Pills, intravenous solutions, capsules and other forms of medication are a pharmacist’s daily lot in life. You’ve done a little investigative work, though, and you’re pretty sure that pharmacists have different duties depending on whether they work in a local drug store, a community pharmacy or a hospital. As a result, you’ve set your sights on landing a job as a hospital pharmacist.
Prepare yourself for a long educational process -- no matter where they work, pharmacists in America must have a doctorate to practice, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, your Pharm. D., which is what the degree is called, must be from an accredited school. You’ll study pharmacology, of course, but also related subjects such as medical ethics, chemistry, biology and anatomy. You’ll also spend time working in pharmacies in different settings, under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist. After the four years for the Pharm. D., you might also want to complete a clinical residency, which could last up to two years. You’ll also need a license. You must pass two exams -- one national licensing exam and one specific to the state in which you plan to practice.
Hospitalized patients are likely to be a lot sicker than the average Joe on the street who walks into the local drug store. That ups the ante for the hospital pharmacist, who is dealing not only with sicker and more fragile patients, but some pretty high-powered medicines, according to an October 2007 article on the Washington Hospital Healthcare System website. Hospital pharmacists must mix intravenous medications, for example, some of which may need special solutions or administration procedures. The pharmacist may also be the person who monitors that patient to be sure he isn’t developing medication side effects.
Transitions in Care
When patients go home from the hospital, the pharmacist is a key person in reviewing both the patient’s previous medication regimen and anything new that has been added. Some patients may need to take a new medication temporarily, such as an antibiotic. Others may be on a new medication that they must take for months or years. The more medicines a person takes, the greater the risk of interactions between the meds. The pharmacist is the person who must be alert to potential problems during the transition from hospital to home.
Patient safety is the most important aspect of any pharmacist’s job. One critical aspect of this responsibility is patient education. Patients should learn how to use their medications properly. It makes a big difference whether some medicines are taken with or without food, for example. In some cases, skipping a dose accidentally may not be a big deal, but in others -- such as when a patient is on anticoagulants -- it could be life-threatening. Pharmacists are also the experts who notify a physician who has made a prescribing error or who suggest a different medication when what the physician has prescribed is contraindicated.
Hospital pharmacists may have some responsibilities that their community counterparts don’t. Hospitals typically have pharmacy and therapeutics committees, for example, where several disciplines work on issues related to clinical measures of care, appropriate ordering practices and other patient care issues. The hospital pharmacist is a key member of such a committee. They may also make hospital rounds with physicians and make medication recommendations. Hospital pharmacists are also resident experts for the hospital's nursing staff on the matter of medications and medication administration.
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