How Does a Pharmacy Work?


In the 21st century, a "typical" pharmacy no longer exists. A pharmacy may be part of a brick-and-mortar drugstore chain, a hospital or a mail-order operation filling prescriptions at a discount price. Whatever form they take, most pharmacies still have a lot in common, as their core function -- filling medical prescriptions -- is the same.

The Pharmacy People

  • The pharmacy staff consists of at least one pharmacist and the pharmacy technicians. The pharmacist oversees everything: bottling medicines from inventory, mixing up medical compounds from the ingredients at hand, and counseling pharmacy patients who have medication questions. The techs assist in medication preparation, but the pharmacist has to double-check their work to make sure they did everything right. Most of the little jobs around the pharmacy, such as ringing patients up and entering data into the computer, fall to the technicians.

Equipment and Supplies

  • Pharmacists and technicians don't do it all by hand. Technicians use liquid-filling and tablet-counting mechanisms to bottle exactly the right amount of drugs for each patient. Another hand-held tester measures the hardness of pills. The test tells the staff the pill is hard enough not to turn into powder on the way home. Pharmacies stock both medicines ready to be bottled and chemicals the staff have to mix together to create a usable drug.

Dispensing Prescriptions

  • The No. 1 job of a pharmacy is providing patients with prescription medication. In a mail-order pharmacy, the work is almost factory-like because of the huge volume: Prescriptions come in, and employees prepare the drugs for mailing without spending any time interacting with customers. In a retail pharmacy, prescription orders are individual, and the speed required varies with the number of customers that show up. Unlike a mail-order operation, customer interaction is an important part of the retail pharmacy operation.

Customer Service

  • If a customer has any questions about the drug instructions, drug safety or drug interactions, she can ask the pharmacist. Some states require pharmacists to offer drug consultations to customers who buy prescriptions. Pharmacy employees also answer a range of questions unrelated to prescriptions, such as which blood-pressure gauge is the right one to buy and how diabetics can modify their diet to better manage their illness. Dealing well with patients who are stressed or have sick children is an important part of the work.

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