This Pharmacy Life


Ya know, the powers that be suggested that, at the start of the new millennium (which we know doesn’t officially begin until the end of 2000) it might be appropriate to discuss the impact of the old (20th) century upon the profession of pharmacy. (Just a thought, but I guess we have to kill the old expression “turn of the century.”)

Anyway, it’s obvious that the technological advances of the 20th century are what really stand out. One significant development, the automobile, affected our profession by eliminating the bicycle delivery boy. Then came the airplane, which meant we had to try and figure out how to supply our snowbird clients with 49 weeks worth of medication. The computer … well, we’ve wasted enough time talking about that.

The minor advances that had the most impact on us are the microwave and the food processor for compounding (and/or making your lunch), the electronic weigh scales and pill counters for dispensing (and/or counting the cash at the end of the day), and of course, the telephone (imagine doing something from start to finish without interruption … it must have been great).

Beyond the technological changes that have affected everyone, we should consider how professions themselves have fared during the past century.

Of course, there are many professions that didn’t exist 100 years ago: personal trainers, anything to do with computers, the Maytag repair man. Others existed, but have now been given politically correct names like sanitary engineer (janitor), footwear consultant (shoe salesman) or bovine waste management facilitator (cow____ shoveler, or pharmacy magazine columnist, take your pick).

But I think it’s interesting to see how the old professions have fared through the 20th century.

Lawyers have been with us a long time, and reviled for about as long (see Shakespeare and the Bible). The last hundred years have brought them to new prominence because of one thing … liability. Obviously, this century hasn’t done much to alter the image of lawyers.

Insurance salesmen–see above.

Stock brokers, market analysts, etc., all seem to have survived Black Tuesday to make the stock market the driving force of capitalism it is today. (Makes you think, doesn’t it.)

Politicians haven’t changed much, except that there are more of them (probably because there is just that much more BS around, to say nothing of the increase in the number of lawyers). Although, the reporting on politicians’ extra-curricular activities has improved substantially in the latter half of the century.

Teachers have so much more to teach now, and as a result they have had to put up with those killer 30-hour weeks, only getting all weekends, holidays, and three months of the year, off work (don’t get me started).

Physicians have seen the understanding of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease increase a thousandfold. Whereas at the beginning of the century they might have lost nine of 10 patients, they can now save nine of 10 lives. Of course, specialization has also occurred, sometimes to an extreme (think geriatric urologist or follicular transplant surgeon).

And finally, the pharmacist. Our 4,000-year-old-plus profession entered the century as the purveyor of most of the pharmaceuticals known to affect the function of the body. These included everything from herbs and other “natural” products to the few manufactured products of the time. The pharmacist also did everything from recommending treatment to delivering it and following up on the effects of the therapy.

Leaving the 20th century, our role has, shall we say, not increased proportional to the opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong. I mean, the 20th century was good to me personally. It was the century in which I was born, the century in which I met my lovely bride, and the century when my children were born. But professionally, maybe we’re better off pretending that the 20th century never happened. Then, if pharmacy realizes its potential in the next millennium, “turn of the century thinking” will describe a good thing.

Ken Burns takes life one century at a time at Errington I.D.A. Pharmacy in Chelmsford, Ontario.