Pharmacist as ‘physician extender:’ Mainstream media finally catching on?

ALEXANDRIA, Va. If a lengthy story in Tuesday’s The Washington Post and a slew of other recent newspaper stories and televised news reports are any indication, it’s finally beginning to dawn on the nation’s mainstream media outlets that pharmacy is about a lot more than counting pills into bottles.

Led by such groups as the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association, the retail pharmacy profession has waged a years-long campaign to educate lawmakers, health-policy experts, health-plan payers and the public at large about its increasingly critical role as frontline healthcare provider. Finally, that message appears to be getting through.

The traditional image of the community pharmacist as a remote presence “sequestered behind a counter doling out pills” is long out of date, reporter Sandra Boodman acknowledges in Tuesday’s Washington Post. “That may have been an accurate job description for a retail druggist circa 1978…but it bears little resemblance to the multi-tasking the job requires these days,” she wrote.

Boodman, who spent “several days” with Charley John, a Walgreens pharmacist in Alexandria, reports that retail pharmacists today must navigate a broad and demanding workday that calls on a wide range of patient counseling skills, health expertise and professional judgment. She notes that pharmacy schools have “overhauled their programs, extending training from a four-year bachelor's degree to a doctorate that requires six years of schooling” to accommodate an increasingly complex role for pharmacists as front-line patient-care specialists.

Boodman tracks John’s workday as patient counselor, educator, link between patients and their doctors, insurance coordinator and provider of immunizations and other health services. She also notes the job satisfaction the Walgreens pharmacist derives from his role as an “unflappable, efficient and empathic” provider of drug therapy and advice to his patients.

Among the experts quoted by The Post: Lynnae Mahaney, president of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, who asserts that pharmacists “have become ‘physician extenders’ in hospital and community settings.” That portrayal, as reported in one of the nation’s most respected and widely read newspapers, could mark a watershed in community pharmacy’s long effort to win recognition for its contribution to the nation’s fractured healthcare system.

Boodman also quotes Edith Rosato, SVP pharmacy affairs for NACDS and president of the NACDS Foundation. Calling pharmacists “the face of neighborhood health care,” Rosato notes that pharmacists’ training and duties “have undergone a metamorphosis in the past two decades,” Boodman notes, “as health care has become more complicated and the use of medications has exploded.”

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