The Pharmacy Chick

Flying the coup in retail

Ripping Grumpy off: Tools of MY trade.

Filed under: Uncategorized — pharmacychick at 9:27 pm on Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dr Grumpy posted today on HIS tools of the trade.  If you havent read it you can read it here:

Pharmacy chick has no need of a reflex hammer.   On second thought some of the hammers on Grumpy’s post might come in handy.. in an entirely new use, but one that might not be conventional….or legal….

Moving on.  In a blatant attempt to ride the coat tails of Grumpy’s success and innovative post ideas I offer my own only semi plagarized “tools of the trade”:

Pharmacy has its own tools…., namely the counting tray and spatula.  Every pharmacist will admit that they probably have a specific spatula that they will always grab when they have to do the duty. I am no exception.  That is not to say that I’ll rip it out of the tech’s hand if she/he happens to be using it, but I will generally whine if I can’t find my favorite.

Ive had a variety of both spatulas and trays dropped off at PC pharmacy over the years.  With the demise of freebies from drug companies, they have been eliminated but I still keep a tidy supply for future use.  There are some however that are complete crap.  I mean,  they have to meet some kind of critera in order to make the “big show” and end up on the counter.

Go to fullsize imageThe tray might make it on the counter because it is an acceptable solid color but the spatula???? WTF is that plastic thing?  NO pharmacist would use that “spatula”..and I use that term lightly.  The tray must have  the thumb tab to raise the hinge.  (which it does) . I have a couple without the thumb tab and its a pain in the arse to use. This tray comes as close as possible to the all time favorite:  The Turquoise Abbot Counting Tray.  It was probably the mainstay of pharmacies everywhere.

eBay Image 1 Vintage Abbott Lab Counting Tray in Box w/InsertSeen here, it has graced the counters of pharmacies all over the US, and probably the world.  Nobody has ever made a tray this perfect.

Go to fullsize imageThis is a loser on two levels.  1)  I dont like any transparent counting tray.  Its only redeeming value is that its a ambidextrous tray for the 1 in 10000000 pharmacists who thinks they need to shove their tablets to the right.  In 23 years of practice, I have met only one and he brought it own tray…which he absentmindedly left behind.  I had to mail it to him.  I’m left handed and Ive managed quite well with a standard tray.  2) the spatula has that tweezer on the end which serves no purpose but to pinch the user.  I have a couple of these in a drawer.  And, in that drawer they will stay. If I am going to get pinched, it better be by a handsome  man and NOT by a piece of equipment. It does have a nice taper blade however.  I am , after all counting tablets not frosting a cake.

Go to fullsize image We got a fair number of these with inserts for advertising.  My tech ripped the ad out of one and inserted her kid’s picture.  But the tray lacks a thumb tab…PC needs a thumb tab.  The spatula is another technological wonder.  It has a spring loaded cotton picker in the end.  Again,  worthless piece of equipment.  It never picked cotton very well and when the spring sprung the cotton picker flopped around poking anyone who got too close. 

Go to fullsize image HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH.  Supposedly the 4 in 1 pharmacy tool.  it claims” The 4-in-1 Pharmacy Tool is a portable handheld device designed to assist busy pharmacists with the repetitive tasks of opening medicine bottles and counting pills to fill patient prescriptions. The tool breaks moisture-induction seals, removes cotton from bottles, acts as a spatula for counting pills and has tweezers for sanitary hands-off retrieval of any stray pills accidentally spilled during the filling procedure.”  It also appears to be a handy mouth guard for those pharmacists who take the job home at night and grind their teeth…

Go to fullsize imageHonestly I cannot imagine.  But they want $50 bucks for it. At least the handle is wood …Rosewood specifically…PC likes wood handled spatulas.  We are getting closer. 

Pharmacists toolkitUm  for Survivor…Pharmacy Edition?  Actually I am not sure it would be a good idea to give a retail pharmacist close access to a tool of this design. I like the taper blade but one bad day and there may be bloodshed and where do you hide the bodies in a pharmacy?  At least we all know Universal Precautions from our blood borne path class.

Wooden counting spatulaOuch, another redundant effort to improve a simple spatula. But it may do a nice job of cleaning fingernails or picking noses…carefully.

Go to fullsize imageTOO LONG….

Go to fullsize imageToo short. Too wide.

Go to fullsize imageWrong Profession.

