You may not think of a pharmacist as an essential healthcare worker because you don’t necessarily see them running around the emergency room at your local hospital, but these health care providers are more essential than you might think.
Pharmacists across the country are working on the front lines to ensure patient safety while putting themselves at risk every single day. In our current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are pumping out much more volume with much less support, including proper PPE. Anyone can walk up to a pharmacy counter, making the pharmacist the most accessible health care worker to patients across the country, but also putting the pharmacist at the highest risk for contracting the virus.
Yet, for some reason, pharmacists are not being recognized as essential.
The legislation, Helping Emergency Responders Overcome Emergency Situations (HEROES) Act of 2020, initially did not include pharmacists as beneficiaries and it wasn’t until the American Pharmacist Association (APhA) fought to include them, were they even considered and later added to the Act. Additionally, places like Starbucks, are offering free coffee to “essential” front line workers which includes police officers, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, hospital staff and researchers, but pharmacists were not mentioned and this holds true for other retail companies as well. With all the restrictions put in place, pharmacies remain open and yet the pharmacist is the last one to be recognized as essential, if at all.
In addition to the community, pharmacists are also in hospitals, distributing medications to patients on every floor. They are rounding with the infectious disease teams to ensure your loved one’s antibiotic doses are safe and appropriate while also serving in the intensive care units to keep patients alive.
Pharmacists are seeing patients in clinics to manage their chronic conditions to prevent an unnecessary ride to the ER. Pharmacists assist in areas where primary care physicians are scarce and serve as a reliable resource for drug information. Pharmacists are also found in laboratories and academic institutions, partnering with medical facilities to produce the latest and greatest research studies while also educating future pharmacists and preparing them for the front lines of our ever-evolving world.
The profession of pharmacy has transformed dramatically over the past 50 years, advancing from a Bachelor’s of Science degree to a Doctorate and shifting from primarily a dispensing role to functioning as a clinical provider integrated into the healthcare team. With these changes, pharmacists can go directly into the community, or they can complete post-graduate training and become specialized in a variety of areas including but not limited to oncology, infectious disease, pediatrics, emergency medicine, and ambulatory care. Pharmacists can also choose to become researchers, developing clinical trials to study patient outcomes or formulating the next life-saving medication. The profession of pharmacy is limitless when it comes to choosing a career, but one thing that is consistent with all of these opportunities; pharmacists are an essential part of the team.
The laws for pharmacist activities are governed by individual states and most now recognize pharmacists as providers, but it hasn’t always been that way. Alabama was the last state in the country to recognize pharmacists as providers in 2017; it was the 49th state to sign a bill to implement collaborative practice agreements between pharmacists and physicians. The next steps would be for the state to allow pharmacists to utilize and expand their “provider status” role, similarly to many other states in the country, and for the Board of Pharmacy and Board of Medical Examiners to fully implement the Collaborative Practice Act and enhance those partnerships within our communities.
Pharmacists are essential healthcare workers. Pharmacists are providers. To all my fellow pharmacists who are unseen, unheard, and unnoticed…I see you, I hear you, and I appreciate you.
By Nicole Slater, Pharm.D., BCACP, Assistant Clinical Professor at the Harrison School of Pharmacy’s Mobile campus