Common Questions I get as a Clinical Pharmacist

As a tribute to Pharmacy Awareness Month, I decided to write a little about myself.  I’ve been practicing as a pharmacist since July 2021.  I graduated from University of Alberta and took many exciting courses at Athabasca University that I would have never had a chance to take as a part of my regular program.  I love Athabasca University for giving me the opportunity to enroll in classes such as epidemiology and developmental psychology on my own time.  These courses greatly enriched my learning throughout my clinical years.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions lately about what it is like to be a pharmacist in 2022.  There’s so many myths and misconceptions that I’m always excited to share about my own experiences thus far.

Are pharmacists just cashiers or businesspeople?

This is one question I hear a lot.  Many seem to think that we simply run the till and check your medications out.  While this is true in many countries, in Canada pharmacists play a large role in your health.  We are a self-governed profession, meaning that our college oversees our licensing and performance.  We are each held liable for the responsibility of ensuring your medications are safe, efficacious, and adhered to.  Even though many work in large corporate chains such as Rexall or Shoppers Drug Mart, each pharmacist is responsible for the patients’ care only, without any conflicts of interest.

Do you know all the medications that exists?

I get this question a lot from people outside our field.  I definitely recall how rigorous the pharmacy program is.  The program is a minimum of six years with four professional years and two years of pre-requisite courses such as biology, chemistry and statistics.  In the professional years, we learn medications based on body systems.  For example, in cardiology block we learn about all the cardiovascular medications, the mechanisms in which they work in our bodies, side effects and much more.  As a whole, we are expected to know every medication available in Canada.  However, new medications always come on the market and we’re expected to update our knowledge accordingly.

Why does it take so long to get my medications filled?

This is by far the most common question I get from both patients and the general public.  Prior to starting my program I also thought that it took an extraordinary amount of time for pharmacists to fill our medications.  From intake when we see the prescription, pharmacists are assessing the appropriateness of therapy, the dosage correctness (we fix these a lot!), and the instruction correctness.  Many medications run through insurance which can be complicated process as each insurance has its own challenges during billing.  Lastly, many pharmacies have a backlog of prescriptions and, depending on the time of day, it can take longer than expected.  Pro tip from me is to go to a smaller, less busy pharmacy.