You’ve just dropped off your prescription at your local pharmacy and the technician tells you it’s going to take 45 minutes to fill. You look around and there’s only one other person waiting for their prescription, so why is it going to take so long just to fill one medication? Long wait times may be annoying, but a pharmacy may still be busy even if there’s not a ton of people in line. Pharmacists must be diligent in their jobs as it prevents medication errors and ensures patient safety. For this edition of our “Ask the Pharmacist” blog, we would like to highlight things the general public may not know about pharmacies and pharmacists. 

1. Pharmacists are doctors
  • Although you probably know your local pharmacist by their first name, they in fact hold doctorate degrees. Since the year 2000, all new pharmacists are required to have a PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy) to take the national pharmacy board exams. This means most pharmacists typically spend 6-8 years in school, including undergraduate and doctoral studies.
  • Pharmacists are probably the most readily accessible healthcare providers to the general public because they’re in almost every grocery and drug store you go into, and you don’t need an appointment to ask them for medical advice or healthcare-related recommendations.
2. Pharmacist interns can answer most patient and doctor questions
  • Student pharmacists typically spend their first 3 years of school in the classrooms learning all about how to be a pharmacist and provide quality patient care.
  • Student pharmacists work under the direct supervision of a licensed pharmacist and can more than happily give safe recommendations and medical advice. If a student does not know the answer, then it is the role of the supervising pharmacist to step in and fill in any knowledge gaps.
  • It is important for students to gain as much hands-on experience while they can before getting licensed and it helps with the overall pharmacy workflow when the pharmacist isn’t constantly interrupted.
3. A pharmacist’s role goes beyond just counting pills
  • While verifying prescriptions, the pharmacist must assess the appropriateness and safety of a medication prescribed to the patient, including but not limited to the 5 R’s of Medication Safety:
    • Right patient
    • Right drug
    • Right dose
    • Right route of administration
    • Right timing
  • This verification process can be slowed down by a number of reasons including hard to read handwriting, identifying harmful drug-drug interactions with a patient’s existing medications, insurance issues, contacting providers with any concerns, etc.
4. Pharmacies and pharmacists can provide many clinical services
  • Walk-in vaccinations (although appointments are highly encouraged, and sometimes required during the ongoing pandemic)
  • Some pharmacists have written Collaborative Drug Therapy Agreements with providers to offer a more comprehensive service. One common example is prescribing oral birth control or emergency contraception.
  • Medication therapy management including:
    • Drug therapy review
    • Personal medication record
    • Medication-related action plans
    • Intervention and referral
    • Documentation/follow-up
5. Pharmacists can save you money
  • Some medications cost more than others depending on different insurance plans and tiers/copays for medications are set by your insurance, not the pharmacy. At times, we can be as frustrated with your insurance as much as you are but pharmacists can help lower the cost of medications by:
    • Contacting your doctor for an alternative medication in the same drug class that is equally effective
    • Using generics of a brand name drug the doctor prescribe, as indicated
    • Finding manufacturer copay assistance cards or financial aid programs
    • Using out-of-pocket coupons instead of insurance if you have a high deductible plan
    • Recommend more cost-effective over-the-counter options, as indicated
6. Most prescriptions are required to be sent electronically in Washington State
  • Electronic prescriptions have cut down on issues such as difficulty deciphering handwriting but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Even though your doctor said they sent it during your appointment, it can take time to transmit e-prescriptions. Sometimes there is a mixup between the pharmacy your physician’s office has on file and the one you prefer. Sometimes there may be an error with transmission and just gets lost in cyberspace.

Prepared by Tiffany La, PharmD Candidate 2022


  • Evans A. PharmD or RPh: Does it matter? Pharmacy Times. Published February 18, 2019. Accessed December 26, 2021.
  • Grissinger M. The five rights: A destination without a map. Pharmacy and Therapeutics. Published October 2010. Accessed December 26, 2021.
  • Pharmacist-provided medication therapy management in Medicaid. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed December 26, 2021.