at the School of Pharmacy at the University of Technology, Jamaica, to find out more. Read our interview below:

How did you become interested in the field of pharmacology? Please share a little about your journey.

First, it is important to note that pharmacy and pharmacology are not the same. Pharmacology refers to the branch of medicine concerned with the uses, effects, and modes of action of drugs. While some persons may complete a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in the discipline, pharmacology is one of several professional subjects that we study as pharmacists.

I became interested in the field of Pharmacy due to my love for chemistry and my love of people. I wanted to work in the medical field, while having close interactions with people. Pharmacy gave me this opportunity. Ultimately, pharmacy has proven to be a good career choice. I have had the opportunity to work in various branches of the pharmaceutical industry- retail, hospital, manufacturing, sales and now academia. I have no regrets.

Many people just think of pharmacists as the people who dispense their medications. What are some of the main functions/duties of a pharmacist?

As pharmacists, we consider ourselves to be drug experts. We have to ensure that prescriptions are dispensed accurately and that the appropriate drug is given to each patient. Further, we ensure that patients take their medications correctly; this involves advising the patient not to take any drug, food or other substance that may interact with the medication or otherwise prevent the desired result of the prescribed medication. Additionally, pharmacists are required to ensure that medications are stored in the correct conditions to guarantee efficacy.

Pharmacists can provide patients with advice on non-prescription drugs and are often consulted by other health care professional such as doctors and nurses who may require information about pharmaceutical products.

At times, it is necessary for pharmacists to compound medications such as ointments, creams and oral medications that are not readily available commercially in the desired dose or form. These are known as extemporaneous preparations.

Another aspect of the profession, pharmacists are required to source medical supplies. While some drugs are not hard to source, at times medications can be difficult to obtain. The pharmacist may therefore need to contact various stakeholders in order to obtain these vital medications. It is important to point out that the difficulty may be beyond the control of the pharmacist due to shortages from the manufacturers/suppliers. Pharmacists work collaboratively with the Ministry of Health to guarantee that the appropriate drugs are imported into Jamaica.

What are the difference between a pharmacist and a pharmacy technician?

 The differences between the two are as follows:

Pharmacy technicians work under the direct supervision of a Registered Pharmacist and assist in carrying out everyday functions, thereby enabling the pharmacist to perform other aspects of his/her job including counseling patients and more technical functions of the profession.

Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians receive different training, as pharmacists are trained for a longer period of time and are capable of carrying out more functions than technicians. In specific, pharmacists trained at UTech undergo 4 years of training and a year of internship. Upon graduation, they receive a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree, and then must also pass an exam administered by the Pharmacy Council of Jamaica to be registered as pharmacists. Pharmacy technicians trained at UTech undergo 3 semesters of training and one semester of clerkship, receiving a Pharmacy Technician Certificate upon completion.

Pharmacists are required to remain current with new developments in the field by completing 12 hours of Continued Education annually as approved by the Pharmacy Council of Jamaica. Pharmacy Technicians are not registered by the Pharmacy Council, and do not have to complete this requirement.

How many students graduate from UTech’s School of Pharmacy each year? 

I graduated in the 1980’s, and at that time approximately 30 pharmacists were trained each year. Since then the number of graduates has increased due to a growing demand for the services of pharmacists. Between 2009 and 2011, approximately 67 pharmacy students graduated annually from the School of Pharmacy at UTech. Last graduation in November 2015, 108 pharmacy students and 14 pharmacy technician students graduated.

What is the employment/career landscape like for a pharmacist/pharmacy technician in Jamaica?

There are many opportunities available for pharmacists in Jamaica. These include:

  • Retail Pharmacists/ Retail Pharmacy Technicians.
  • Pharmacy owners
  • Hospital Pharmacist/ Hospital Pharmacy Technicians.
  • Clinical Pharmacist
  • Academia (teaching)
  • Distribution Pharmacist/ Distribution Pharmacy Technicians
  • Regulatory Pharmacist with the Ministry of Health
  • Manufacturing Pharmacist
  • Research based jobs
  • Medical Representatives/ Sales Representatives

What are some of the challenges that pharmacists might face in carrying out their jobs?

Like every other profession pharmacy is not without its challenges. One of the main challenges is sourcing scarce drugs. This can be a problem at times as the manufacturers may be unable to keep up with the demand of the product. Currently, the majority of the pharmaceutical products used in Jamaica are imported. Therefore, we have to compete with the rest of the world to obtain the needed supplies. This can become challenging when supplies internationally are in short supply.

In the retail / hospital setting some persons become impatient by the time they reach the pharmacy to fill their prescription. This may cause them to rush the pharmacist. This however, is not optimal as it may lead to dispensing errors that result in the patient not getting the maximum benefit from their medication. We therefore ask consumers to be patient with their pharmacists.