The Top 10 Things the Pharmacy Profession Needs

Pharmacists have always had a revered place in society; people know that they can come to us for what they need to feel better, to answer their questions about medications, and to be the front-line of protecting them from drug interactions and side effects. We are routinely included on the annual Gallup poll as one of the three most trusted professionals. But, if that’s really all we need, so many of us wouldn’t be feeling burnt-out and unmotivated.

These days, there seem to be more and more gaps between what we should be doing, what we want to do, what we can do, and what we are doing. A lot of modern pharmacy is based on traditional roles that have us standing behind a counter, dispensing prescriptions and counseling patients all day. As I have found out through my own career, those traditional responsibilities and tasks are super important. They’re the foundation of our profession, but they’re not all that’s out there and our roles are starting to evolve as healthcare needs change, regulations change, and technology changes. On top of that, the public and patients are searching for wellness answers more actively now and they want to know more about their medications.

Because of the evolving needs of healthcare and us as we grow in our roles and profession,  sticking to traditional roles, pharmacists at any stage of their career may find themselves wanting more. More variety. More responsibility. More interaction with colleagues and patients. More of a voice in the community. So what’s the issue?

Identifying the Gaps in Pharmacy Today

In the past, pharmacists could point to a lack of technology and few opportunities to step beyond the boundaries of a tightly-regulated industry as the reason to sticking to traditional roles. We’ve been a brick-and-mortar industry built to help patients become more educated about their conditions and the medications they’re taking.

Now, patients are asking more questions and have much higher expectations about the quality of care they’re receiving from their healthcare providers  – including pharmacists. With more information moving between pharmacists and patients, a lot is often misinterpreted or mixed in with unreliable information from the internet. The result? Pharmacists now have to battle Dr. Google on working within the bounds of often difficult work environments.

There’s so much in flux right now that it almost seems like nobody can win. But that’s where we need to step in and say “enough!” You see, as we get closer to an equilibrium state, we will be able to focus on advancing our profession more - much like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. But while people are in the trenches, all they can focus on is surviving and taking care of the next patient. That means that it’s harder to think long-term or add another project to your plate without feeling absolutely overwhelmed.

Another major gap in our industry right now is the compensation between the volume of patient needs increasing, lowered profit margins due to changing drug costs, declining reimbursements, and corporations that are cutting pharmacy hours to make up for the changes in cash flow. As pharmacists on the front lines know, these changes equate to lowered quality of care, more mistakes, and unhappier professionals.

To make sure that we continue to move forward and advance our field, in this blog, I’ll be walking you through the top 10 things that the pharmacy profession needs (that you should address as much as you can in your own career ASAP).

10 Things the Pharmacy Profession Needs

If we want to move forward, we’ll need to individually enact changes and raise our voices to try and address some of the gaps in our industry. Here are the top 10 gaps in our industry that we all need to be addressing.

1. Creating a happy, engaged workforce

This is the number one thing that we need to go after. Currently, there are estimates that point to over 50% of pharmacists being emotionally exhausted, burnt out, and unmotivated to push their career forward. Focus on building better relationships with your colleagues, taking a closer look at how your workplace can be improved, and take a positive approach to changing things little by little.

2. Building credible, interdisciplinary relationships

One of the most important aspects of pharmacy that need to be addressed is our relationship with physicians, nurses, and mid-level practitioners. In the past, we’ve been paradoxically detached and connected to these professionals. From the confines of our brick-and-mortar locations, we’re responsible for understanding everything about a patient’s medications, educating them, and looking out for possible dangers. To improve this area, we can start to forge deeper connections with the providers in our area to discuss new medications, improvements in prescribing habits, and how to better aid patients to avoid them needing to use certain medications.

3. Continuing our education

While I know there is SO much going on right now, it’s key that we continue learning and improving our skills as pharmacists. Instead of being overwhelmed by the volume of information and lack of time you have, develop a plan – no matter how small - and start working to become better informed. Don’t just focus on learning about new drugs in development, but also about the larger matters affecting our profession. Work on communication skills, handling difficult interactions, and legislative matters that we can be involved in.

4. Keeping abreast of change within our profession

These days, things are changing very quickly and, for me, that is amazing to see. However, a rapidly changing industry means that we’ll need to spend extra energy learning about the profession rather than medications. If we don’t keep up and become more vocal, we will quickly become outsourced. With parts of our jobs already being delegated to technicians and mid-level practitioners, I can see this trend continuing and highly-educated individuals being pushed out of the industry silently and needlessly.

5. Sharing with each other

If you learn something new, come up with a new idea for how a process can be improved, or anything – share it! We need to start leaning on each other for support instead of putting up barriers and competing with each other. Start communicating and sharing with practitioners as well, since any opportunity to broaden our knowledge, resources, and connections is one we should be taking!

6. Keeping up the quality

One of the most frustrating parts about the pharmacy industry becoming more modernized and politicized is that a lot of our corporations now have metrics and key performance indicators. While some are relevant, many are more focused on numbers and money and in many ways, the numbers don’t accurately portray the interventions that were made. No one would argue that quality isn’t important. It absolutely is! Just make sure to pay attention to the right metrics, i.e., those that are measuring the accuracy of our actions and systems, where medication errors are happening, and other areas of improvement where we may need to rally for more resources or a change of – such as using data to support making additions to your staff!

7. Staying actively involved with legislation

Now, more than ever, there is SO much is going on! With the new presidential campaigns ramping up, it’s hard to go a day without hearing about healthcare reform and how things will be changing. Though a lot is up in the air, now is our time to speak up and advocate for our profession, our working conditions, drug pricing, manufacturing, safety issues, shortages - even accreditation around pharmacy schools. Pick what you’re passionate about and take action now!

8. Expand  

A major cornerstone of our industry today is focused on quality and the legislation that would expand our services. Now is the time to start thinking about how pharmacists can expand and support the community in new, important ways. Think about it this way: in less than ten years, we have positioned ourselves as community immunizers. Patients used to get their flu shots at clinics and doctor’s offices - now the majority are getting them in their community pharmacy. We can do this with other services!

9. Building better connections

As care becomes much more patient-centered, we need to foster those credible, trustworthy connections with our patients by meeting them where they’re looking – like the internet. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you already value using technology to build better connections. We can do accomplish this goal by becoming more savvy with technology, working on our communication skills, and going out into the community. In the end, these actions are what will make us different from Amazon and mail order pharmacies.

10. Focusing on patient education

One of the biggest problems that the healthcare industry is facing, in general, is a lack of patient education. It’s key to build relationships with your patients that are built on education and accurate information. Take the time to talk to your patients even if they say “I don’t have any questions!” You can also create helpful handouts and other educational pieces that you can provide patients with in order to point them to great online resources that won’t lead them toward dangerous misinformation.

Incorporating These Tips Into Your Career

If all of this seems like a lot to handle on your own, it is. Start off realistically by focusing on one thing. Ask yourself: what speaks to you the most? Do you want to improve work-life balance? Do you want to push for provider status for our profession? Or do you want to develop more community resources to help bolster our presence in areas that are currently lacking?

Remember, not everyone can tackle everything. But together, we can accomplish anything and get things changed.  

Joanna Simmon