The ‘hidden’ healthcare profession?

Pharmacists believe they are seen as “shopkeepers” and do not feel adequately recognised as registered healthcare professionals

Community and hospital pharmacists want to be recognised as medicines experts but are aware that they are mainly seen by the public as dispensers and “shopkeepers”, according to a study by researchers from Brighton General Hospital and the University of Brighton in the UK.

The researchers conducted 20 face-to-face semi-structured interviews with a combination of community pharmacists, acute hospital pharmacists, and hospital pharmacists specialising in mental health and community health services based in England.

They found ambiguities about pharmacists’ perceptions of being professionals, with some using terms such as “shopkeepers” and “sticking labels on boxes” to describe images others had of them.

Similar perceptions of pharmacists as mere retailers and a lack of understanding about what they do have been expressed in Australia, including through mainstream media.

Some hospital pharmacists said they believed the public viewed all pharmacists as community pharmacists, and that their practice was “just dispensing”.

Pharmacists also did not think the public viewed them as registered healthcare professionals.

“I do not think that pharmacy itself is particularly perceived as a profession by the general public,” said one community pharmacist.

“People do not understand, are we part of the NHS [UK’s National Health Service] or are we a shop?” they said.

Another community pharmacist highlighted their conflicting roles as both pharmacist and business manager, explaining that they were “two separate things as much as the two collide”.

For community pharmacists working in a retail environment, having to achieve targets for services and being constrained by medicines regulations adversely affected their autonomy and judgement, introducing an element of disempowerment, said the researchers.

The interviews also revealed divisions between hospital and community pharmacists.

Hospital pharmacists expressed limited solidarity with community pharmacists who were not working to professional standards as they expected.

“I get really furious with that because that is my profession,” said a hospital pharmacist specialising in community health services.

Hospital pharmacists also felt community pharmacists did not see “further than their dispensing role” with no ambition to elevate the profession.

Meanwhile community pharmacists shared their difficulties in rising above their workload to develop their practice due to “increasing scripts figures”.

Community pharmacists had limited access to postgraduate education and training while working as “isolated practitioners” with “no career structure”, compared to hospital pharmacists who worked in environments that facilitated further education and training.

In general pharmacists felt the public did not view them as registered healthcare professionals, say the researchers in their article published in the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice.

“Pharmacists want to be recognised as medicines experts within health care,” they write.

“They acknowledge that their status is assessed by the public based on their act of practice, which is traditionally the dispensing of medicines, and that the public’s image of all pharmacists is that of ‘a typical community pharmacist’ working in a retail shop.

“Pharmacists remain the hidden healthcare profession. They need to act in practice as healthcare professionals so the public and wider society is aware of their contributions to healthcare.”

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