Once upon a time I wanted to be in the fashion world career-wise. But I chose pharmacy because my parents would only allow me to choose something in healthcare. And pharmacy was the least-invasive career when it came to coming in contact with patients. I don’t have the stomach for dealing with blood, bodily fluids and all the grossness that comes with healthcare. I didn’t even enjoy pharmacy at first. Pharmacy school wasn’t a great motivator in reassuring me I was on the right path either. And then corporate retail life made me hate people even more.
But there were a select few patients and moments in my short 6 year stint in retail that made me actually like being a pharmacist. I found I actually do enjoy helping people when I can and I do like being able to make a difference in someone’s life and I appreciate when it is recognized. A lot of people don’t think of their pharmacist in the chain of events when it comes to healthcare and it’s not hard to understand why. We’re the little guy. The last person you see on your day of doctor visits and of course, by then, you’re tired, angry, frustrated. Being told something isn’t covered, it needs a prior authorization, a drug is not in stock, or your prescription simply isn’t ready yet is really the last thing you want to hear after being in the doctor’s office all day waiting, then getting blood drawn or labs taken, seeing a specialist, getting an x-ray, etc. At that point, you see the pharmacist as the enemy. The gatekeeper withholding the antidote to your problems. Delaying your care. Unfortunately, we’re more commonly and incorrectly viewed as cashiers instead of healthcare professionals. The added drive-thru doesn’t exactly help to build respect to the profession either, but rather further tarnish people’s view of us by equating a prescription drop-off and pick-up to that of picking up fast food. The drive-thru is supposed to be there for convenience for those who have trouble getting out of their car or whatever their reason may be. But instead it’s abused and expected to be used for speediness, as if filling your important life-saving medication was the same as putting together your burger and fries.
I can’t speak for all pharmacists but I can speak for myself and my fellow pharmacist friends that I do know. We DO care. We actually spend a lot of time on the phone trying to resolve the issues that we encounter when trying to fill your script. We’re racked with anxiety when we hit a wall and we can’t get in touch with your doctor, your insurance company or you to keep you informed and decide the next course of action. We actually do try to exhaust our resources to find a solution before you come back to the pharmacy. We try to offer you alternatives best when we can, to try and minimize as much as we can, the interruption in care. But we can only do so much. Especially when the insurance we have on file isn’t current even though the patient claims time and time again “it’s the same card it’s always been,” only to find out you were sent another card hidden away in your wallet with some extra billing group codes we weren’t aware of. Especially when the phone number you left with us on file isn’t a working number so we can’t contact you properly before you arrive to inform you of the roadblocks. We will fight on the phone with your insurance company to try and get you your prescription approved so you can be on your merry way.
There is a lot going on behind the scenes than you know. Contrary to what most people think, we don’t just “slap a label on it.” Depending on the volume of the pharmacy, given it’s location, population, resources and inventory, as little as 10 scripts can be filled a day or as many as 3000 scripts can be filled a day. So it can get pretty busy and challenging to keep up with as we manually enter in scripts and fill orders, checking to make sure your info is current and correct, and then making sure the drug lines up with the diagnoses, and that the dose, directions, and everything else the doctor specified is correct. Yes, we make sure your doctor didn’t make a mistake and try to poison you. You wouldn’t believe how many errors happen all the time that we have to correct. And half the battle sometimes is reading the damn script, that is, before e-scripts took over written scripts. But even e-scripts are not error proof. Yes, even technology can have its faults. Sometimes the doctor doesn’t send it to the correct pharmacy because there’s multiple CVS’s in town and he didn’t select the correct locale. Sometimes the doctor just automatically resends the last script he ordered for you instead of correctly entering the new dose he wants you to start. Sometimes there’s a delay in transmission so we don’t receive it right away. Whatever the case is, I can guarantee you the pharmacy isn’t working against you. Our job is NOT to make your life harder because think about it, we’re not exactly standing there purposely picking a fight so that you will stand there and rip us a new one as you berate us and make us your human punching bag for the next 15 minutes. It’s not in our favor to make your day harder because it would simply in turn just make our own day worse. We’re not here for this. Truly.
