A couple of years ago I visited what is purported to be the oldest pharmacy in Europe, in the tiny town of Llivia on the border between France and Spain. Filled with Latin-labeled jars of various plant materials and other exotic ingredients reminiscent of a Potions class at Hogwarts, it reminded me how far medicine in general, and pharmacy in particular, has come. And the pace of change is accelerating. The large majority of medications in current use – entire classes of them – didn’t exist when I was in medical school 30 years ago. Keeping up with that kind of transformation is a challenge. Thank goodness for pharmacists!
I want to offer a shout out to my pharmacy colleagues during National Hospital Pharmacy Week. The range of skills and the many ways pharmacists allow us to provide safe, effective, and efficient care is quite impressive. At Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, we have pharmacists working in the main pharmacy and satellite pharmacies for the intensive care units, operating room, and oncology units. They do far more than oversee the dispensing of medications by the team of pharmacy technicians. Pharmacists are an integral part of the care team: participating in rounds; providing advice on medication selection, drug interactions, dosing, and adverse effects; leading efforts around antibiotic stewardship and rational formulary development; assisting in medication reconciliation and patient education; and ensuring compliance with the myriad regulations around medications. Hardly a shift in the emergency department goes by where I don’t have an interaction with the pharmacists in which I am both helped and enlightened!
As you might expect, the role requires a substantial amount of education and training. Pharmacists typically receive an undergraduate degree and then pursue a four-year doctor of pharmacy program. While retail pharmacists often stop their training there, hospital pharmacists most often pursue additional training, especially to practice in a specialized area like pediatrics. Our hospital offers a highly competitive two-year pharmacy residency that prepares people for the rigors of the role of a hospital pharmacist in the modern era of team medicine.
Pharmacy today bears as little resemblance to the mixing of obscure powders in medieval Llivia as surgery does to the barbershop purveyors of the same era. For my colleagues who are masters of modern pharmacy, I offer my gratitude and appreciation.