Nothing says welcome home like allergies. The constant itchy eyes and runny nose within hours of arrival at Piarco International airport never fails to remind me that it has been a while since I have been back. While I am reminded of this every time I visit Trinidad and Tobago, I am still never prepared to handle the irritation. One would think that the onset of allergies upon returning over the past 12 years would indicate that allergy medication should be listed under packing essentials.
Nonetheless, I always seem to endure the devastating irritation for a few days until it becomes unbearable and I finally decide to take action. On visiting my childhood pharmacy, I immediately noticed that I didn’t recognize anyone behind the counter. The new youthful and vibrant faces practising the profession I love was a breath of fresh air and gave me a sense of pride. I say this only because in previous visits the pharmacist in Trinidad had very identifiable characteristics, elderly and male. I often thought the future of pharmacy in this country would look bleak and this prestigious and valuable profession would be lost when elders retire.
Standing in the allergy, cold and flu aisle it became evident what my training has done to my confidence in unfamiliar product packaging. I began to scrutinize details including package ingredients, doses and frequency of unfamiliar medication packaging. My training has heightened the importance of detail as I look at the ingredients in every box of antihistamine medication on the shelf. It is funny how unfamiliar packaging can spark some scrutiny.
While at the pharmacy I was alarmed to see a patron walk directly to the counter where a pharmacist was seated and lifted up his shirt. The patient described a terrible rash he had for a few days and wanted the pharmacists best recommendation. I stood by isle 4 slightly hidden by the blood glucose monitoring devices in complete awe of the situation. My mind reverted to my APPE community pharmacy rotation on the corner of happy and healthy where I was overjoyed with excitement to counsel a patient on the swelling and itching that occurred after his new tattoo. When I was finally brought back to reality and realized the importance of patient privacy, I made my way to the cashier to complete my purchase.
It was at this point I realized the community pharmacists’ role is both irreplaceable and universal. It is a universal understanding that the pharmacist is the most accessible, most and trustworthy healthcare professionals that in any country. When all else fails you can trust your neighbourhood pharmacist with intimate details and repulsive images of rashes, scars etc on the body.
Recently there have been many concerns about the pharmacist jobs being replaced by artificial intelligence and updates in technology. Anecdotes such as this serve as a reminder that the human interaction between a patient and pharmacist cannot be replaced. The goal is to create more free time to be able to counsel patients such as this, a part of the job that most pharmacists enjoy. #TonyDao says it best on one of my favourite podcasts #pharmacyITandme, “technology is the tool and patient care is the goal”.