Professions change and adapt as the years go by. At this time of uncertainty and rapid development within the pharmacy profession, it seems more important than ever that we can fully and collectively articulate exactly what a pharmacist is. Not just for ourselves but also, more importantly, for our stakeholders. Without a clear idea in our mind we will struggle to convince patients, commissioners and politicians of our value and the contribution that we make.
With the ever expanding role of the pharmacist there is more than one answer to the question, or at least there is more than one facet to the answer. Never before has there been so much opportunity for pharmacists to work in a range of settings, as part of widely differing teams or to specialise in so many ways. These opportunities herald a great future for the profession. They also present a challenge when we seek to describe, in a way that anyone can understand, what a pharmacist is. The answer is becoming more complex and we are predisposed to ever increasing complexity. We are naturally inclined to focus on detail and accuracy. Capturing what is common amongst pharmacists irrespective of setting or specialism is an important step towards being able to communicate that coherently and consistently to society.
While the specific contribution of pharmacists working in different settings and specialisms is distinct and important to us, we may find that it is less important to our stakeholders. Brand owners often apportion a much higher level of importance to their brand than their customers. Of course they do. They think about it day in day out. However, to customers it’s often a small part of their world. Important perhaps, small definitely. The brand of pharmacists is no different. To us the intricacies of our differences seem vitally important. To others they are less so. We are much better seeking to understand what is common to the idea of a pharmacist, what underpins our value and focus on communicating that in a way that any member of our family could grasp.
This is a critical point. To win over the public to our view of what a pharmacist is and can do we need to be able express what that is in a way that anyone can understand. That precludes highly detailed, technical descriptions and requires us to use the right kind of language and concepts that resonate with everyone in society. A short look at data from the National Literacy Trust and this becomes clear.
It may be stating the obvious however it is the view of most people within the profession that others don’t understand what pharmacists do. They don’t value us highly enough. They don’t commission us enough and they don’t pay us enough. This appears to be the broad consensus and we are and have been striving to redress this balance for a long time. Value, commissioning and payment all stem from an understanding of what we are and what we can do to help. At present there may be a gap between what the public, and I include commissioners and politicians in this group, think of pharmacists and what pharmacists think of themselves.
The challenge is that no one person has the answer to the question ‘What is a pharmacist?’ We as pharmacists have many answers, some of which relate to what we are now and some of which relate to what we can be and aspire to be in the future. Our patients have a whole range of answers themselves based on their current experience.
Understanding the thoughts of different groups is the beginning of understanding how to lead people towards our thinking and support a healthy future for the profession.
To this end a research project is underway that seeks to understand how people from differing stakeholder groups would describe a pharmacist. How they would answer the simple question ‘What is a pharmacist?’ By gathering and analysing the thoughts of as many people as possible the hope is to shed some light on brand pharmacist and facilitate work to manage that brand. Results and analysis will be published as part of a forthcoming book from DOSE Publishing.
With responses from ten different countries and a significant interest from members of the public the quantum of data is growing. Responses are sought from pharmacists of all types, pharmacy team members, a wide range of healthcare professionals and members of the public.
An edited version of this article appeared on The Pharmaceutical Journal website in February 2019.
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