Be a genuinely good pharmacist, not a theoretically good pharmacist

Johnathan Laird

IT is a fact that you will never know about many of the dispensing errors that you make. The ones I don’t know about haunt me far more than the ones I do know about.

Community pharmacy can be an absolute pleasure to work in, however it can also be an unforgiving place, especially in a target driven corporate culture. Exacerbating factors like unqualified senior managers or particularly ruthless owners can leave you, the humble employee pharmacist, spinning.

But, you are the responsible pharmacist.

And you have to be all things to all stakeholders at all times: hit the target; champion patient safety; focus 100% on each script you check; and give concise patient centred advice without appointment throughout the day. That is the impossible bit – it can’t be done. You simply cannot please everyone you encounter in life all of the time.

Let’s go back to the prescription checking bit.

I bet you are conscientious like me and you endeavour to follow the pharmacy standard operating procedures (SOPs) at all times. You’ve read them, you’ve got your staff to read them, you’ve assessed their competence on them and you’ve signed them off. Great, well done – in theory you are sorted. Do you apply each step all of the time?

My question to your inner professional conscience is this: can you honestly say that you have given 100 percent attention and concentration to every single prescription you have checked?

Only you can answer this, but I am an honest chap so I have to absolutely say my answer is no. And I’m not proud of that. The reason for this is the interesting bit and what you decide to do about it is the profoundly professionally important bit.

You see I think there are two types of pharmacists. There are ‘theoretically good pharmacists’ and there are ‘genuinely good pharmacists’. The difference is subtle but important.

The theoretically good pharmacist has much in common with his genuinely good colleague. In fact their values match. These are not a pair of underperforming or in some way rogue pharmacists. They want to deliver excellent patient care and they want to deliver excellent business results.

Who doesn’t?

The trouble here is that this is simply not possible. My theory is that theoretically good pharmacists have to compromise on the quality of their work at times – they must. Pleasing everyone is exhausting, so burnout is a real risk in this group. The effect of pharmacist burnout is to lose sight of the patient and to see your job as that of a manual worker. Depersonalising and becoming distracted from the prescription you are checking is possible, and in my view probable, for a pharmacist suffering burnout.

I say it again, you cannot please everyone.

I’m talking again to your conscience: Has this ever been you? Have you ever lost focus on the patient because you are worried about how many sign-ups you have had that week because you fear the predictably inevitable phone call from your passive aggressive superior?

I can’t answer this for you, but I do have a word of warning. You may have been getting away with this lack of focus for years because you don’t know about all the errors you have made. As mentioned before it is the dispensing errors that you are not aware of that should concern you most.

My advice, through lessons hard learned, is to ditch being a theoretically good pharmacist and instead aim to be a genuinely good pharmacist. If you make this decision then you are on your way. Maybe you will do this as a result of reading this blog. The changes you have to make may be subtle but I’m afraid they may also be profound. Maybe you will need to move company, change your working environment, have that difficult conversation or just start saying no a bit more.

I now try to be a genuinely good pharmacist. I try my best but if it is just too much some days I just have to do what I can and draw a line. Go to bed early and try again tomorrow. Far be it from me to suggest an ambivalent approach to important processes like SOPs, but I would certainly make hitting targets the lowest of my priorities now.

If you choose to be a genuinely good pharmacist the business numbers will come. You will face tough decisions that some colleagues or patients may not always like, but it will be worth it because when you meet your patient in the consultation room or when you check their prescription you will both be healthier for your decision.

And when that career changing heartbreaking dispensing error moment comes you can proudly and bravely say: “I am a genuinely good pharmacist.”

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