|MadSci Network: Chemistry|
Through perhaps the Korean War in this country, the primary job of a pharmacist was to fill prescriptions written by doctors using their knownledge of what is usually called "materia medica", the chemicals, drugs and objects used to treat specific diseases or conditions. This involved in most cases actually making up the medicine from a combination of one or more ingrediants and putting those ingrediants into a form to be taken by some route of ingestion (oral, rectal, etc.). Pharmacists traditionally actually made up the medicines at the time of dispensation. Because of this, they had to have a great deal of knowledge about medicine and especially about drugs. A pharmacist has a specialized degree taking usually 4 years. However, their role has changed dramatically within the last 40 years, primarily because of the growth in "prepared" drugs. Pharmacists rarely actually make up medicines anymore, probably much less than 1% of those prescribed. Essentially, the picture of a pharmacist counting pills is relatively accurate. It is becoming increasingly evident that the 4 years of specialized training is not necessary for this task. Pharmacists have an additional role now however. Because of the huge number of drugs (>22,000 currently on the market), there is the very high likelihood of drug-drug interactions or adverse effects from a drug. Moreover, because of the specialization of medicine, many patients are receiving prescriptions and treatments from more than one doctor at the same time. Both from their own knowledge and the use of computer databases therefore, the pharmacist has become a "filter" who often knows all the drugs and treatments a patient is receiving. The pharmacist can therefore spot likely drug interactions and ward the patient and/or the doctor. They can often offer some basic instruction in what effects to look for should there be a problem. This is also contained in many cases by a printout that accompanies each prescription. The role of the pharmacist as a professional, essentially as well educated in pharmacology and drugs as the physician is in medicine has changed. The degree of education needed in the past is not necessarily needed now or in the future. But it is quite unclear what role the pharmacist will play in 10-20 years as medicine changes, both because of advances in medical practice and changes in health insurance plans, managed care, etc.
Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Chemistry.