Pharmacists: They Do More Than Fill Prescriptions

Druggists aren't just there to dispense medications. They can also give advice on side effects, interactions with other drugs, and a whole lot more.

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A good day for registered pharmacist Michelle Kasperowitz, 37, is when she's peppered with questions. They can range from which blood pressure monitor to buy to whether a rash is poison ivy. And, because she works in a supermarket, she gets lots of food-related inquiries as well. "One man came up to me recently, waving a bag of broccoli," says Kasperowitz, who works at the ShopRite Pharmacy in Woodbridge, N.J. "He's on a blood thinner, and he wanted to know if he could eat it."

Kasperowitz's job is to fill prescriptions. But she also offers advice and dispenses information about medication side effects, disease prevention, nutrition, tobacco cessation, diabetes management, and more. Kasperowitz is happy to assist and has done so since high school, when she worked in her neighborhood pharmacy. "I love it when people ask me questions. It motivates me to learn more, although I do have to say that I'm rarely stumped," Kasperowitz says.

Pharmacists learn how to engage with patients as part of their six to eight years in pharmacy school training. Students take such courses as medicinal chemistry, pathophysiology, and pharmacotherapy, and must pass both national and state licensing exams, says Jennifer Cerulli, PharmD, associate professor at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in New York. They also practice communication skills with other students and community pharmacists, who volunteer their time to pose as patients, and they spend more than 1,700 hours of their training interacting with patients in doctor's offices and hospitals. Here are just some of the things your pharmacist can help you do:

See the forest, not just the trees. Your pharmacist can review your entire medication record for potential interactions, see if you're taking drugs with duplicate effects, and check on prescription refills.

Learn what to take when. Is your asthma medication taken during an attack or all the time? Can you sip wine if you're on an antibiotic? When should you take your new birth control pill? Your pharmacist has the scoop.

Ease side effects. Is the niacin you are taking causing a burning sensation? Is your blood pressure drug causing impotence? Or is your antidepressant robbing you of sexual desire? A schedule change could do the trick, or your pharmacist might offer options you can discuss with your doctor.

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Pocket savings. Medication bills skyrocketing? Talk to your pharmacist. A generic antiviral medication that costs $9 might take the place of a new-to-the-market prescription brand priced at $65.

Spill it. Taking ginseng for focus? St. John's Wort for depression? Black cohosh for hot flashes? These and other kinds of supplements could potentially interact with your new prescription. Confess all to your pharmacist, who will know whether you might encounter problems and can advise you accordingly.

WebMD Magazine - Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 28, 2009

Sources

SOURCES:
Jennifer Cerulli, Pharm.D, associate professor, pharmacy practice, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, New York.
Michelle Kasperowitz, R.Ph., community pharmacist,  Montclair, NJ.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Stop – Learn – Go – "Talking to your pharmacist to learn to use drugs safely."
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Handbook: "Pharmacists: Nature of the Work."
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Handbook: "Pharmacists: Training, Qualification and Advancement."

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