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The pharmacist's role and what it takes to become one

Mike Mozart

They wear a white lab coat, but aren’t your typical doctor. They work behind a counter, but they don’t serve you food. A pharmacist fills your prescriptions and makes sure they are safe for you. But how do they earn their white lab coat and spot behind the counter?

This week on “Take Care,” Dr. Elizabeth Higdon tells us what it means to be a pharmacist. Higdon is an instructor in the department of pharmacy practice at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences campus in Colchester, Vermont. She also holds a doctor of pharmacy degree, teaches classes on over-the-counter medications, and works as a community pharmacist.

Although Higdon jokes her parents used to tease her that all a pharmacist had to be good at was counting pills by fives, there is much more to the profession. Many recent pharmacy graduates actually have a doctorate degree, as this became a requirement after 2003, according to Higdon. In addition to a doctorate degree, Higdon says pharmacists are also required to take national and state licensing exams.

“When you graduate from a school of pharmacy, we take a national licensing exam…to show you’re ready to go out and practice,” Higdon said. “Then whatever state you want to work in, they actually have their own law exam, to make sure that you’re going to dispense medication in accordance with whatever the state’s laws are.”

Once a pharmacist is done with school and on the job, there are many important aspects to being a pharmacist that people may not be aware of. The prospective drug utilization review is one of the things at the top of the list. The pharmacist reviews a prescription before giving it to the patient.

“I make sure that it’s appropriate for you; I make sure that there’s no interaction with any other medications,” Higdon said. “I make sure that if you have an allergy, you can take this medication.”

Higdon adds that she also checks to make sure patients are prescribed the right dosage, and aren’t taking any similar medications. Higdon stresses the vitality of this review, and says if you change pharmacy locations from time to time for convenience, to always inform the pharmacist of any allergies or other medications you’re taking as a safety precaution.

Along with insuring medication safety, Higdon says she also gives daily advice to customers that stop by and have questions.

“Patients come to me to ask questions about any over-the-counter medications that they may need,” Higdon said. “Some of my favorite questions are probably on home remedies.”

Although there are many areas of study a pharmacist can focus on, such as women’s health; cardiology; or even animals, Higdon says she enjoys being a community pharmacist at her local supermarket and interacting with customers.

“My main goal as a pharmacist is to make sure that anything my patient is taking is appropriate for them, is safe, and effective,” Higdon said. “I make sure their health is my number one priority.”