Harlem Word: Dr. Rabia Tahir advises young people to look into pharmacy careers

Editor June 17th, 2010

In this article, Dr. Rabia Tahir, Pharm.D, pharmacist and professor at Touro College of Pharmacy, talks about how young people can get involved in pharmacy programs.

Q: What kinds of skills are needed to be a pharmacist?

A: You have to be prepared to work and help with people.  You don't have to be super outgoing, but it is a people-profession, which a lot of people don't expect because of the history of pharmacy.  Many people have viewed pharmacists as out of reach and behind the counter.  Prior to the 1950s, pharmacists were not legally allowed to discuss medications, their uses and their side effects with patients.  At that time, doctors were only allowed to do that.  This time period was call the "Count and Pour Era" because the pharmacists' role was limited to only dispensing/giving out or compounding medications. In the 1960s, due to legal changes and changes in pharmacy education, pharmacists began to act like pharmacists from before the "Count and Pour Era." They were allowed to talk about medications with patients. Right now, pharmacy is a patient-focused profession. The role of pharmacists is to provide pharmaceutical care where the pharmacist works closely with the doctor and patient to provide correct information and education on medications.

In the past, people have viewed pharmacists as not wanting to deal with patients because pills are prepared by assistants and machines.  There has been a recent trend toward greater customer interaction. Now, pharmacists are expected to go to the front and stand at the counter.  They should be able to counsel and talk to patients.  They should offer other services in the pharmacy besides giving out medicine.  For example, pharmacists are actually allowed to give people flu shots in New York.  There's so much that you can do as a pharmacist besides giving out medications.

Q: What would you say to young people who might be interested in becoming pharmacists?

A: Young folks should speak to people who are in the profession.  Just introduce yourself to the pharmacists at your local drugstore and ask them what their job is all about.  I think most people's view of what a pharmacist does is very limited.  In the past, the prominent image of pharmacy was a person counting pills and giving them to patients from behind a counter.  During the past 10-15 years, more technology and machines as well as technicians and interns count the pills and give them to the patients.  This has given the pharmacist more time to step out from behind the counter and discuss medications and health issues with patients.  For example, he or she can educate patients about what the medication is used for, its side effects, and how it interacts with other medicines.  At the same time a pharmacist can also offer information on over the counter medications and basic health information.  Or, the pharmacist is able to provide one-day clinics and medical assessments for flu vaccinations, diabetes education, blood pressure checks, BMI measurements, and smoking cessation.  Many of the changes with pharmacy are the result of pharmacy education.  Since pharmacists now require a doctorate instead of bachelor's degrees, these programs educate students on more clinical topics in medical settings. They also teach students to be more patient-focused health professionals. When young people actually speak to working pharmacists or join a pharmacy program such as the one at Touro, they are able to see what kind of pharmacy work they have an interest in. It can help them make a decision of whether they want to work in a community or retail setting, in a hospital setting as part of the medical team, at a pharmaceutical company, or even at a law office working on patent law.  There are many different types of practice in pharmacy.

Read more from Dr. Tahir by clicking the links below:

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