Ask Your Pharmacist

March 13, 2019

What happens behind the counter when my pharmacist gets my medicine ready?


That’s a question I get often from my patients. It’s a timely one too because March is Pharmacist Awareness Month.

At the simplest level, a pharmacist is responsible for making sure that the medication you receive is the right medication for you. This mean making sure that the prescribed medication, you receive is the right medication, at the right dose, for the condition being treated. Pharmacists also ensure this medication won’t interact with any other medications you take or medical conditions you have. Pharmacists act as a vital safety net to help prevent medication related issues. They also counsel patients on what medications are for, what the risks and benefits are, and how to properly use the medication. All this helps to increase medication safety. Pharmacists tell patients what to expect for side-effects and help manage side-effects should they occur. Pharmacists communicate and collaborate with your doctors and other healthcare practitioners in this process as well.

Pharmacists rely on pharmacy staff members who work diligently to create and maintain an accurate computer profile containing your medications and allergies. This is a valuable resource as we can share this information with other healthcare providers (at the hospital for example) to again make sure you are receiving the right drugs in hospital if you happen to end up there. This profile is also available to you, and I recommend once a year that you see your pharmacist to review your medications to make everything is up to date and all medications are still appropriate. Eliminating unnecessary medications is good for a few reasons. Fewer drugs means fewer interactions, less side-effects, and less money spent on medications. Pharmacists can also recommend generic medications when appropriate. Pharmacists consult with physicians when a cheaper alternative is possible, or if the prescribed medication is not covered. The price of medications is a barrier to taking medicine for many, and medications won’t do what they are meant to do if they are taken every few days or not at all.

It’s an exciting time for pharmacists as our profession continues evolve, allowing us to provide better health care to our patients. Pharmacists can prescribe in certain situations as well as provide many other services such as treating and assessing minor ailments and giving flu shots and vaccines. I regularly hear how pleased community members are with our expanded services because it’s so convenient to access a pharmacist. New Brunswick has over 240 pharmacies and 900 pharmacists; most are available during weekends, evenings and holidays. The accessibility of pharmacists and their ability to prescribe and adapt prescriptions saves unnecessary trips to already-crowded ERs.

I hope this clarifies a little of what your pharmacist does for you and your overall health. In my next column, I will go into more detail about the expanded role of pharmacists. Be sure to ask your own pharmacist about the health services they can provide. The answer may surprise you!

Jared Mactavish (BSc., Pharm) is a pharmacist in Saint John. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to