It’s a pharmacist’s job to field all sorts of questions, from “What are the side effects of this medication?” to “What aisle is the toilet paper in?” CVS pharmacist Minh Do, who lives and works in the Fenway area of Boston, spends his day not just filling prescriptions, but also dealing with a steady stream of customers, juggling the schedules of pharmacy technicians, managing insurance paperwork, and calling physicians with follow-up inquiries. He even administers flu vaccinations when cold season rolls around. And, since he knows many of his neighbors, he’s been known to deliver the occasional jug of milk along with a prescription of Zantac.
Some prescription work is automated, such as the top 100 drugs, which can be dispensed from a pill-counting machine into a vial, and transported down a conveyer belt, where a label is applied. Do will verify the prescription by scanning label, which brings up an image of the prescription and patient information. The speed bump in the process is often dealing with the insurance company, deciphering a doctor’s scribble, or making sure the prescription was entered in correctly. “It’s not like a fast food counter, where you come in, place your order, and expect the product to be at the register in two minutes,” says Do, who says that service is a priority, despite badgering customers who want to know what’s taking so long to fill their prescription.
Pharmacists held about 243,000 jobs in 2006; with over half, like Do, working in community pharmacies. Employment of pharmacists, who must pass a licensure exam and achieve a doctor of pharmacy degree, is expected to grow by 22 percent by 2016, due to increasing numbers of elderly and middle-aged people. Do says he became a pharmacist after realizing that pre-med wasn’t for him – “I didn’t like the sight of blood but I was interested in promoting health.”
Q: What’s the oddest question you’ve ever gotten as a pharmacist?
A: A woman came in and said, “I have this rash on my body. Can you take a look at it?” She lifted up her shirt, right there in the middle of pharmacy. The other customers were mortified. I politely said, “Can we do this somewhere else, where it is a bit more private?” I made a recommendation for antifungal crème. She came back a few days later, and was very grateful because the rash was gone. But it was an embarrassing show-and-tell at the time.
Q: You work such long days, 12 hours at a stretch. How do you stand on your feet for so long?
A: I’ve invested in those clogs that doctors and nurses wear. They work great. Now I know why they wear them.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who might be thinking of entering this field?
A: Don’t just concentrate on getting good grades – you can only learn so much from books. Get out and work in a pharmacy as an aide or technician.
Q: If you were stranded on a desert island, what three medications would you bring with you?
A: I can tell you what I wouldn’t bring. There probably won’t be any fatty foods on a tropical island, so you don’t need cholesterol or high-blood pressure meds. And since you’re the only one on the island, you could skip the Viagra too.
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