I haven’t worked retail in years but I’ll be honest, sometimes I do miss it. Will I ever go back? Most likely not, I don’t miss it that much, but I do miss the teamwork and camaraderie I had with my colleagues, both pharmacists and technicians and even the front store employees who helped me immensely from time to time when I really needed it. I miss the patients who made it worthwhile too. The ones who would stick up for you when they saw a rude patient trying to go off on you. The ones who would come in and bring me flowers just because. The ones who saw how crazy my day had been and bring me a pizza pie because they recognized how hard my team worked to keep the ship afloat. The ones who would always bring cookies for Christmas because we were like family to them. I miss the workflow too because I’m such a workaholic. As sadistic as it sounds, I loved coming in, fixing the entire queue of problems, printing all the scripts out, piling my baskets sky high and then racing through the bays to pull all the drugs, counting them out and filling the scripts, verifying them and then even racing my techs as we competed to see who could return all the drugs back to their bays in record time. And when the queue was clear, we’d rejoice, sit back and shoot the shit.
But again, I repeat, I do not speak for all pharmacists. I am aware there are some out there who are not as professional, compassionate, helpful, ethical or hardworking. I have encountered the lazy and the slow. And the apathetic. I can’t speak for them. I can only speak for myself and the amazing people I’ve met and worked with that have helped shape me into the pharmacist I am today. And even though I did not go into this wanting to be a pharmacist, I still abide by the Hippocratic Oath both in practice and in my everyday life. Why? Because the people I’ve met and have known personally, both patients and colleagues have a story to tell. They are all people struggling through something and after knowing their stories, you’d never think they went through what they went through. They could’ve came out bitter like everyone else. They could be mean, nasty, unnecessarily rude to the world. They could’ve held a grudge. They can easily walk around with a chip on their shoulder. But no, they’re happy and smiling. They swallow their bitterness and don’t allow it to consume their lives. Because pain and sorrow is not all that they are. There is so much more to these great people I’ve met than what life has thrown at them. And these are the people who inspire me to always do the right thing, to keep moving forward and have faith in people that there are still others out there with a good heart. Who recognize what you are doing and who appreciate the hell out of you.
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.
I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.
So, if you never knew what your pharmacy does, please know that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than you’ll ever know. Not in just pharmacy but healthcare in general. I focus on pharmacy because duh, I’m a pharmacist. My point is that it’s a very underrated and underappreciated profession for both the pharmacists and techs involved so please, please, please, love and appreciate your pharmacy. I may not be in retail anymore but I still feel the pain for my retail peeps of what they go through daily. They don’t ever get the appreciation they deserve compared to other healthcare professionals because we’re usually just seen as “clerks.” Especially since we’ve had our dignity taken away and replaced with a drive-thru, further damaging the image and belittling us to fast food service windows, when your medication is of the utmost importance and should in no way but rushed and half-assed, just to meet numbers. There are real people working behind that counter to make sure you get the right medication. They spent countless hours fighting on the phone with your insurance, calling your doctors to work on your prior authorizations, cheaper alternatives when your drug isn’t covered, backordered or discontinued, and refills to try and get your script filled on time. They’re there to check your allergies against your medication profile, counsel you on new regimens, intervene when necessary due to interactions, and answer your questions to the best of their abilities. They come in early, stay late, skip meal breaks, forgo bathroom breaks and do so many things behind the scenes you’ll never realize to make sure you have what you need. And they can only do so much. I know people have their pharmacy complaints but trust that there are people who are doing their absolute best even when their own day is going really shitty and they have their own hardships, to deal with and have to hold it together for 8+ hours.
A fellow pharmacist friend shared a reddit post with me earlier this week that re-ignited my still ever burning hatred for CVS and the abuse incurred there. I’m sad to hear the company’s shady tactics and the illegal things they do while hiding it under the guise of “policy and procedures” have only gotten worse and more abusive. I wish they would one day change their ways, revolutionize the pharmacy and how they treat their employees but unfortunately money grubbing companies like that only care about their 6th vacation home, not the happiness and welfare of people who work hard tirelessly for them day in and day out, before opening and after closing. If they did, I would gladly go back to retail, but I know it’s not in the cards in the foreseeable future. Until then, I really hope my friends who are still stuck in retail and any fellow colleagues still trapped there, make it out one day and find something better.
Thank you to all the people I’ve met and have worked with in the healthcare industry who have helped shape me into the pharmacist I am today. I no longer work for the 3 lettered red devil but I do feel the pain for all those that are still stuck in corporate retail. You guys are total superstars.