The Pharmacy Chick

Flying the coup in retail

Pulling back the curtain a bit.

Filed under: Uncategorized — pharmacychick at 10:21 am on Monday, December 7, 2009

I may take a round about way to get to my point in this post, but trust me, I’ll get there.

I got my very first job when I was 14 and 11/12th years old.  (you had to be 15 to work in my state) My next door neighbor managed a very nice steak house and I got a job bussing tables.  In the town that I lived in, there were only a few really NICE  places to eat, and this was one of them.  From the outside, it looked like a huge 3-pointed A-frame ski chalet.  On the inside it had a dark and private ambience since most of the tables were either booths or enclosed in smoked plexiglass. It really was a nice place for a quiet meal, and apparently the atmosphere worked because it was not uncommon to have 1-2 hour wait lists for dinner on the weekends. That fact alone was phenomenal to me, especially as an adult.  I wouldn’t care if they are serving hundred dollar bills with their meals, I won’t wait 1-2 hours for a meal.  

If you have ever worked in a restaurant, you can testify that the calmness and the soft dark ambience of the front part (the tables),  defies the crazy atmosphere of the kitchen part of ANY restaurant, and this was no different.  Order accuracy and prompt delivery of the hot food was critical.   The two cooks worked feverishly cooking and sorting orders so that not only were individual orders  done correctly , but that the were finished at the same time, since different foods cooked at different rates.   Wait staff were barking requests, the bus help were dashing around keeping the dirty dishes managed, and the dishwashers in the back were constantly transforming dirty dishes into clean ones.  We never seemed to have enough silverware so getting to the clean dishes first was a priority for us.   It was LOUD, it was DISORDERLY sometimes, but honestly it was seldom DISORGANIZED.  It could be called “organized chaos”.    However, the diner never got to see this.   With the kitchen out of view, they only saw their waitstaff disappear with their orders in hand, only to return a short time later with a platter full of nicely cooked steak and seafood.  It wasn’t their concern about HOW the food was prepared, only THAT it was prepared to their liking.  And for that great service they paid a premium ( restaurant prices) and a tip for the wait staff.

The pharmacy isn’t all that different in some regards.  For me personally, I try to portray an image of organization and order in the department.  Even tho we are in plain view and not hidden (tho I think we SHOULD be…another post maybe), Id rather not have the customer see the chaos that can be in the pharmacy.   I try to keep the people milling around to a minimum..(how do you say “go away” nicely??)  so that I can work as quickly and quietly as possible.  Because of this, there is a mistaken idea that we aren’t busy.    There doesn’t have to be 9 people standing around the pharmacy for me to be overwhelmed with work. 

I worked the day before Thanksgiving.  I really hate to work the days before a holiday.  Every “issue” that can come up, ususally does.  Whether it be ” I have to get on a plane in 2 hours and I need this refill oked by my doctor” ( fuggetaboutit), or ” This is Aunt Edna who left her Lantus in Sheboygan, she needs it right away” and has no pharmacy name or number, the day before a holiday is usually fraught with a zillion fires for the pharmacy staff to put out.   About half way thru the day, we had a time where we had probably 1-2 hour of wait time to pick up  prescriptions.  We had close to 40 unfilled (non waiters) and probably 20 waiters that were some where in the store.  They just happened to NOT be at the pharmacy.  This man walked up with yet another waiter, looked around and said “Hmmm…looks like you aren’t very busy today”.   A part of me just snapped.   “Actually sir, we have a 2 hour wait for these prescriptions”.  He looked flabbergasted. “But there is nobody here!” He said.  I told him, “Oh, they are all aren’t looking close enough..they are ALL OVER THE STORE.”.

Maybe I do a disservice to myself by making the pharmacy look calm and collected to the customer.  Maybe they need to see the chaos that is inside.  Maybe I need a number taker out front so they can see how far down the list they actually are.  Just like the restaurant,  they see the nice exterior and fail to see beehive of activity that exists within the prep area so that their (and everybody elses) finished product is done on time and accurately.  Maybe we need an educational video that shows the real life activity in a pharmacy….Maybe I need to pull back the curtain a bit.

They only see THEIR needs, THEIR wants, and THEIR prescriptions.  If you get down to the marrow,  thats all they care about, so don’t kid yourself.  About the only time that people SEE the work load we endure is when the pick-up line is snaking down the aisle, and then we get to hear THEIR complaints about it. 

