Pharmacists: The Imposters of Healthcare

Jessica Adams | January 5, 2021

Hi, my name is Jessica. I’m a licensed pharmacist and self-proclaimed imposter.

I’m being a little dramatic… Perhaps a better way to describe it is, like many other pharmacists, I suffer from imposter syndrome. Therapists, psychologists and self help gurus will agree: Imposter syndrome is heavily present amongst pharmacists in the healthcare community.

What is imposter syndrome, you ask? According to a Harvard business review article, imposter syndrome can be defined as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” Specific to pharmacy, it’s the underlying fear that pharmacists don’t help with overall patient healthcare and are just waiting to be “found out.”

Do you feel like the general public just thinks you count by five and doesn’t trust your advice? Do you worry physicians don’t want pharmacists, the medication experts, helping with adherence and potential side effects as part of their care team? Do you feel like your day consists of telling people where to find the QTips®? If you are reading this and resonate with any of these feelings I have some good news: You are not alone AND you can overcome them. Some of the most famous people in every industry have commented on their struggles with the same feelings of inadequacy: Maya Angelou, Meryl Streep, Albert Einstein, the list goes on….

“I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”--Maya Angelou, acclaimed author, poet, civil rights activist, and recipient of dozens of awards and even more honorary degrees.

Just as you can relate to these concerns, every pharmacist I know has at least one story where they made an intervention that saved a patient’s life. I’m willing to bet you have more than one of those stories, so the self doubt needs to end now. But how?

The first step on the path to facing imposter syndrome is always acknowledgment, followed by recognizing these feelings of inadequacy, and then realizing they’re wrong. The last and most important step is finding a solution or a way to combat them.

Here are some common self-doubt comments I hear, and tips that we as pharmacists can utilize to change our feelings of inadequacy and realize we are not imposters.

Self-doubt comment: All we do is put pulls in a bottle

Have you noticed that when someone is a doctor people automatically assume that person to be super intelligent, or that a nurse will have excellent bedside manner and excel at caring for people? What do people think when they hear you are a pharmacist? The public sees us as counting machines or “great at math”, and I don’t know about you but I certainly didn’t go to school for seven years to become a doctor of counting by five (I actually count better by four).

Just because the media portrays you as putting pills in a bottle doesn’t mean this is your main job. Sadly most of the general public has no idea what a pharmacist actually does. One MIT Sloan Review even found that the public perceives the role of a pharmacist as very likely to be displaced, and eventually replaced by technology. The only other professions that suffered the same fate: librarians, toll takers and telephone operators. A person would certainly not say the same of any doctor, dentist, or nurse.

The truth is, you provide more value than expected as evidenced by the numerous studies, like the Asheville Project, showing the impact a pharmacist has when they are involved in patient care.

Solution: Bust through those stereotypes

Instead of following the status quo, use what you learned in school and be obnoxious about it. Whenever possible offer and provide immunizations, MTM services, Point of Care testing or any other clinical offerings. These often garner the most attention when we talk about providing more clinical services, but simply providing education or being a resource are great options to break the mold of what someone traditionally perceives of a pharmacist. For example, most patients do not know what to ask when they hear “did you have any questions about your prescription?” Be the educator and tell them! I can’t tell you the number of times a family member or friend has left a pharmacy and then called me with 10,000+ questions about their new prescription because they didn’t know what to ask at the pharmacy counter.

Similarly, demand to talk to the doctor when you have a question! Most other healthcare professionals don’t know the vast amount of knowledge a pharmacist has as it relates to medication and many do not know we can be a valuable resource. Back in my days behind the counter I loved it when I called to verify a dose or medication, and the doctor not only personally took the call (after respectfully demanding to speak to them), but also took my recommendation and asked for a way to reach out if they had more drug therapy questions I could help with.

Self-doubt comment: We don’t have authority to provide “real care” for patients

This self doubt comment often goes hand in hand with the hot topic of provider status and reimbursement, and many of us are well aware that receiving reimbursement for clinical services will drastically impact the face of pharmacy. Refusing to offer this care without reimbursement is not providing the fuel and encouragement needed for us to unite and actively fight for change. Instead it has had the opposite effect with many pharmacists content with only doing what the public perceives: counting and verifying tablets, and furthering the stereotypes.

