Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Something I Love About My Job

This is the first year that I've been able to give them, but now that I can, I have to say that I love giving flu shots. I'm finding that I actually look forward to going into work every day because of the chance that I can give some flu shots that day. In the past, I would dread the days I had to work. Flu shots have re-energized my enthusiasm for pharmacy.

Maybe it's a little stupid. I guess it's really not that big of a deal. Medical assistants can give flu shots. They don't jump up and down for joy every time they get to stick a needle in someone's arm. Despite this, I can't help but like doing it. For one, it's something different. Different is good.

Retail pharmacy, despite all the craziness, is a repetitive job. Every day is exactly the same. You fill prescriptions. You check prescriptions. You answer mostly the same questions all the time. You deal with the same insurance problems all the time. The days just seem to blend into each other because day after day after day you're doing the same damn thing.

Flu shots at least break up that repetitiveness. It gives me a momentary break from the prescription mill. I have a table set up in front of the pharmacy. I go out and talk to the patient for a minute or so. It's not really private, but it almost feels like I get a little bit of one on one time with every patient to whom I give a flu shot.

The best part is that my employer can't complain about me halting the regular prescription mill in order to give a shot. We make $15 to $20 profit on each shot. They're great for business. That's why pharmacies push these flu shots like crazy. They put signs and banners all over the place. They record messages on the store's automated system. They hold clinics, schedule appointments, and accept walk-ins. Flu shots are a gold mine.

What's great is that they're a gold mine we don't have to feel bad about pushing to our patients. Let's face it, most of the prescriptions we fill are completely unnecessary. How many Zpaks do we dispense for people who have the common cold? How many Robitussin with Codeine prescriptions do we dispense even though there's no strong evidence that codeine-related cough suppressants actually reduce cough? We dispense weight loss drugs to people that don't want to exercise. We dispense Vicodin to seemingly any patient that goes to the ER for anything.

Even the drugs that have some value mostly just treat chronic illnesses. There's not a whole lot of drugs that cure disease. We just treat them. We can't cure diabetes, so we give people insulin. Thanks to the modern diet, we can't prevent heart disease, so we load people up on statins and blood pressure medications.

Flu shots are different though. They PREVENT the flu. When I give a person a flu shot, I know that I have prevented that person from getting those particular strands of influenza for that season. For example, everyone I give a flu shot to this season will not get H1N1. 30,000 people die of influenza every year in this country. Getting people immunized would drastically reduce that number. In that way, flu shots are saving lives. I know that has nothing to do with why my employer wants me to give them. I know my employer just wants the money from them. However, no matter what the reasoning is, the more people that get flu shots, the better for public health.

Finally, flu shots have separated me from the other pharmacists I work with. My store has 3 pharmacists. The other 2 want nothing to do with injections. Both of them actually say they're afraid of needles. They don't want to even watch me give an injection. That's how opposed to giving flu shots they are.

That's fine with me. If they want to stay behind the times and limit their own scope of pharmacy practice, I'm not going to convince them otherwise. Right now, my competitive edge in my company is that I can immunize. I've given out 20 flu shots so far this season. I only started a little over a week ago. I know that's not a lot. I know a lot of other chains hold clinics and do other things that allow them to give dozens per day. My chain is behind the other pharmacies in its flu shot promotion. Even still, those 20 shots netted the store $300 in profit. That's $300 that no other pharmacist in our store could have generated. It's early in the season, so I'm sure I'm going to give out a whole lot more than that. Whatever that final number ends up being, the profits that go along with it are entirely because of me. I'd say that gives me a nice competitive edge.

In addition, our patients look at me different. I know that sounds corny and cliche, but they really do. I didn't think it would happen either, but it's true. They all ask questions, not just about the shot, but about other health issues they might have. They ask for information about other vaccines, and whatever else might come into their minds.

The best thing is giving the shot and hearing the patient say he didn't feel a thing. They see the professional way I carry myself, and the painless shot reinforces the idea that I'm someone that knows what I'm doing. They ask how long I've been giving out flu shots. Some have even ask who I work for because they're so used to going in and out of the pharmacy without ever interacting with a pharmacist that they never noticed I've been working in the store for over 4 years. Some comment, "they got you doing everything back there," and that makes me chuckle a little bit.

