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Pharmacists are an important cog in the healthcare machine. Following the diagnosis of certain ailments or conditions, patients will be prescribed medication that is the responsibility of a pharmacist to check, prepare and dispense. But it’s not as simple as picking something up off a shelf and handing it out – pharmacists require a wide range of skills to be effective in their role.
So, which of these skills are the most important to be a pharmacist?
We’ve compiled a handy checklist to help you find out.
When it comes to the pharmaceutical industry, attention to detail is literally a matter of life and death – and there is no room for error. Although human beings naturally make mistakes, the consequences don’t lie only with the pharmacist – the effects on a diabetes patient given the wrong type of insulin, for example, could be absolutely catastrophic. Whether it’s reading the doctor’s abysmal handwriting, entering the information into the computer system or measuring ingredients correctly, accuracy is essential.
Sometimes doctors forget to check for drug interactions; sometimes the nurses who submit electronic prescriptions make typos. Pharmacists are like proofreaders, and if something doesn’t make sense or a mistake has been made, then they have to have the confidence and the integrity to stand up and ask questions.
3. Scientific aptitude
It may sound obvious, but people often underestimate how much pharmacists rely on practical science. Pharmacists need to have an in-depth knowledge – and enthusiasm – for chemistry and biology; it’s important to be able to easily assimilate new and complex information when it becomes available.
4. Mathematical skills
From something as simple as calculating how many pills a patient needs to working out more complex variable dosages, numerical skills are essential. Indeed, as a pharmacist, you need to be able to make accurate pharmaceutical calculations and provide the correct dosages, especially when you’re required to compound medications and prepare special solutions.
5. Interpersonal skills
Pharmacists often have to juggle between doctors who don’t like to be questioned and frustrated patients who are upset at having to wait for their prescriptions; developing the interpersonal skills to deal with this requires patience, diplomacy and a great sense of humour. Being able to soothe bruised egos and hurt feelings are an essential part of making the process run smoothly.
6. Communication skills
This is one of the key parts of a pharmacist’s job. It’s essential that they can communicate clearly to the patient how and when they should take their medication, and then verify their understanding. It can also be challenging to explain why a patient is receiving a certain medication, as well as explaining any side effects.
In the US especially, pharmacists can find themselves battling with insurance companies all too often, particularly when they’re hesitant to cover the medication that a patient needs. As registered professionals, they need to be able to advocate on their patients’ behalf when obstacles arise rather than just send them away emptyhanded.
8. Management skills
This is an aspect of the job that can often be overlooked. Depending on the place of employment and the structure in place, pharmacists may be responsible for supervising technicians and dispensers (including all the people management issues that this entails), as well as managing budgets, monitoring inventories and keeping accountable records.
9. Multitasking skills
Not only are pharmacists busy performing tasks that can potentially have life-or-death ramifications but they’re also answering calls, dealing with other patients and ensuring strict regulatory protocols are being followed. This means being able to not only multitask but multitask with 100% accuracy!
At one time or another, every pharmacist will encounter a patient who is trying to get a restricted substance without a prescription, on an expired prescription or too early. Some of these patients – especially those with addictive characteristics – can become extremely belligerent and intimidating.
Pharmacists have to be able to resolve these situations in everyone’s best interests. This requires diplomacy, good judgement and the ability to stay calm, as well as taking into account the safety of the patient, staff and other customers.
11. Prioritising skills
Pharmacists have to be able to assess situations and adjust on the fly. For example, whose prescription do you fill first: the person who’s been waiting for 10 minutes or the terrified mother who just came in with a sick new-born and two crying toddlers? Trying to balance empathy with fairness when making a judgement call such as this can be difficult, but it’s necessary when attempting to prioritise tasks.
12. Analytical skills
Despite being experts in how drugs interact with the body and with each other, it’s impossible to know everything. Pharmacists have to approach their work with an analytical mind and refer to the correct sources when necessary, as well as taking a logical and accountable approach to any decisions they make regarding a patient’s medication.
13. Counselling skills
Despite the fast-paced nature of the job, pharmacists should take the time to explain a patient's medication to them properly and discuss the wider effects it may have on their life. For example, if a patient frequently forgets to take certain pills, a pharmacist should try and dig deeper into why this is (it could be more than simple forgetfulness) and offer a solution that will benefit the patient.
14. Computer literacy
Nearly all dispensary systems are digital now, as well as inventories, patient databases and consultation programs. As a result, pharmacists need to be comfortable working with computers and able to pick things up quickly.
15. Financial acumen
As previously touched upon, pharmacists may be responsible for budgets and ordering new stock, as well as controlling other expenses such as salaries. This requires a strong organisational ability, as well as some basic working knowledge of finance, bookkeeping and taxation principles.
16. Mentoring skills
Pharmacists have to be able to instruct and pass on their knowledge and experience to junior pharmacists starting out, as well as pharmacy technicians. In the UK, this is a requisite, as potential pharmacists are required to undergo 52 weeks of competency-based mentoring prior to taking their registration exam.
As with other medical professions, pharmacists are expected to adhere to clear ethical and moral guidelines, regardless of their personal beliefs. A Wisconsin pharmacist was struck off in 2007 for refusing to fulfil an emergency contraception prescription, claiming he ‘did not want to commit a sin’. Like doctors, pharmacists must put the professional needs of their patient before their own personal feelings.
Pharmacists provide prescriptions to patients living with different medical conditions and who are undergoing various treatments. It’s crucial, then, that they act ethically and discreetly by respecting private patient information. This is especially important if you live in a close-knit community where most people are acquainted with each other; under no circumstances should pharmacists disclose details of someone’s conditions – instead, they should uphold their right to privacy.
19. Physical stamina
Most pharmacists spend most of their shift standing, getting prescriptions and restocking supplies. Therefore, it’s essential that they have the physical stamina to carry out their duties without exerting themselves.
20. Active listening
As a pharmacist, you need to be attentive to your patients. To achieve this, you need to be a good listener, focused on your patients and ready to provide them with the necessary treatment to aid their conditions. Having a dismissive attitude and not listening carefully to what your patients are saying will not only give you a bad rap but could also potentially be dangerous as your lack of active listening could mean missing important clues that would point to the right prescription.
As you can see, pharmacists have a fast-paced, highly technical job that can be very demanding, and there’s absolutely no room for error. But it can be highly rewarding for people who possess the personality traits and abilities on this list.
Do you think you’ve got what it takes to become a pharmacist? Can you think of any other skills needed to be a pharmacist? Let us know in the comments section below.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 1 December 2017 and was written in collaboration with Melina Theodorou.