Would it matter if they knew?  Nah,  I doubt it.   Getting people to cooperate is like nailing Jello to a tree.   And so I just carry on. 

Order UP!


Comment by WarmSocks

December 7, 2009 @ 11:31 am

Coming out of lurk mode to say that your blog does a pretty good job of letting people see a portion of what goes on in a pharmacy.
Well, welcome out of “lurk”mode! LOL and thanks for reading!

Comment by Horace S. Patoot

December 7, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

That’s it exactly. A pharmacist really does not appear busy to an outside observer.

Maybe if you played a recording of a busy restaurant kitchen in the background…
or I should wear a chef’s uniform!?

Comment by Jade

December 7, 2009 @ 3:42 pm

Interesting analogy. I’ve worked my way through pre-pharmacy busing tables, running silver, and washing dishes, as well as fast food preparation, among other minimum wage jobs. (Interesting that I never actually ‘waited’ on customers. Hmmm.) Everywhere I worked the bakers arriving at 04:00 were the craziest, apparently often arriving shortly after waking after passing out from drunken stupors. Well, actually just one delicatessen and a cafeteria.

I can attest to the noise, smells, heat, humidity (sweat pouring down face and back of neck), and continual loud arguments between the short-order cooks and everyone else, the pastry chef whipping up decorated delights quite calmly, the Czechoslavakian cook with wienerschnitzel, Hungarian goulasch, and apfel strudels, and the instant ‘order achieved when the owner walks through the kitchen.

‘Customers’ waiting in line is something definitely to avoid. There’s usually one or two people that start up a loud quibbling quarrel sometimes in the interest of setting up some kind of ‘show’ in which the impotent pharmacist can only grit teeth and muster all self-control to remain ‘in control’.

When working as the agency pharmacist, there is invariably some tech that does something to undermine the pharmacist control of the situation.

I remember one shop particularly with chagrin. When I first worked there, a rather loud tech often ‘overstepped’ her role to ‘help’ the customer, and in so doing offered $10.00 gift coupons if it took xx number of minutes to prepare, all the while ‘sympathizing’ with the customer about how long it was taking. I eventually put a damper on it, by giving customers more accurate estimates of prescription preparation and loudly explaining exactly why it was taking so long to prepare each individual’s prescription (no address, no history, no allergy, can’t read the prescriber’s handwriting, drug interaction, incomplete insurance information, etc.) and restructured what tasks the tech was doing, to get her out of the way of the ‘patient-pharmacist’ relationship, and working more helpfully.

Another situation where this came up, there was someone running cash on a register too close to the pharmacist, and she was getting all bent out of shape when she couldn’t tell what was going on and ‘desperate’ patients seemed to be ‘pleading’ with her as if she was the pharmacist, then she was relaying her frustration to me. So, I told her to do some things that she was allowed to do, like dial phone numbers for me like doctors’ offices, insurance companies, etc., and listen on the phone for messages for specific prescriptions called in (a lot of patients were asking if their script had been called in–“the doc faxed it while I was there at the office, told me it’d be ready when I got here”. This cashier whined, “I can’t legally take scripts over the phone.” My reply, “Don’t you dare erase any of those messages; listen for any that a customer says was called in! Please!”

Unhelpful pharmacy-intradepartmental relations often occur when the cashier comes from outside the pharmacy staff. Some of these auxiliary ‘cashiers’ do more harm than good when they’re asked to fill while the original is on break. Very unpleasant for fill-in pharmacist when the assistants set out on their own to provide patient ‘advocacy’.

Comment by Frantic Pharmacist

December 7, 2009 @ 5:18 pm

What drives me nuts is when they can SEE how busy you are — they hear the phone ringing, they see the questions, the interruptions — they can literally HEAR everything that’s going wrong, and STILL ask (after 5 or 10 minutes) “is my prescription ready YET???” I really want to say, “Yes, it’s ready — my clone in the alternate universe has been working on it while you have been watching me run around like a maniac.”

Comment by The Ole' Apothecary

December 7, 2009 @ 8:16 pm

Leaving your Lantus in Sheboygan sounds like leaving your heart on San Francisco.

