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Ten Essential Skills for a Pharmacist

Dr. Obi Igbokwe

Last Updated: Monday, May 20, 2013
We look at ten of the most essential skills a pharmacist would need to have a great career.

Pharmacists are highly trained, respected professionals who need a set of very specific skills to excel. If you’re considering pharmacy as a career, here’s a list of some of the most important skills needed to be a pharmacist:

1. Verbal communication skills. Pharmacists must be able to respond to patients' questions, receive instructions from doctors and then, in turn, explain the instructions for medications with patients. They need to be able to talk to suppliers to place orders and find out about products. You’ll need to interact with customers and other pharmacists about prescription orders and directions for medication.

2. Ability to work with others. No pharmacist works alone, so you’ll need to be able to work with pharmacy assistants, other pharmacists and, in the case of big chain drugstores, managers and store clerks. You’ll need to be able to effectively work with physicians, either over the phone or in person, in coordinating medications for patients.

3. Reading and writing skills. In addition to reading prescription orders, pharmacists must read brochures, pamphlets and other materials related to drugs and their interactions, reports, memos, journals and manuals. Writing skills will be needed to write reminder notes to themselves or co-workers, leave messages for co-workers about uncompleted work such as preparing a repeat prescription for a patient, write faxes to drug companies, and make notes about drugs that need to be re-ordered.

3. Problem Solving. Pharmacists must be able to decipher occasionally difficult to read handwriting on prescriptions, then contact the doctor’s office to verify the order. You’ll deal with drug abusers submitting forged prescriptions and will need to verify them. Judgment calls must be made when drugs aren’t available from the supplier or is only available in a limited amount.

4. Decision making. As a pharmacist, you’ll need to sometimes decide which product to give a patient when different companies make the same generic product. You’ll need to calculate how much stock to order and decide, when a prescription seems unclear, whether to fill the order as you believe its written or call and verify the order with the doctor. Pharmacists often have to make judgment calls regarding whether to serve a customer who seems to be confused, under the influence or requesting a possibly falsified prescription.

5. Task planning. Pharmacists must make work schedules for employees, set priorities and respond to occasional emergencies. Work schedules must be planned based on the number of orders received by fax, phone or the Internet as well as walk-in customers.

6. Memory. Use of Memory. Pharmacists have to remember instructions from doctors, and recall adverse reactions patients have had to previous procedures or drugs. They have to remember the generic and trade names of drugs, and the faces of customers whom they suspect of misusing prescriptions.

7. Computer skills. Modern pharmacies use computers for a wide variety of functions, including word processing programs and specialized software such as Pharm Net to access patients’ information. Pharmacists use bookkeeping, billing and accounting software, and highly specialized, computer-controlled equipment like blood culture machines, and will most likely print computer-generated dispensing orders.

8. Ability to adapt. The world of medicine changes on a continual basis, and as a pharmacist, the ability to adapt to that changing world is essential. New drug therapies are created each day, and you must be able to change your “normal” procedures to upgrade to better health care.

9. Ability to follow safety precautions. Drugs can be quite dangerous at times, and the ability to follow safety precautions set by your employer or regulating agencies is essential to the success of your job.

10. Stress management skills. You'll spend the bulk of your day dealing with both patients and doctors, and the ability to go back and forth between them in a calm manner, even when you get frustrated, is a must.

There are some pretty amazing opportunities for pharmacists in the job world today, and having these skills is certainly a step in the right direction to helping you get started.