Senior Care Pharmacists


Exploring this Job

One way to learn more about this profession is to read publications and visit Web sites dedicated to geriatric pharmacy. Another option is to get experience in a pharmacy environment by finding part-time or summer work at a drugstore. Even if you aren't working in the pharmacy, you can get valuable experience dealing with customers and observing the kind of work pharmacists do. If you are a hard worker and demonstrate responsibility, you may be given the chance to assist in the pharmacy, such as entering data in customer computer records, taking inventory on pharmaceuticals, preparing labels, or making deliveries to customers. Part-time or summer work in a nutrition and vitamin store can also give you the opportunity to learn a great deal about dietary supplements and herbal alternatives to pharmaceuticals.

It is also important that you explore how much you enjoy working with the elderly. Part-time or summer work in a nursing home is one way of doing this. In addition, many volunteer opportunities exist for helping older people. These opportunities can be found with organizations and agencies such as the American Red Cross, states' departments of aging, and local Catholic Charities agencies, to name a few. You will benefit from getting involved with helping older people, because you will begin to learn about their particular concerns and needs.

The Job

Senior care pharmacists have expert knowledge of drug products and their effects on elderly patients, the medical conditions affecting the elderly, and the treatments for these conditions. They work in a variety of settings, and their responsibilities vary based on the places of work. In general, however, senior care pharmacists' duties involve consulting with nursing facilities or other long-term care facilities (such as assisted living facilities, hospices, and home-based care programs) about the condition and care of their patients. These pharmacists do on-site visits to meet with their patients, discuss any problems they may be having as well as to discuss a treatment plan, and meet with the other health care professionals who are part of a team caring for the patient.

An important aspect of the senior care pharmacist's work is to conduct regular drug regimen reviews as required by law. For these reviews, senior care pharmacists gather and review information on a patient's medical history, diagnosis, test results, and treatments. In general, they go over any information related to the person's health, including his or her diet. The pharmacist also meets with the patient's doctors, nurses, and any other health professional involved in the patient's care to review treatment plans and goals. Senior care pharmacists then go over the medications prescribed for the patient, checking to make sure the patients are receiving the right medicines, in the right doses, and at the right times. If the senior care pharmacist discovers a problem with a medication being given, he or she figures out how to correct the situation.

Some of the unique knowledge senior care pharmacists must have includes knowing how a medicine will affect an older person's body, knowing how different medicines will react together in clients who take more than one prescription, knowing if a medication will make an elderly person's existing conditions worse, and, just as important, knowing the life circumstances of the patient. That is, the pharmacist should know the answer to questions such as: Is someone available to give the medication to the patient on a regular basis? Or, if the patient is in an assisted living facility, will he or she remember to take the medicine? Is the patient skipping doses to make a prescription last longer? Can the patient read the instruction label? Does the patient still need the medicine, or has he or she recovered from the illness the medicine was treating? Senior care pharmacists need to be aware of all such factors in order to find appropriate solutions to any problems that may arise.

In addition to having a close relationship with other health care professionals, senior care pharmacists must have close relationships with their clients, treating each as an individual. Because an older person's body processes medication differently than a younger person's, senior care pharmacists must be able to customize medications for their patients so that they achieve the desired results. A pharmacist may suggest, for example, taking two doses of a medicine at different times during the day instead of one large dose that is more difficult for an older person's body to absorb. Many older people regularly take more than one type of drug for a variety of problems. Senior care pharmacists must know when a 70-year-old man, for example, comes in with a prescription for a new arthritis medicine if this medicine will interfere with the effectiveness of the blood pressure medicine he is already taking. If the potential for harmful drug interaction exists, the pharmacist will consult with the doctor and suggest a more appropriate treatment. Another aspect senior care physicians must stay attuned to is how medications interact with vitamins and herbs, an issue that has arisen recently due to more people turning to alternative health treatments.

Senior care pharmacists must also understand a patient's overall health condition. Many older people, for example, have a poor sense of balance, limited vision, or are forgetful. Senior care pharmacists must know if a patient experiences any such problems so that they do not give a medicine that will make the situation worse. For example, if an 82-year-old woman (who has osteoporosis and is unsteady walking) has a prescription for a medicine that has the side effect of causing dizziness, the pharmacist should realize this might aggravate her balance problem and lead to a fall that could cause broken bones. In such a case, the senior care pharmacist will advise her doctor about the problem and recommend a different medication.

Senior care pharmacists also keep detailed records of drugs dispensed to each client. This is extremely important because older people often see more than one doctor for a number of different conditions. The senior care pharmacist may be the only person keeping track of various medicines prescribed by several doctors for one patient. In these cases, the senior care pharmacist is the health care professional who is in the best position to spot a potential adverse drug interaction and recommend a prescription change.

Another responsibility of senior care pharmacists is to answer questions about medications and provide training to other health care workers on how to administer these medications. A senior care pharmacist may spend part of a day or an entire day, for example, giving nurses at a nursing home instruction on how to determine the proper dose of an antibiotic that will be given through an IV. Naturally, senior care pharmacists also spend time in the pharmacy, where their activities include reviewing and documenting incoming prescriptions, supervising pharmacy technicians, checking filled prescriptions for their correctness, and answering questions about medications.

Like all pharmacists, senior care pharmacists must be diligent in maintaining clean and ordered work areas. They must be exceedingly accurate and precise in their calculations, and possess a high degree of concentration in order to reduce the risk of error as they assemble prescriptions. They also must be proficient with a variety of technical devices and computer systems.