So, you might ask..WHAT DO you use Pharmacy Chick?  your hands?  Well, no, but I did know a Rph in my early days who counted with his fingers, like a sieve.  He was nearly retired.  I think that was a sound decision on his part.  My perfect spatula is a vintage Ceftin spatula I have had for all my years.  I have absconded  with it from every pharmacy I have ever worked in.  Traditional in design, it has a smoothly sanded oak handle and a perfect length tapered blade.  It has suffered many indignities over the years including a bent tip from a few too many stabs in safety seals but it feels perfect in my hand. It doesn’t scratch the tray, and the finish doesn’t cause splinters. (yes I have had some really cheap woodies that the paint came off and caused splinters)

This is the perfect PC spatula.  Simple in design.  About a 6 in tapered blade. Smooth wood handle, feels good in my hand.  Any tablet should be honored to be counted with such a lovely device.

And now you know all my “tools of the trade”.



Comment by JS

March 18, 2011 @ 12:51 am

Then you must have two, correct? One for counting things like Bactrim, PCN, and of the like; and on for the other stuff? Or are you able to go with something less prestigious, less simple, than the PC Branded SPAT(love that)ULA for a few scripts now and again. I always hope and pray that my medication is not ever accidentally touched by one that had contact with said SULFA and PCN as the outcome; NOT PRETTY. I react to badly to PCN that when shaking up the bottle and giving it to a child while working in a Day Care Center in 1986 and because it is so easy to convince a child that it’s not going to e that bad (OMG have you had to take liquid anything) and he spit it back out ALL OVER ME AND EVERYTHING NEARBY. By the time I cleaned him up the table in which he was sitting upon and the floor I could figure out why I thought my face was on fire. I went to check and to clean the PCN off my face and I had welts where the PCN had touched. My whole face swelled up too just to add a nice tough of sophistication to the whole look. I guess I was still allergic to PCN. And I don’t plan to try it again (even if a doctor thought it was good to try desensitizing me to it in the ICU, just saying). Nice post, PC. I enjoyed it! And Dr. Grump’s was interesting too. Now, if I could just find pictures of the do’s and don’t’s of chalk holders that are used in the teaching profession I could guest post on someone’s blog………………anyone????? Happy Friday to all and to all a well deserved and relaxing weekend (I hope). And if I could take this time (PC I hope this is okay) to ask those of you who pray or can send positive vibes out could you please do so for a little lovely, named Melanie who is very ill. Her family and people around the world are praying for this soon to be 8 y/o sweetie.! Thanks, PC!we clean trays after sensitive products instead of having separate ones. its a habit we got into along time ago and leads to no “accidents” of grabbing the wrong tray. we go thru an amazing amount of et-oh at our pharmacy. cleaning trays, counters, keyboards, mice, checkstands, phones, etc.

Comment by jenn

March 18, 2011 @ 1:39 am

My favorite is like yours..short wooden handle with 6 inch blade. I don’t like the longer ones and hate the plastic ones. “Mine” has a couple stickers on the handle to remind people not to touch it 😛

We don’t use seperate spatulas or trays for certain drugs. But they are cleaned with alcohol after messy drugs (I’m more obsessive with cleaning them than others but we all clean them!)

Comment by Erin

March 18, 2011 @ 6:25 am

Hey PC, that’s my favorite spatula too! We all fight over it.

Comment by Lisa Gardner, PharmD

March 18, 2011 @ 7:28 am

You are missing out on the best spatula on the market… The Hook knife spatula. It has a sharp, hooked end. They are pricey, at about $25.00 each, but worth the expense. They have a plastic handle, which makes cleanup easier. (Also, no splinters.) They are lightweight, but have a quality feel.sounds like a weapon, not a spatula! LOL

That said, I purchased a counting machine a few years ago from Innovat called the Eyecon. It uses the same tech as the old overhead projectors that would project from opaque paper. We hardly ever break out the counting trays and spatulae (except for clear capsules like Tessalon perles). It was a significant expense for a small, hometown pharmacy like ours, but has freed up lots of time and prevented many a counting error. (It even keeps record of how many pills were counted, for the occasional “you shorted me on my pain pills!” assertation.)I have long wanted a counter, kerby lester or whatever, but to date the company won’t pony up the cash….and in THIS economy, I doubt it ever will, so spat and tray we continue to depend on!

Comment by Texas Pharmacy Chica

March 18, 2011 @ 8:26 am

Yes. Wooden handle and a solid coloured tray. What idiotic marketing dude ever thought up clear trays? I share DrugMonkeys view on many a business major. And those trays that have a huge gap by the hinges when you open it up….

Other tools I cannot survive without: Sharpie pens. It is like an obsession…Cafe colours, Tropical colours, retractable, fine tip, short ones that hang from my coat, highlighters. Hated the Sharpie ‘pen’, though.

