By Sue Botos
Most people probably wonder why it takes 20 minutes to get a prescription filled. After all, the pharmacist only has to transfer the right number of pills from a large bottle to a smaller one.
Pharmacist Rudy Gulstrand laughs about this scenario. “Sometimes it takes 40 minutes. A pharmacist is not an isolated person. There are doctors calling, emails, faxes, and patients calling. All of these are interruptions. We can’t stay on one prescription at a time,” he said in a recent interview.
The Rocky River resident was installed as a trustee representing District 13 at the 133rd annual conference of the Ohio Pharmacists Association April 8 – 10 in Columbus. The designation marks a return to his roots of sorts for Gulstrand, who received his pharmacy degree from the University of Minnesota in 1963. After a brief stint in retail, he earned an MBA from Michigan State University then worked in the chemical division of Miles Laboratories before moving to Ohio for a position at Sherwin-Williams. Here he worked in business development and international business. He is now semi-retired, working as float pharmacist for Marc’s.
Aside from the obvious changes of computers and insurance companies as third parties, Gulstrand said the perception of pharmacists has changed since he last plied the trade. “I think one change that has happened now is that pharmacists are recognized as health care professionals along with doctors and nurses,” he stated, adding that pharmacists are now able to administer common immunizations.
Gulstrand added that pharmacists are an integral part of a patient’s medical therapy management, often knowing more about drug interactions than doctors. “There can be a conflict in medications especially with multiple medications and different doctors prescribing them. We have to coordinate everything to make sure they complement each other,” he stated.
As for the interpretation of doctors’ infamously bad handwriting, Gulstrand commented, “About 20 percent of the time we have to call, but it’s not always because of the writing. Sometimes there is an unusual dosage that has to be verified.”
Because doctors frequently specialize in one area, Gulstrand said that what is learned about other medications in medical school is often forgotten, and it is up to the pharmacist to have a working knowledge of all medications. This has lead to a more intense training program. “Now there is a minimum of four to six years for pharmacy school. It used to be one or two,” said Gulstrand, adding that the work is more clinically oriented now, with students doing a clinical rotation similar to doctors. He said that now most pharmacy students already have a degree, and that more than half are women.
Gulstrand said that pharmacists also need to be in tune with their patients, especially in light of the difficult economy. For example, he said patients sometimes don’t take full doses in order to stretch out a prescription longer. “The pharmacist will know if they are taking too long between refills,” he said. He added that generic drugs are just as effective as name brands. However the right generic has to be matched to a patient’s needs, such as a tablet that is easily divided.
“This is an interesting time now for how pharmacy is developing,” continued Gulstrand, who said that the recent healthcare reforms have given pharmacists even more responsibility. “If the 20 percent who are uninsured come into the system, that will add a lot,” he said.
Gulstrand said that his favorite part of the job is talking to people. “A lot of pharmacists are introverts and like to stay behind the counter, where you may just see the top of their heads,” said Gulstrand, adding that it is often the pharmacy technician that interacts with patients.
So, what is the worst part of the job according to Gulstrand? Probably the tasks people most associate with pharmacists. “Typing out labels and counting tablets, “he said.