As a pharmacist, you’ve undoubtedly spent your entire career attempting to dispel a mountain of misconceptions about what it is exactly you do all day. Alas, there are still a staggering number of people who are seemingly incapable of grasping the idea that there are career opportunities open to pharmacists beyond sitting behind a counter at Target counting pills with your feet up all day (which is itself a far too prevalent and damaging fallacy about community pharmacists, but there are only so many cans of worms we should open in one day).
Of course, no matter what your over-affectionate aunt, slovenly college drinking buddy, or rude patient might ignorantly spout, you can be secure in the knowledge that there are countless diverse avenues open to you in your pharmacy career. In fact, pharmacists play crucial roles in so many areas of medicine, it’s difficult to name a medical situation in which a pharmacist isn’t a valuable member of the team working to resolve said quandary. Below is a list of just a few of the many hats pharmacists wear in the medical field.
When a patient is coding and the pressure is on, pharmacists are usually right there alongside doctors and nurses, staying cool under heat and keeping people alive. In these most dire of cases, pharmacists are responsible for accompanying the crash cart for the purpose of drawing up and handing off emergency meds. They also make recommendations to physicians based on changing patient conditions – for instance, when patients need to be intubated, the pharmacist can make sure they’re properly sedated. Think of pharmacists as the reverse plumbers of the ER. Circling the drain? They’ll plug it up.
Once emergency patients are stabilized, the work doesn’t end for the doctors – and certainly not for pharmacists. Often, critical care patients are on a veritable cornucopia of drugs for managing and hopefully reversing their serious conditions. With that volume comes great potential for dangerous drug-drug interactions, as well as wasting resources by continuing to administer drugs the patient may no longer need. Pharmacists oversee this complex cobweb of medications, identifying any possible areas of trouble, tweaking dosages and recommending additions or discontinuations as necessary. They also play the critical role of choosing and instructing on the administration of antibiotics.
Cancer drugs are not exactly known for having the most palatable effects on patients, ranking in awfulness behind perhaps only cancer itself. That’s because cancer drugs are, by design, toxic to your cells. And anytime you put poison in your body, it pays to have not just one person, but a gaggle of experts monitoring that process to make sure it doesn’t mess you up too badly. Indeed, it’s standard for a whole team of pharmacists to double, triple and quadruple check all cancer drug regimens to make certain the dosages are appropriate and that they will hopefully do more damage to the cancer that the patient him or herself. Pharmacists can also recommend the use of additional meds to counteract cancer drugs’ notoriously nasty side effects, thereby making cancer patients’ healing process a whole lot less grueling.
The human brain is a strange, mystifying organ, to say the least. So it makes sense that the process of pinpointing a drug or combination of drugs that helps psychiatric patients often involves more trial and error than exact science. In psychiatry, pharmacists are tasked with trying out various available options until identifying one that mitigates patients’ primary symptoms without causing side effects that might exacerbate others. Pharmacists also often have more direct patient interaction than they do in other areas of medicine, as the insight they glean from talking to patients is invaluable in determining if the drugs those patients are taking are actually working. Of course, depending on the severity of the patient’s condition, those conversations can sometimes be, shall we say, challenging – but never boring.
If you thought getting your kids to eat their broccoli was hard, imagine what it must be like to convince them to swallow their oral antibiotics, some of which taste like a potent mix of charcoal and giraffe sweat. This unenviable task often lies with pharmacists, who employ a strategy all kids can learn from: empathy. Yes, pediatric pharmacists actually taste the medicine they give to their patients. That way, they know exactly how gross (or not) each one is and can factor that into decisions about which ones to administer. Talk about taking one for the team.
Know any other sectors of healthcare that pharmacists would excel in? Share with us in the comments below!