It also took many tries to find a hand lotion that does not spread like oil on water on the sticky side when you peel the sticker label.Vaseline intensive care original cherry/almond scent. never leaves me greasy. smells great..been using it for years!

Comment by murgatr

March 18, 2011 @ 10:00 am

My obsession is with the Pharmex label that says clearly “This is your last refill – please contact your physician”. Pretty self explanatory if you ask me 🙂

Pharm.Tech. RDC ’06

Comment by Ndemrose

March 18, 2011 @ 11:35 am

I use the same spatula! While we only have one rph working at any given time, there is no fighting. We also use the abbot trays until they fall apart then we call them for more, I have a few on the shelf in their boxes waiting for their turn.

Pens, however, I freak if someone uses my favorite pen of the day. I have my own cup of them, and nobody, NOBODY, better touch my pens!


I love this blog. People of my own heart. The husband just doens’t “get it”.

Thanks PC so glad he found you for me! (husband found your site for me to read)…


Comment by Jade

March 18, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

Our graduating class got the anniversary white abbott trays–I don’t think they ‘work’ as well as the aqua ones…drug powders just don’t show up as brightly.

Our class also received two kinds of lilly spats, one short for counting, and the other longer and wider for compounding ointments. They seem to work fine, but I’ve never wanted to take them with me to the workplace with a possibly of getting misplaced or lost. At one of my jobs, the spat has a retractable hook like knife blade which I really like because it sure picks cotton, and it’s sharp enough that I can use it to cut through prescription tape and peel off a bottle if inadvertently mislabeled. I can see me not liking on the day that the metal is too loose and refuses to retract properly.

Speaking of prescription tape, there are definitely better brands than others, as well as tape dispensers that are weighty enough not to fall off the shelf when using it. At one place I work occasionally, I curse the tape dispenser every time it falls apart when I go to use it, so I suppose a donation is in order the next time I’m there.

With pens, it’s best not to become too attached to any pen. You know those safety signs outside factories that proclaim, ‘XX days without an accident’, well there should be one for pharmacy pens, like ‘XX days without losing a favorite pen’. Loss of pen to which you’ve fixed an attachment will ruin that day and several in the future when it turns up missing.

I don’t like the injection vials that are weighted improperly with too much rubber, or non-latex stopper, aluminum, glass lip, etc. for the tiny glass base, because they tend to tip over and spill when you’re wearing chemo gloves. And, I definitely do NOT like ampoules as opposed to vials. I don’t know why any company would continue make drugs in amps unless the stopper corrodes!

What about your conicals and graduates? Plastic versus glass? Solid base?Jade, we have several long spatulas for compounding and I use them only for compounding. They are too big and unwielding to use for counting. I had to laugh about your comment about pens. We lost SO many pens to thievery that I went with the “too big to steal” concept. I went and bought a bunch of stick pens and some silk flowers. I taped the flowers to the pens with floral tape (that green stuff) and put them in a flower pot with dried beans (dirt). its attractive and functional, and to date, nobody has walked out with my pens. I do however have a box of PC pens…those that if anybody touches, they will turn into a pillar of salt, or worse yet, incur my wrath. Tape dispensers: Yup, totally agree with you, we had crappy ones but I went and staffed the pharmacy with heavy weight scotch dispensers (back in the day when I could get away with buying supplies). I used SCOTCH tap exclusively until about 4 months ago when the “company” went on a supply reducing initiative and blocked Scotch. We get this Frickin CRAPPY tape now that we hate. I buy all of my own sharpies, rubberbands and highlighters but I will not pay for tape out of my own pocket. Our glassware is “vintage” to say the least but it does its job. We had a verifiable antique we used until somebody dropped it and it snapped off at the base. I occasionally search ebay for glassware.

Comment by Ndemrose

March 18, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

OH yeah… gotta have the scotch tape!!!!!

Comment by IAPharmer

March 18, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

You can still get the blue Abbott trays, just call Abbott, they will send you 2 for free, you can call back a couple weeks later and get more. I now have 6 in my store. The ones that my company orders kept breaking.

I have a spatula that has been with me since my license. It was from Duragesic. Not sure why they made spatulas because their product is a patch and is not counted! It has a blue handle and a 6 inch tapered blade, it is nice because it’s hook is spring loaded and slides out the back, and it is pointy, so you can use it to open stubborn bottles & abx.