Solution: Strengthen your advocacy game

Shortly after graduation we find the things we learned in school (POCT, monitoring and adjusting of medications, telepharmacy, providing immunizations regardless of age and vaccine, etc) aren’t things we can legally do when we graduate and start practicing. Sadly, many pharmacists don’t know how to advocate for these changes. If you find yourself in this position and want to see things change, fight for it and make it happen! Join an association, participate and provide comments at a Board of Pharmacy meeting, or reach out to a state legislator to get things to happen.

Pharmacists have a tendency to advocate for their individual field (hospital, retail, long term care, nuclear etc) instead of the profession as a whole. This piecemeal approach has become the norm and has very much impacted the state of pharmacy today. Even groups under the same umbrella will have opposing views on the same issue further driving a wedge in our profession.

Our divided advocacy efforts and opposing views have unfortunately halted many crucial conversations that were needed to move pharmacy ahead, allowing groups who are completely outside of the profession to enter space that was and should have been ours. This is evident with the growth seen with prescriber dispensing in medically underserved areas across the United States when other options, like telepharmacy, already exist to address the same concerns.

Instead of fighting new scopes of practice from several different angles, pharmacists need to come together and embrace the legislature and boards who want to give pharmacists the abilities to take better care of our patients. Unlike pharmacists, nurses have united as one voice and accepted all new potential opportunities offered to them, and as a result gained much footing and were able to advance their profession. We should take a page from their book and do the same.

Self-doubt comment: There are no opportunities for pharmacists/We will be replaced by robots

While seemingly different topics, these two self-doubt comments touch on the same idea that jobs are becoming harder to find and every opportunity that could exist in pharmacy is already taken. I certainly thought this when I graduated pharmacy school and assumed my only job options were in retail, hospital, nuclear or as the result of doing a residency. Never did I think I’d be a national subject matter expert on telepharmacy, and writing a blog reminding pharmacists that they are not imposters.

Solution: Be more forward thinking

We as pharmacists strive to do the same as any other health care profession: provide patients the best care possible. Why not do that with all the tools available and investigate new avenues to deliver care that show promise?

Genomics is a space in healthcare that is already showing vast implications in improving care through disease state management, drug monitoring, prevention, and more, yet no healthcare group owns it. Pharmacists are perfectly situated to fill this void and already have the tools to do so. If you want to offer pharmacogenomic testing because you see it as the future of pharmacy, get certified or partner with a lab and do it. You could even couple that with dispensing of the product and provide drug monitoring, you would then have a full service operation. This is just one example: keep an eye out for the opportunities future technologies can provide.

Similarly, access to affordable and quality healthcare is a problem nationwide, and many companies and industries have developed new ways to address it. As mentioned previously, doctors saw this as an issue with prescription access and fought for legislation to allow physician dispensing. Physicians don’t want to dispense, but they want their patients to have easy access to their medications. Even in the limited capacity (as seen in some states), pharmacists can fill this void. While mail order and delivery are options, telepharmacy is a great way to provide pharmacy services and maintain that hometown pharmacy feeling. Instead of eliminating the pharmacist with physician dispensing, telepharmacy keeps the pharmacist as a central figure in the patient care process.

Pharmacy, like any other industry, is not immune to change. As Adam Chesler states in Who Moved My Pharmacy: “be prepared for change.” Try to see change coming and either be several steps ahead or close behind.

Pharmacy is very much an underutilized gem in the healthcare industry and we are certainly not imposters. As the saying goes “the proof is in the pudding” and we have more than enough evidence to show the impact and value we have on healthcare, but by keeping the status quo we are falling behind, and are losing our footing as healthcare professionals who can make a positive impact in the lives of our patients. Let’s quit believing we are imposters and start acting like the healthcare professionals we have the ability to be.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Recent Entries