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Pharmacy more than moving pills from bottle to bottle
02-Dec-2007: Ken Fagerman, pharmacist and a lifesaver, has worked at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center for 10 years and has been a pharmacist for 30. He currently works with the medical center's home care services.
From Fagerman's description of the job, his work seems to entail safety nets and a knowledge of chemistry that most people don't realize. Fagerman was even credited with saving the life of a customer in 2005 after a gas leak forced the evacuation of a building. The woman hadn't been able to escape in time, and he administered CPR and stayed with her until help arrived. For his efforts, he was recognized by the American Red Cross. "That's just an example of how pharmacists contribute in more ways than one," he said.
Fagerman recently talked with Tribune correspondent Jennifer Ochstein about life as a pharmacist.
What kind of education is needed to be a pharmacist?
You have to graduate from an accredited school of pharmacy. This is a six-year degree called a Pharm.D, which is a doctor of pharmacy ... I have a bachelor of science in pharmacy. I graduated with a five-year degree. Within the past five years, all of the five-year programs have gone to the six-year Pharm.D degree. And before I went to school, it was a four-year degree. So there's an evolving education inflation.
Why is that?
With the aging baby boomers, the number of prescriptions consumers are using has doubled in the last eight years, and the number of drugs is increasing as well. And I'm sure you've noticed that there's currently more pharmacies than gas stations, and that's also added to the demand. There's a shortage of pharmacists out there.
Are there any certifications that pharmacists have to have?
Well, you have to graduate from an accredited school. This varies by state, but there is an internship period. For a state license, you need a three-month internship, and that's the minimum. It usually runs much longer. Then you have to pass a national exam -- the NAPLEX (North American Pharmacists Licensure Examination). Once you meet those requirements, you apply to the state in which you want to practice for a pharmacists license.
Why do the internships last for a longer period than three months?
The schooling is grueling. To receive the Pharm.D, you will usually do a one-year internship where you work in a practice setting and accumulate the hours you need. You need 1,000 hours of work in a pharmacy. Most people complete that during their schooling or accomplish it during their last year of pharmacy school.
How is the schooling difficult?
It's gotten to be very competitive. An example of that even from when I was in school is that the class I started in at Ferris State University in Michigan was fairly large. We had 326, but 180 graduated. There was a 40 percent failure rate. We got one of the "look-to-your-left-and-look-to-your-right" speeches at the beginning of our training.
We're literally responsible for people's lives, and an error can be catastrophic. We also must protect the drug supply from theft and fraud and make sure narcotics are used responsibly. I always use the analogy that people think that we're about as important as picking up the dry cleaning, except when an error is made. Pharmacists are very under appreciated at times.
What attracted you to a career as a pharmacist?
I think the attraction was that you're dealing with medicine and chemistry. If you have a science background, this is a good fit. Pharmacists are also detail people -- people who are pharmacists are ultimately very detail-oriented. All that, apart from the obvious reasons like income and employment.
What do you like best about being a pharmacist?
Since I've been working with VNA (Visiting Nurses Association) home care, I like being more clinically involved with monitoring and customizing of home IV products for patients. I like working with a physician to help monitor a patient's dosage and formula. So, the clinical aspect I enjoy and find most challenging.
And dealing with people who have serious diseases and illness and knowing you're helping them get well.
What's most challenging about your job?
I would say that oftentimes (the) hectic pace and demands. The interruptions with phone calls (from people needing prescriptions filled) with such precision work.
What do you mean precision work?
The pharmacy deals with 100 percent. There is no margin for error. It's either completely right or it's completely wrong.
What misconceptions do people have about pharmacists?
First and foremost, people just seem to think that we pull pills out of a big bottle and put them in a smaller bottle. Pharmacists hate that the most and want to dispel that myth. We're here to do much more, like safeguarding and protecting the drug supply and protecting people against harmful drug interactions. There's a lot pharmacists do behind the scenes that the public never sees or hears about.
What's the job market like for pharmacists?
It's very competitive. There is a shortage, so pharmacists are highly paid right now and are given very attractive sign-on bonuses. You work hard for the money, but with the shortage, it's very lucrative at this time.
Salary for new graduates in some large metropolitan areas (has) broken six figures in the last year or so. I've heard of people getting cars and sign-on bonuses into the tens of thousands of dollars if you work in a busy store.
The same number of students are graduating from pharmacy schools, but the number of pharmacy stores is growing faster than the number of graduating pharmacists.
Source: South Bend Tribune