The 5 Things I Learned In Retail Pharmacy

In pharmacy school, you have to complete a specific number of IPPE’s, or Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences. This way, you are able to get your feet wet in a variety of different pharmacy fields, and try to figure out what you like best.

In our first IPPE during the P1 year, we have to do a community pharmacy rotation. This could be anywhere from the chain pharmacies we know and (sometimes) love, to grocery store pharmacies, to local/independent pharmacies. I was placed in a grocery store, but I’ve also had over a year’s worth of experience at a chain pharmacy.

Both of those work experiences have allowed me to come up with the following list –5 crucial things that I learned while in retail pharmacy.

  1. The relationship that you develop with your patients is one-sided.

They tell you this time and time again in pharmacy school. The profession that you have chosen will result in a non-reciprocal relationship with your patients. What does this mean for you, as a pharmacist? Some patients are going to yell at you, say cruel things about you, threaten your job, and make your life a nightmare. But you can’t do a single thing about it, except smile and treat them as if they hadn’t said anything remotely offensive to you. You have accepted the responsibility to provide health care to all patients who need your help, even the patients who don’t respect you.

      2. About half of the prescriptions you receive are OTC.

This is very good news for you in the pharmacy. Most insurances will not cover medications that are already over-the-counter. Therefore, your job just got a teeny-weeny bit easier.

       3. The customer isn’t always right.

We’ve all heard the saying, “The customer is always right”. I’m sorry, but this simply isn’t true when it comes to pharmacy. The patients you encounter are going to tell you a lot of different things when they come in to see you at the pharmacy: “I dropped every last one of my pain pills down the toilet”, “My Viagra was miscounted!”, “I NEVER picked that medication up”. You have to use your professional judgement when you encounter these kinds of situations (at least ten times a day). There are also a great number of regulations that must be followed, especially with the kinds of medications that patients will give you the most strife about. Just remember — keep proper documentation of everything, and you will be okay.

4. Every patient wants to be your top priority.


Most patients see their own health care as being more important than everyone else’s. I don’t blame these people. But, there will be (many) times, when you are visibly swamped and the patient still wants their medication finished in about 3 minutes time. This is nothing short of impossible. I’m talking — a line at the drop off window to the front of the store, the pick up line is just as long, the phone is ringing off the hook, the computer is blowing up with faxed prescriptions — and the patient standing in front of you says they need their medication right now, even though you know they still have enough pills to last them for another week. This is where your incredible communication skills and empathy must come in to play.

5. Nothing will drive you more insane than a patient giving you their insurance card as they are ringing out at the cash register.

insurance card

No explanation really needed here. Insurance cards are useless at this stage of the process. Insurance cards should always be presented when the prescription is dropped off!

There are so many other things you learn in this kind of setting. But, if anything, retail pharmacy relies on good communication more than other settings do. Even if you feel tired and overworked in this kind of pharmacy location (which you will!), all of your experiences will prove to be valuable.

Until next time, and Happy New Year!



6 thoughts on “The 5 Things I Learned In Retail Pharmacy

  1. I look forward to every post. This is excellent information for those considering a career in pharmacy. It’s also good to hear from the perspective of the professional, as I have always been on the other side of the counter. Can’t wait until the next post.


  2. Wonderful insights for those thinking about pursuing a career in pharmacy as well as anyone needing prescription medications. I look forward to reading each and every post on your sight.


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