One day a jackass floater bent the end because that is what he likes…I flipped out. I have been trying to bend it perfectly straight for a while but it won’t go back….guess it adds character.Blasphemy, #1rule…when visiting, do NOT damage(or steal) the hosts stuff! I had a floater once who coveted our pen collection..a box that had a hundred or so of mfr pens over the years. She wanted a bunch but I said NO, if you collect pens, get them off ebay, we USE these!. I had the early shift and left her at about 6pm. I came to work the next day with a DECIDEDLY smaller box of pens, she ripped us off DOZENS of pens. the thief! I even sent an email to the scheduler to pass on ” Dear Thief-ina, You asked for pens and I said no but you took them anyway? you aren’t welcome back.” whats next? the till? my smocks? MY COKE??

My team knows that no one uses it but me, and when I move on my tray and spatula come with me!thanks! I am going to call them!

Comment by Sal

March 19, 2011 @ 10:29 am

As I started reading your post, I was thinking of my blue Abbott tray from when I worked retail. Great call! My choice of spatchula was similar to yours, only my handle was stained walnut.

Thanks for the memories!

Comment by Mike

March 19, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

I have to have the following items:

1) Laugh all you want, but one of those “4-in-1 pharmacy tools”. Love using those to open bottles, remove cotton, etc.hahahahah, sorry mike just had to laugh

2) A heavy black sharpie to mark open bottles. Anyone caught NOT marking open bottles generally will have their lunch eaten by me.Ill remember that when I eat a sardine and green olive sandwich.

3) MY stapler – one of those self-propelled ones from Staples that goes through like 24 sheets or something.sounds cool! wish I had one

4) MY pen – the only way to get MY pen is to reach in MY pocket. Please don’t.ah come on..just once???

(As I mentioned before, we have a pill counter so we don’t use our trays that often, but when we do… blue Abbott it is!)

Comment by Tracy

March 20, 2011 @ 7:28 am

We are spatula soulmates. “baby spatch ” is not loved or even liked by anyone but me. And we’ve been together for…. Almost 9 years now. He’s little bent from breaking seals. Little jagged on one side… But i love him.
And yes i will take him from you when you set him down.
Shorter tapered blade offers better counting control than those silly 8″ spats. And i hate “the hook”. (8″ blade with a freaking fish hook at the end. I usually end up bleeding when we meet.)
and Ohh those abbot trays. How i miss thee. We are not allowed to call for them since they passed some idiotic rule that we can’t have accept anything from drug companies.
Sigh.and I really dont get this. I mean the crap manufacturers made were just that..crap that we use…but has no real value. I mean if you are a physician and you are so INTO stuff that you are persuaded to prescribe a certain drug because of the cool pen, stuffed animal, or paperweight , then you have a problem. But we really used those pens, pads, etc…i see its rather lucrative on EBAY however…

Comment by Jaded RPh

March 20, 2011 @ 10:32 am

My tools:

1) Same spatula, though I can work with the wider blades as well.
2) Blue Abbott trays are the best. We had a floater tech (do I miss those days) that had a left-handed tray. As I too am left-handed, I was curious and tried it out. One swipe to the right and I thought, “This feels way too weird,” and went back to the trusty Abbott.
3) Retractable ball-point pen. No gel pens; too much smearing on the paper and my hand. And an extra one in my other pocket for others to borrow, so they don’t use/steal my good ones.I agree, gel pens are messy! I like fine point black pens with a rubber finger holder.
4) Bic fine-point Sharpie. I *LOVE* these; trusty enough to write on anything (including labels, which my ball points sometimes fail), and *never* smudge – a necessity for southpaws. I swear finding this was one of the best moments of my pharmacy life.

Comment by Frantic Pharmacist

March 20, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

Someone needs to invent a special spatula to round up those little Tessalon Perles. Also something to decrease the static charge on the Concerta. As far as breaking seals, I still stab it with my pen and dig out the cotton with scissors as ‘tongs.’ Kind of crude but I can never find any of the other devices…I went to our state fair and they had this display of “medical” tools, and I bought a handful of giant tweezers. they work perfect! I also had a relief rph steal one of those once…we had two and the next day we had only one….hmmmm. now we have a lot.

Comment by pharmgamerkid

March 21, 2011 @ 9:44 am

I have a thing for staplers since we have to staple the leaflets to every prescription bags. The new stores would get this nice stapler that’s easy on your hand vs. the old stores’ ancient stapler that would jam with every staple. My store got the good new stapler recently and I would get really mad if someone takes it from its spot at the pharmacist station.

