Friday, March 11, 2011

Power in Pharmacists

Weary of calling a doctor who doesn’t return your phone calls regarding medication? Or how about those doctors who give you little to no information on a medication's side effects?

Well, here’s perhaps the best-kept secret. An arsenal of medicine-know-how lies at your fingertips – literally. All you have to do is phone a friend – your local pharmacist.

Sure you can do research on the Internet and opt to read the yada yada medical lingo inserted in medication packages, but really, why bother?

Not only can a pharmacist explain the side effects of a drug, for example, off the tip of his or her head, one is available 24/7.

As part of the cancer community, I have had an enormous number of prescription drugs -- from medicines that help combat the side effects of cancer treatment to supposedly cancer-recurrence preventing medicines. Even some of the best doctors in the world do not always give a complete picture of how a drug can affect you.

Enter the pharmacist. He/she is an excellent resource to all things Rx.  

For example, I was taking a medication to prevent a breast cancer recurrence. I had no idea how detrimental the medication was to my bones until they hurt so much, that I often found myself prostrate on the floor crying.

Every body movement was agony. 

The doctor took me off the medication, but it was a pharmacist who originally warned me when I started it that I might have bone pain. That's how I knew that the intense pain I felt was due to the medication. And that's how I knew to immediately tell my doctor about its adverse side effects.

A couple of years after my double mastectomy with reconstruction, a doctor prescribed a medication to help alleviate the residual pain. The physician didn't tell me the side effects, but a pharmacist did, upon my asking. He told me that it could cause problems with my circulatory system.

I told him to forget about filling it, saying, "My gosh! I've had cancer and problems with my bones, not to mention my reproductive system and who knows what else chemotherapy damaged?! The one thing that's going right for me right now is my circulation, so I'll just bear with the pain."

I'm not suggesting you refuse to take needed prescription medications; I'm just saying that having more complete information about these medications is a good idea so that you have the power of choice.

A pharmacist knows drug information intimately, and every time I have called a pharmacist to double check on a medication, he/she has known such information through rote memory and logic. That’s why he/she specializes in medications.

Even if you have the most competent of physicians, you might as well double-check with a pharmacist. In the case of doctors who don't get back to you regarding medication side effects, this professional can become your best friend.

Have you had any instance(s) where doctors did or did not inform you of a medication's side effects? I am eager to hear your experiences.

This posting is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Calling the Shots: Coaching Your Way Through the Medical System. To obtain these excerpts regularly, please subscribe to this blog by clicking the orange subscribe button. I am a professional writer and have published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on my breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. I can be contacted at and Photobucket


  1. Usually it is I who informs the doctor. After the fact. lol.
    I've long relied on my pharmacist. Both face to face and in reading the insert he always includes with a new prescript.
    Oh...and google usually leads me to a valid medical website that tells me much about the drugs I take.

    Good advice. Ask your pharmacist.

  2. Good for you for letting the doctors know about medications. You clearly are an excellent advocate for yourself.

    Pharmacists rock!

  3. I agree! I have my pharmacist on speed dial (and he actually gave me his cell phone number too)

    after the last 9 days in the hospital, I don't really trust doctors as much anymore ....


  4. Michelle,

    That is so awesome that your pharmacist gave you his cell number. Anyone who has been overnight in a hospital knows that it's not a place conducive to getting better.

    Thanks for commenting on my post, and I hope you are better soon.

  5. Beth, This post is so timely because I am just on my way out the door to go pick up a prescription! I'm not kidding! I usually hesitate to "bother" the pharmacist since they always seem so darn busy. This reminds me, it's part of their job to talk to people like me. I bet they even kind of like it when people ask them for opinions. I am going to be more assertive in this from now on! Thank you for this timely post. One other thing, I think people sometimes hesitate to ask stuff because there is often a lack of privacy while standing in line. I guess we shouldn't be afraid to ask for more privacy either! You're such a great advocate, Beth. Thanks.

  6. Nancy,

    I'm so glad you got to read this post before you headed out to the pharmacy! I have found over the years that pharmacists filled the gaps doctors left, such as adverse side effects, what medication could do to your body, etc.

    You raise a good point about people being wary of sharing information if they are in a line of people. It's OK to feel nervous about this, but people need to overcome this fear of other people knowing their business and ask those questions, perhaps even in private.

    Thanks, Nancy, for your kind words and for taking the time to read my posting and comment!

  7. Thank you for writing an article about the expertise of local pharmacists. Both my primary care doctor and my insurance company continually encourage us to obtain our medications via mail order. I refuse to do this. I need to have a familiar face to go to with my questions, not a stranger over the phone, qualified as s/he may be. My son and I each take multiple medications, so this can be a concern even if we are looking for an over-the-counter drug to alleviate cold symptoms, and I am far more comfortable going to someone who knows us. Thank you again!

    Your old friend,

  8. Thank you Shreesis for commenting on my blog! Good for you for not getting medications through mail order and doing what's right for you and your son. Ideally, face-to-face encounters with the pharmacist are what work best.

  9. Hi Beth,

    Thanks for sending me the note the other day. Things got crazy on uneasy pink this week!

    One of my biggest learnings through that stupid cancer thing is that you can't just put your trust in "experts." They mean well, of course, but they're just as overwhelmed as the rest of us.

    I'm looking forward to reading more!


  10. Hi Katie,

    No problem. Yes, I've been following the FYB drama on yours and others' blogs. Keep up the fight.

    You are right about the "experts." I've come to realize that, when it comes to our health, patients are the best experts. Some don't know it yet, but it is true.

    Thanks for taking the time to post your comment.