Flu shots are one of the few things I do in the pharmacy that I think are worthwhile. There's no downside to them. They're good for the store financially and in crafting a positive image. They're also good for public health. I don't feel bad advising and/or convincing someone to get a flu shot, which is more than I can say about almost every other product we sell.

13 comments:

pharmacy chick said...

Great Post Mike..You have caught the same fever I have. I really enjoy this aspect of pharmacy practice. You have verbalized exactly the same feelings I had the when i started doing vaccinations. I feel a lot less of a pill counter than I used to. people seek me out specifically for vaccinations.. Today I did a major company in the area..230 shots in 8 hours. The techs may not love me so much tomorrow when I bring in the consent forms but its about 7k in the till, and a whole lot of peoople who will NOT get the flu..

Anonymous said...

I enjoy immunizing as well when I am working in retail. I am making the owner some money and I have a chance to talk to the patient about other vaccines or things they can do to stay healthy. If only we could get Zostavax....I have lots of people I am able to update on Tetanus and many Medicare patients had no idea their pneumonia vaccine is covered. I find that a lot of vitamin and supplement questions come up during flu shots, so I have made a little handout to give to patients.
When I feel it is appropriate, I will mention mtm to medicare patients also. I find this is a better time than any to mention the service to them and let them know it also free to them just like the flu shot. I am looking for a good handout to give to patients advertising the benefits of mtm but have not found one I like yet.
Party on Mike! I am glad to hear you are enjoying yourself. Keep carving niches out for yourself!

Jaded Pharmacist said...

So I'm not the only one. I was in the same boat; I wasn't exactly thrilled at getting certified to give immunizations (especially since my company practically forced me to get trained for this season). Now that I am and after got the first few under my belt, I enjoy it. Now when I float into a store, I tell the staff that I can take the flu shots that walk in - to give them a break - and they let me have at it. Just yesterday I gave over 30 of them, and despite that extra work, it was still a smooth day. Keep up the enthusiasm, I know I will!

Anonymous said...

I can not imagine it will be long though, before the chains start bringing in lpns during flu season to administer the vaccinations. Costco and walmart do this.

Anonymous said...

Good for you folks that are certified and enjoy it, and seeing the benefits to patients and profession. I still think it would take a desensitization program to enable my mind to 'get over it', but there's no reason why we're not involved in community-based immunization and other public health programs. There is a significant portion of the population that believes than any vaccination is the work of the devil, though!

Anonymous said...

That portion of the population is a bunch of ignorant folks who need to be educated.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you would really enjoy being an ambulatory care pharmacist, or something more clinical...

WarmSocks said...

This was really nice to read. So many of the pharmablogs complain about having to give flu shots; it's nice to know that some pharmacists don't find it to be a huge imposition.

Anonymous said...

One minor correction from a fellow immunizing pharmacist....
Vaccination with the flu shot does not guarantee immunity from infection, especially in older or debilitated patients. However, patients who have been immunized, if they DO get the flu, tend to have less severe infection and fewer secondary complications.

Pharmacy Mike said...

Yeah... I'm aware of that fact. I know there is a slight degree of uncertainty, but sometimes it feels better to write without qualifying every statement I make. It doesn't change the overall message, so I didn't feel it necessary to include that little bit of doubt.

Rinter said...

I'm glad to hear that you found something to break the monotony, Mike. I've been reading up on the field of optometry and how optometrists get the 10-yr itch in their careers. It reminds me of how pharmacists switch around often. I dunno how you feel about compounding but it was a life-saver for me. It's different, often more challenging in helping out patients/doctors, and worthwhile and a niche that I don't see going away (unless the FDA does an overhaul).

Anonymous said...

Glad to know the employer is making money off of the pharmacists training and risk. When will pharmacists learn no to give their talents away?

We have already labeled ourselves as less than human by working long hours with no breaks or lunches.

Bad for the profession..Stand up for yourselves. Shame on you.

SheraPharmD said...

I believe those who want to should, but in no way should corporations FORCE pharmacists to do this. It should remain completely optional. Those who have "bought into it" while being forced are simply making our profession an even weaker group of individuals. I would not mind doing it in a more clinical setting (that I had once dreamed of working in), but I do not simply for the principle that I will not be forced. No pharmacist should be terminated for not wanting to do this. It should forever remain an option to perform it or opt out.