Pharmacist stress, preventing a walkout

Published: Oct. 20, 2023 at 5:38 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - You might have heard that pharmacists are walking off the job at chain stores. That happened recently at multiple Walgreens in several northern states. A few weeks ago, there was a similar protest by CVS workers in Kansas City.

We went to the School of Pharmacy at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center to learn what the problem is and what we can do as consumers to help keep pharmacists on the job here in Lubbock.

Dr. Charles Seifert, Pharm, says this about the chain store pharmacy walk-outs, “These guys are there without a bathroom break. The working conditions are terrible.”

Dr. Seifert is the Regional Dean of Pharmacy at Texas Tech. He says the problem started years ago when chain pharmacies cut back on the number of pharmacists due to budget cuts. Then COVID hit and the volume of prescriptions shot up with the additional workload of answering more questions on the phone, managing more insurance claims, providing more counsel, and giving multiple vaccines to customers.

But the biggest reason many pharmacists are unhappy might surprise you.

Dr. Seifert says, “I think the pharmacists are leaving, because the working conditions are such that they don’t feel that they can provide adequate patient safety out there.”

He says salaries are not the issue because pharmacists make good money.

Instead, he says the issue is having the time they need to check every prescripton and make sure there are no medical errors.

He explains, “You can go through your whole day, and you miss one serious drug interaction or one serious dose, and it can be patient’s life at stake.”

There are no pharmacist walkouts in Lubbock at the Texas Tech pharmacy. Also when we were there, it did not seem crowded. But Stephanie Whitaker, the pharmacist in charge there, says they also feel the additional workload.

She says, “We already do flu vaccines every year. now we do COVID vaccines. It’s very overwhelming after a while.”

She used to be a pharmacist in a chain store, so she says she understands the stress that can build there.... especially since the drive-thru can give customers the wrong impression.

She says, “They don’t think of us as people, they think of us as a fast food service almost.”

Another problem, a lot of people today use the internet to ‘doctor’ themselves with herbal remedies and over the counter drugs, with no clue that what they are taking could interact with a prescription.

Dr. Seifert says, “When you’re picking up the prescription, most people don’t say, ‘Well, I need to talk to the pharmacist.’ But maybe you do. Maybe you should. And the pharmacist should take the initiative to say, ‘Listen, I need to talk to you about this.’”

Unfortunately, he says, the pharmacist may be too rushed to take the time to do that which can add more stress to the job.

So what can we as consumers do to improve the situation?

Take responsibility for your own health.

Read the labels on your prescriptions and over the counter drugs.

Keep a list of everything you take including supplements and herbal remedies... and show it to your pharmacist.

Get all your prescriptions filled at the same place so your pharmacist can pull up your profile quickly.

And one more tip from Dr. Seifert… and it’s a big one.

He says, “Be more patien. Drop your prescriptions off and pick them up later when you have time and they have time to talk to you about them.”

Stephanie adds, “Remember that we’re here to make sure their doctors don’t make mistakes - cuz sometimes their doctors, they miss things.”

October is National Pharmacy Month, a good time to appreciate what they do for us every month.

It is impossible to know how many lives are saved by a pharmacist who identifies a medical error and avoids what could have been a dangerous prescription.