Comment by Stacey

December 7, 2009 @ 10:40 pm


I have read through your blog and love your writing and also the inside look into a pharmacy. I have a rare genetic disorder and am on many different medications, however the pharmasist at the store I go to (I am loyal to them, never gone elsewhere except when I lived 3 hours away) always know me by name and also that I am ‘sensitive’ to tylenol and asprin and that I can not take decongestants, without looking me up! (There are only about 7000 people in my town but still!). They are always there to answer questions, make sure any (even OTC) products I buy are okay with my perscriptions and just so much more. I have been thinking of getting something to show my appreciation for them but have no clue! I believe there are at most 5ish people in the pharmacy (pharmasists, techs, cash etc). Any suggestions on what you would feel comfortable taking from a very greatful ‘patient’?
Every pharmacist loves a food gift. You dont have to spend a lot of money, something you have made and a note to the staff telling them WHY you appreciate them. Even better is a note to the superiors of the pharmacy telling THEM why you appreciate them. Those things go a long way!

Comment by rxkerber

December 8, 2009 @ 2:33 am

I agree with Frantic wholeheartedly. “Just put some pills in a bottle” makes flames come out of my ears! Oh and there is no curtain in my pharmacy. It looks like a 3ring circus all the time. No matter how many orders I bark out at my techs. I used to be nice but that gets me know where. That’s what you get filling over 300rx in a day with 2 mediocore and 1 new tech and no rph overlap. So I will limp along again tomorrow

Comment by Dr. Grumpy

December 8, 2009 @ 6:10 am

I think the medical business, and maybe all, are like this. Patients don’t see the all day insanity of reports, emails, and calls going back and forth between Mary, Annie, and I.

Comment by Julia

December 8, 2009 @ 11:34 am

Ha, love the reference to She-vegas, it’s a craptastic town, but you gotta love it.

I don’t work in the med. business, but my theory is everyone that I know who has a job “in the real world” has hectic days and a ton of work to do even if it doen’t appear that way…why would anyone have the balls to assume that this “busy day scenario” only applies to them and not the people who are working at their jobs that they encounter as well is beyond me.

Comment by Melissa

December 8, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

I REALLY like the idea of “Now serving #xx” like they have at the DMV. Although my pharm is always busy, they usually say it’ll be ready in 15 minutes. Doesn’t matter to me, I drop off 2 days before my refill ends. I really didn’t know there was more to it than putting pills into a bottle. Seriously! Until I read this blog (and others). I know better now!!

Comment by RxMomma

December 9, 2009 @ 10:57 am

Many times when working in the outpt Rx (I avoid this as much as possible), it gets freaky busy. Instead of a wait time I tell people there are X amount of people ahead of you and I estimate your wait time to be 20-25 minutes, or whatever it is. Usually I go long on the time as it is better to over-deliver than under.
Not a bad idea, letting them know that x number of people are ahead of the patient.

Comment by KevHead

December 9, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

Not sure a store could get away with it today, but about 10 years back I worked in a store that would get a huge lunch rush and 5 PM rush. At 11:30 and 4:00 every day our wait would be an automatic 2 hours no matter how busy, we could be completely caught up but the stated wait time would be 2 hours. Relief staff would think we were crazy until they worked it and gave what they thought was a realistic wait time. The next time in store, they would get with the program. It took a month but the patients got used to it and expected it. RX volume did not go down, it continued to increase.
We have moved our wait times up to 1/2 to 1 hours almost all days, even if we were just reading magazines (which never happens anymore anyway). And I dont care if I have it done in 5 minutes..I think its better if people get used to allowing time for prescriptions..this isn’t fast food!

Comment by FeR

December 9, 2009 @ 8:19 pm

ah! i guess it’s the same everywhere for pharmacists.

I agree with FranticPharmacist, too! I have the “ARE YOU BLIND/DEAF/NOT HERE” face when they ask about their Rx after 2 seconds and go all huffy when you tell them there is a queue of Rx to fill before them.


Comment by chris

December 15, 2009 @ 6:30 am

I always think its odd when people will wait ages for food in a bar, but if you give a wait longer than 5 minutes for a script to some people, they get really funny with you. I get sick people telling me, it’s just a little one. We have a half hourly bus stop opposite us and on rainy days you see them getting off the bus from the ‘elderly zone’ of the city and walk over to us. they will watch eachother que up, each being told how long it will take, and then start moaning to each other about the wait.

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