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What do pharmacists do? 8 things you didn’t know about pharmacy

Even if you don’t take prescription medication, chances are you’ve benefited from the expertise of a pharmacist in some way, shape, or form. Maybe a pharmacist helped you select an over-the-counter cough medicine for your child? Perhaps one reminded you that it was time for your annual flu shot? Or, maybe they even advised you to avoid drinking alcohol with that Benadryl you just bought? In any case, your pharmacist is a very important member of your healthcare team. 

In honor of American Pharmacists Month and all the contributions pharmacists make to the health profession, we’ve created a list of eight interesting things you (probably) didn’t know about pharmacists. 

1. Pharmacists are doctors.

You probably don’t refer to your pharmacist as “doctor.” In fact, when you meet pharmacists at your local apothecary, they will likely introduce themselves by their first name. However, they are indeed doctors. As of the year 2004, a doctor of pharmacy degree (Pharm.D.) is required to sit for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy exams. And passage of said exams is required to work as a pharmacist and dispense medications in the United States. The only exception would be a pharmacist who earned credentials at pharmacy school prior to 2004, when a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy education was acceptable as well (however, even at that time many pharmacists choose the Pharm.D. path anyway).

2. The majority of pharmacists are women

A small majority, but a majority nonetheless. According to a report published by Data USA, 56.8 percent of pharmacists in the United States are female. This adds up to 167,000 women working as pharmacists, compared to 127,000 men. The average age for a female pharmacist is 39.9; for men it is 44.4. 

3. Pharmacists administer vaccines.

 Less than 25 years ago, only nine states allowed pharmacists to immunize. Today, all 50 states (along with Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico) allow it, making it easier and more convenient for people to stay up-to-date on important immunizations like the seasonal flu vaccine. Not sure about your state’s regulations? These maps from the American Pharmacists Association break it all down for you. 

4. Pharmacists are everywhere.

While access to primary care doctors and specialists is often a struggle for people living in rural communities, these same people are likely to have better luck finding a pharmacist nearby. That is because 91 percent of Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores reports. And if you are among the nine percent? You still have access to a pharmacist via mail order or online pharmacies.  

RELATED: Meet the pharmacists who received SingleCare’s Best of the Best Pharmacy Awards

5. Pharmacists work in many settings.

A pharmacist can do much more than work behind the counter at a retail pharmacy. Some teach in university pharmacy programs. Some work in hospital pharmacies, helping physicians figure out the best course of action for patients. Others work for manufacturers in the pharmaceutical industry, where they use their skills and knowledge to help develop new drugs, improve, and refine medications. Government agencies like National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) employ pharmacists, as do health insurance companies and managed care organizations. (At SingleCare, we have our own pharmacist, Ramzi Yacoub, who is our clinical expert on prescription drugs.)

Pharmacists can also work as part-time consultant pharmacists or full-time in extended care facilities, infusion centers, and various other medical work environments. No matter where a pharmacist chooses to work, however, they are likely to be paid well for their expertise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a pharmacist is about $126,000 per year.

6. Pharmacists specialize. 

Just like medical doctors, pharmacists can become board certified as specialists in certain disciplines. The Board of Pharmacy Specialties offers board certification in 11 specialties in pharmacy practice: ambulatory care, cardiology, compound sterile preparations, critical care, geriatric, infectious disease, nuclear pharmacy, nutrition support, oncology, pharmacotherapy, psychiatric pharmacy, and solid organ transplantation. The American College of Clinical Pharmacy and other organizations offer certification programs as well. 

Specialization allows the pharmacist to take a more active role in patient care—particularly the care of patients with complex medical needs—which ultimately improves patient outcomes. Win-win!

7. Pharmacists provide medication therapy management services.

Patients can get easily overwhelmed by their own medication regimens. When do I take this medication? Are negative drug interactions possible?  What are the side effects? Do I really need to be on this one? Is this regimen still right for me? Help! MTM is a special health service designed to answer these questions and many more. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, MTM includes five core elements: 

  1. drug therapy review
  2. a personal medication record
  3. a medication-related action plan
  4. intervention and referral
  5. documentation/follow-up

Typically, MTM is provided by community pharmacists and is especially useful to people with chronic conditions, complex protocols, and high prescription costs who have multiple prescribers involved in their care. 

And finally, for a fun one …

8. Pharmacists invent soft drinks. 

Yep, it’s true. Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, and Vernon’s ginger ale were all created by pharmacists. Coke was invented in 1866 by pharmacist John Stith Pemberton, who started selling what would later become one of the world’s best-selling soft drinks at his pharmacy in Atlanta for five cents per glass. Vernor’s Ginger Ale was invented that same year by pharmacist James Vernor in Detroit, Michigan. Pharmacist Charles Alderton of Waco, Texas, brought Dr. Pepper onto the scene in 1885. Who knew?