A Pharmacist? What! Why?

I stood behind the pharmacy’s drop-off counter, across from the 13-year-old and her dad, when I heard her ask, “Is he the cashier?”

“No, he’s the pharmacist,” her dad answered.

“Pharmacist? Is that a cashier who gives the drugs?” 

Well, not exactly, I guess! At least pharmacists have existed long before cashiers were invented.

While humans began gathering plants for medicinal purposes more than 30,000 years ago, the word “pharmacy” was first heard in the late 14th century. It’s believed to be derived from the Greek work “Pharmakeia” which means the use of drugs, medicines, or spells—or poison or witchcraft.

Pharmacies have been with us for a long time, when you consider that the first pharmacy was opened in Baghdad in the 8th century. North America, however, had to wait about 1000 years before the first pharmacy opened in 1729 in Philadelphia. It took Canada a little longer to get ours, but eventually we did get our first pharmacy in Montreal in 1842.

Not long after the first pharmacies were established, plants and their derived products were used to manufacture drugs, like morphine by Merck in 1826, and aspirin by Bayer in 1899. Other drugs came soon after, such as cocaine, codeine, digitoxin, quinine and pilocarpine.

While the industry has evolved significantly since then, the use of botanical preparations is still with us. Currently, about 80% of the world’s population still uses botanical preparations as medicines for their health needs. In addition, up to 50% of the approved drugs during the last 30 years are either directly or indirectly sourced from natural products.

Our 13-year-old client imagined the staff at the pharmacy behind the counter, counting pills and putting them into a vial for her to take home. In reality, pharmacists and their assistants do so much more, and can be very useful in maintaining a holistic health approach to life.

As a pharmacist, my core and long-standing role is to make sure that my clients are getting the right medications at the right doses with no significant interactions with other medications, supplements, herbal products or food. I also counsel my clients about the right way to take their medications and provide them with tips to better manage conditions.

Pharmacists, are one of the most trusted and accessible frontline healthcare practitioners in Ontario, most times on a walk-in basis. We collaborate with clients, their families and other healthcare practitioners to improve health quality every day.

In the past few years, pharmacists have accepted ever-expanding roles in the healthcare system, and are increasingly being recognized as the medication management experts by other healthcare practitioners. With the significant numbers of medication options, the aging population and the increased cost of healthcare, pharmacists are key to ensuring safe, cost-effective drug therapy for their clients.

We can now deliver a range of innovative services, including medication reviews, chronic disease management, immunization services, and smoking cessation and wellness programs.

Pharmacists have also been approved to prescribe for certain conditions, which is a service that can result in you having faster and more convenient access to healthcare.

I am not sure if my 13-year-old client understood everything that I said, but I am sure her dad did. This makes me more compelled to talk more about how can we help you to better manage your health, and achieve your wellness goals. Think of pharmacists as members of your healthcare team and utilize their invaluable knowledge and resources.