Comment by KellyTech

March 25, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

sooo your a pharmacist…and you actually fill prescriptions?! please come to our store!! My pharmacists NEVER fill….anywho I agree….Gotta have the blue Abbott trays…we have 3 damn spatulas…and one is a horrible wooden handled one that only one tech likes….it squeeks like crazy on the trays…and pens at our store are closely gaurded since our pharmacy manager steals them all the time…if he doesnt have a pen he’ll take down scripts in sharpie or pencil….as much as I’d love to be waited on hand and foot by all of my techs…oh wait..I only had 1 tech today…yes I fill rx…and I will wash dishes, vaccum, take out the garbage, ring up sales, fill the printer and anything else that needs to be done in the pharmacy! LOL

Comment by Guzzo

March 31, 2011 @ 3:53 am

You forgot the tool most often used by practicing retail pharmacists that I know..

Comment by Old Pharmer

April 8, 2011 @ 5:57 am

Totally agree with your choice of spatulas. Loved the wooden handled one. Like an old friend, so comforting in the hand when manually counting. Also, I agree with the Abbot trays. They little tab is A MUST HAVE.

I think Grumpy would be honored that you flattered him by writing this piece.

Looking forward to more of your writing.

Comment by Linda DelNigro

April 9, 2011 @ 4:26 am

Where can I find the favorite spatula. I am a pharm tech I, about to take my PTCB and my children wish to purchase one for me.(It has been my favorite while in externship….and I do steal it from another tech every time I can) I have been on all kinds of websites and can’t find one anywhere. I’m sure I haven’t found the correct website yet. Please help! Thank you in advance for anything you can tell me.

Comment by ER Murse

April 12, 2011 @ 8:03 am

I’m not a pharmacist, I’m a former ED nurse currently working in an addiction medicine clinic. The overlap is that we often have patients who have to get their medications counted, to prove that they’re taking them as prescribed. We do an awful lot of counting and identifying pills. We’ve got a whole bin of spatulas and trays, and I think it’s quite amusing that the ones I ALWAYS reach for are the exact same ones featured in this post. I conveniently ‘lost’ the fake spatula from the abbot tray in the first few days, since it wasn’t even worth the effort to keep putting it back it in its built in slot every time it fell out. As for some of the other random trays and spatulas, if they’re all that’s available I can do better and faster with a sheet of copier paper and a pen, and just roll the paper into a cone to pour the pills back into the bottle. Good tools do make a difference.

Comment by Janice

August 24, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

I have a fav spatula at work plastic handle with a hook that ejects with a slide button to get the most stubborn cotton out of those bottles. We have 2 or 3 of them, of which I have to shake side-to-side to determine which is ‘mine’, as the other two are loose at the blade lol We have a few of the wooden handled ones but they scrape against the trays and makes me ache upon hearing it..much akin to nails scraping the chalkboard.

Comment by Dave

September 7, 2011 @ 4:53 pm

i count with a pen when in a pinch and in a rush. but i do find a shorter spatula and darker color tray more convenient. just my preference.

Comment by Holly

September 30, 2011 @ 9:04 pm

Well, after reading everybody’s comments I feel as though I’m working in poverty!! The “spatulas” that I get to use are the wooden tongue sticks used by doctors!! Every tool described seems like some sort of futuristic dream to me!!you have to be use a tongue depressor??

Comment by Mark

July 24, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

Your favorite sounds like mine. Right down to the crook at the end.
I always thought all the attachments on the other end of spatulas were worthless. The only one I thought would be a good idea I have never seen, a pen. Count with one end and wright with the other. But then you get into the fav pen lose.
Oh well I guess it’s just as well.

Comment by Jennifer

April 4, 2014 @ 1:01 pm

I’m sorta old school (15 years in) and now opening my own independent in less than 2 weeks.
I think I can thieve and Abbot counting tray but images aren’t showing, which one in this blog did you say comes the closest? Help? I can’t work with any of the crap out there now.
you can call Abbott and get some trays sent to you but the protonix and claritin trays are pretty good. As far as spatulas go. They gotta me metal and I hold on to mine pretty tight!

Comment by Stefanie

September 26, 2014 @ 7:41 am

Does anyone know where online I can buy that 4 in 1 tool that opens the bottle seals and helps pick out the cotton? The drug reps used to give us them at our store but now where all out :/

Comment by pharmacychick

October 1, 2014 @ 9:21 pm

I wish I knew. we always got them as freebies! 🙂

Comment by Brian

March 16, 2017 @ 8:44 pm

Colorado Pen Company has a line of Sharpie covers (Sherpa) that make your Sharpies look like Mont Blancs — far too nice and personal for people to even think of making off with. I compounded inside a clean room and had a pocket protector in the garb room with my own writing utensils. I’m a huge stickler for pens (Uni-ball, black, micro) and supplied my own, which made it very easy to tell if any of the ball point users had absconded with one of mine.

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