How to be a good pharmacist

This is a reprint of an article I originally wrote for the exclusive Series on It originally appeared on June 2 , 2014. It is my simple take on the three things you need to be able to do to be a good pharmacist.


Clinical Guidelines or Not That is the Question

For the past seven years, I have worked as an associate professor at the Wingate University School of Pharmacy in North Carolina. After working in the retail drug industry since 1977, I had this strange notion that I might be able to help the students balance the heavily acute-care clinical education with the more streetwise practical elements of community pharmacy.

After all it’s one thing to learn the latest clinical guidelines, but it’s an entirely different thing to help a specific patient with a specific problem and get it all done within 90 seconds. And I have to tell you that even though it has been an uphill battle, I am seeing a definite shift in the mood of the young pharmacists.

When I first began teaching our third-year pharmacy course in pharmacy management, it was difficult to convince students that they had to learn the principles of good management to be successful when employers were lining up to hire them and pay them $30,000 signing bonuses for the privilege.

That all changed after the Great Recession of 2008. The signing bonuses are largely gone. While everyone seems to be finding a job, many have to go farther from home and to their second or third choice to land their first job.

The result is that students seem to be a lot more interested in owning and operating their own businesses. And they seem to be a lot more interested in learning the success principles that will help them stand out in the marketplace for pharmacist employers.

Whether we call ourselves clinical pharmacists, medication therapy management specialists or primary care pharmacists, the reality is that for a pharmacist to do a good job he or she must assess the patient, evaluate their status and decide upon a course of action. Too many pharmacists make this process way too hard.

In the spirit of unity among all facets of the profession — and because I believe that simpler is almost always better — I want to share with you the same three principles that I teach my students. It is my sincere belief that these are the only three things you need to know in order to be a good practicing pharmacist.

The three critical things you must know are embodied by the simple question:

Is what I am about to do going to make the situation?

  • Better: If so, do it.
  • Worse: If so, don’t do it.
  • Have no impact: If so, let the patient decide.

I can’t tell you how many times this simple approach to patient care has helped me navigate a complex issue and turn it into a straightforward answer. And I think it will work in any practice setting.