A Day’s Work: Pharmacist

(Photo by Doug Freese)

Carrie Kennett, a 1994 Saugerties High School graduate, lives in Barclay Heights with her two children. She works at Rite Aid in Saugerties.

How did you get into this line of work?

In high school I had a chemistry teacher who was helping me make a career choice. I was torn between lab work, like genetic engineering, and pharmacy. I didn’t have a lot of experience with pharmacy but she talked to me about the pros and cons of each. I decided I really wanted to work with people and not just in a lab setting, so I decided at that point to go right into pharmacy from high school.

What sort of person do you think makes a good pharmacist?

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I think you have to be empathetic and caring. Most pharmacist jobs are working with people so that is important. You have to be very detailed-oriented, organized and you need to be able to work well with others. You need to be able to put patient care at the forefront of what you do.

Other than a community pharmacist, where else might you find a pharmacist?

There are pharmacists in hospitals that can dispense medications and help patients with drug interactions. They can also be on formulary review and determine what [are] the best drugs that hospital can carry. They can also do that with an insurance company. They look at all the data behind clinical trials and determine what is the best medication treatment for a certain ailment. You could also work for a drug company or be a liaison and go out and educate other health care professionals. There are a lot of options.  If you are interested in going into pharmacy, you should definitely go out and try to get an internship with some of these different types of jobs to see what you like and what is the best fit.

What do you think a common misconception about your job may be?

Right now, our field is really leaning towards pharmacists in a more clinical role. People know that we dispense medications, we make sure they are accurate and we look for drug interactions. But now, in terms of being graded by insurance companies, we are held to higher standards where we need to prove that we are caring for our patients by making the right recommendations that they should be on the right therapies according to their disease and the guidelines that are published for certain illnesses and ailments like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  A lot people probably don’t realize that we are being graded, by insurance companies mostly, on how we can help people take their medications better and making sure that they adhere to their medication guidelines. It’s basically medication therapy management. In 1999, when I was finishing up school, the big buzz word was medication therapy management. It took this long for it to become a reality and it’s become a big part of our day. It’s a good thing.

So does that mean that a customer who has diabetes, can come to you and ask what else they can be doing to manage it?

The nice thing about being a community pharmacist is that we are pretty much the most accessible health care professional. They will have a doctor, most likely have an endocrinologist and if they are lucky they get to see a dietician to help them. But we are the person they can come right up to the counter to access on a monthly or even weekly basis. I definitely think that it’s important for the pharmacist to work with the patient and the doctor. And even though we are just now starting to be looked at by insurance companies, we’ve been providing this type of service for years. We are one of the only health care professionals recognized for our products, not our service. That is changing. The clinical advice and recommendations that we’ve been giving for years is now showing value in the industry.

Is that beneficial for customers, especially now with the higher costs of health care, to be able to access you so easily?

Yes. We have patients whose insurance companies force them to get their prescriptions via mail order but we are still there for them. We do recommend that everyone get their prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy so that we know what they are taking. It is important to get a full history on someone even if it’s just an over-the-counter recommendation. I want to know what they are on. Sometimes people use different pharmacies for convenience but sometimes it’s just for cost. One pharmacy may have a cheaper price on one item but a more expensive price on another and that drives folks to get their prescriptions filled elsewhere. This is particularly true for the cash-paying customers who don’t have insurance. It’s very important for the pharmacist or the technician to get a full history on what else they are taking so we can monitor drug interactions. Many people also take over the counter supplements and herbs and they can have interactions, too. I spend quite a bit of time answering questions about these things. We have some good resources to look some of these up but unfortunately certain products aren’t FDA regulated and don’t have the same stringent guidelines.

How are the hours? Does the job provide for a good work/life balance?

It really depends on what area of pharmacy you want to be in. I’ve been in community or retail pharmacy my whole career. I love helping people and building relationships with my customers. I get to know them and what is going on with their lives as well as helping them with their health care. I work long shifts but I like that. I don’t think I am cut out for the Monday through Friday 9-5. I’d rather do long days and have more days off. There is a lot of flexibility in community pharmacy because you can be part-time or full-time.

What makes for a good day on the job?

When I feel like I’ve made a difference in someone’s perspective or health care. Sometimes we have to go above and beyond for someone and when you do that and it really makes a difference, that brings me joy and satisfaction.

What about a bad day?

In general, I am pretty calm so I don’t have a lot of bad days. I have great co-workers, too, so that helps a lot. The other day during the blizzard, we were open. I knew Urgent Care was open and I really wanted to be available in case someone needed us but our transformer blew and we lost power. We were forced to close. It was frustrating because I couldn’t be there for my customers.

How has the job changed since you started?

We are now able to give immunizations. In New York, we can give vaccines to adults ages 18 and up but in other states they can give them to younger people. This is also something that we touched on when I was in school but it’s taken a long time to come to fruition. We can give a multitude of vaccines such as flu, pneumonia, shingles, Tdap and meningitis. This is a welcome change. I love that we can make it very easy for people to get vaccinated. Most of these are covered 100 percent by insurance companies.

Our technology has also changed. Rite Aid has an amazing computer system. It picks up drug interactions and fills from other pharmacies. It also has more oversight in narcotic and controlled substance prescriptions. One of the other Rite Aids that I worked in had a robot that would count out the top 100 drugs. With that too, our technicians have become empowered. They can really assist with entering and filling scripts. We rely on them heavily to help us with our work.

Do you see yourself at the same job ten years from now?

Yes, I do. I grew up here. Being back here has been amazing. Being able to work in the community where I live, where I grew up and where my kids go to school is like a dream come true. I love being a community pharmacist and there is no better place for me to do that than here in Saugerties.

How’s the pay?

Great. It’s a great profession to get into. You put in a lot of time and effort in school and that usually translates into student loans but you are well compensated.

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