December 13 Article

30 years in the making.

Like all of you I got my notice from the Regulator looking to extort more cash out of me for next year’s registration. It prompted me to take a look at their lovely computer generated certificate. It hangs as per regulations in public view on my pharmacy wall. My eye was drawn to the much more regal piece of parchment that hangs beside it. The date on it is 15th November 1983, the day that I earned the right to put MPSI after my name. As many of you young pharmacists got an A1 in Maths you can quickly work out that this was 30 years ago, give or take a few days. Cue my theme for this month’s piece. If you are under 50 years of age or not into nostalgia then flip over to the back page and you can read Fintan’s up to date article and leave us old folk alone.

MPSI., I felt proud to add it to my name. What do today’s graduates add? “Licenced by the Pharmacy Regulator”, LPR perhaps or are we following the American example of Registered Pharmacist, R.Ph. An uncle of mine who thought that I had ideas above my station used to refer to MPSI as monkey’s pee sold inside. He used a different word for pee but I think that you get the drift. I delighted in replying that oestrogen came from pregnant mare’s urine rather than a monkey’s but the joke was lost on him.

So how does the chemist shop of 1983 compare to the community pharmacy in 2013? Well there you have the first change. Most people if they heard the word pharmacy in 1983 would assume that it had something to do with agriculture. Even in hospitals most chemists worked in the dispensary. Extemps were the order of the day. Compounding and dispensing knowledge was put to the test several times per day. Now I barely do one extemp a month. We were considered the poor man’s doctor. This notion faded as the economy got stronger but alas is returning now for those over 5 years of age and just outside the income limits for a medical card. This in itself may not be a bad thing as we get to use out extensive knowledge to diagnose and prescribe appropriate treatments. It would be even better if more medicines were to be switched from POM to pharmacist supervised OTC. The only diagnostic test that we knew about then were the home pregnancy tests that we sold. Now these are a supermarket line. Today we do all sorts of diagnostic tests in the pharmacy such as cholesterol screening and blood pressure monitoring. How long before these become a supermarket offering? Then we were dispensers, today we practice pharmacy.

Just as the nature of pharmacy practice has changed so has the skill set required. Good penmanship was a pre-requisite. And you had to be fast with it. No computers or printers then. Every label written by hand. You had rolls of pre-printed labels with “……… to be taken …….. times per day”. All you had to do was scribble two figures, the patient’s name and that was it. If you had time you might even put the name of the tablet on as well. Then count by hand from big bottles of 500 or 1,000 tablets. Only the bigger pharmacies could afford tablet counters. Original pack dispensing barely on the horizon. One of the few medicines that was dispensed in original packs was the contraceptive pill. Even then it could only be prescribed as a “cycle regulator”. Later when it was “discovered” to be a contraceptive it was only supposed to be prescribed and dispensed to married women. There were many pharmacists who refused to stock it on grounds of conscience. Some went as far as chasing any lady who presented a script for one out of their pharmacies. But word was soon spread amongst the more promiscuous about which pharmacies were safe to go to.

Pharmacy then was local. Beside the GP surgeries or in the main shopping drag. Large shopping centres were a novelty and out of town centres were unheard of. Since then community pharmacies evolved into one of three sub-sets. Firstly we have the community based pharmacy, concentrating on prescriptions and other clinical services. Then there are those with a balanced mix of prescriptions and front of shop. Finally we have the supermarkets for whom pharmacy is an add on, somewhere between the sweets, chocolates and fizzy drinks and the display of the over-priced quack slimming products.

Nearly all Ministers for Health ignored pharmacy for the most part. We’ve had such luminaries as Charles J. Haughey (coming soon to a bio-pic near you), Michael Martin and Mary Harney amongst others. The good, the bad and the ugly, well the bad and the ugly at least. From a pharmacy point of view I feel that Mary Harney was the worst but Reilly is making a strong challenge. Only time will tell.

And what of that fresh faced class who graduated from TCD in 1982? How have we changed? I’ll know that by the time that you read this. Some of the more organised have arranged a re-union at the Helix Health Pharmacy Awards. You can read more about them else-where in this esteemed journal.* No doubt we will share memories of thirty years ago, tell of our life’s experiences and raise a glass to absent friends.

And how have I changed? Well I’ve been a pharmacist longer than I’ve known my current wife. Who do I love more? Answers on a post card please. That clean shaven young man thought that he would spend his career managing pharmacies for the newly emerging chains. Now he ends up owning and running his own pharmacy. Where did it all go wrong? You could say that the chains and myself reached a mutual understanding. I wouldn’t work for those who could afford me and they wouldn’t have me. Probably for the best all round.

And for the future? I would like to think that I still have a few good years in me yet. Time for the cocoa and the comfy slippers? Not me. A bottle of LBV Port and a box set of Breaking Bad. What’s there not to love in a 50 year old bad ass chemist?


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