Healthcare has played a significant role in shaping this pandemic, and pharmacies are no exception.
Carla Guedo, manager and owner of the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy at the University of Saskatchewan campus, says working at the pharmacy has been much more challenging since the arrival of COVID-19.
“Pharmacies are still working really hard through the pandemic and it’s been a challenging time for staff.” Guedo said.
In a typical week, Guedo works full time while still doing the pharmacy’s backend work, something she says takes more than 40 hours in a week.
For Guedo, despite the challenges COVID-19 has caused, pharmacies are especially important in curbing the pandemic.
“I think all pharmacies are really committed to wanting to help,” Guedo said.
“It’s nice to hear that people are thinking about pharmacies during this time because they aren’t always talked about in all the conversations with other healthcare providers.”
Guedo says that pharmacies are often the “accessible member of healthcare teams.” Like many businesses, Medicine Shoppe now offers curbside pickup and delivery services.
Prior to the pandemic, Guedo says nearly 200 students a day would be coming through the pharmacy’s doors. Third-year pharmacy student Payton Ottenbreit says that much of the pharmacy’s work for prescription requests is now done by phone or video call. If people are struggling to see their doctors, pharmacists can prescribe medicine for minor ailments.
“At the beginning of the pandemic a lot of places were shut down in terms of physiotherapy or chiropractor or other healthcare professionals,” Ottenbreit said. “A lot of the time pharmacists were the first people that patients were coming in to see for advice, where normally they might go elsewhere.”
Ottenbreit works one six-hour shift at Pharmasave each week. She says that what customers see in line and at the counter is different from the “chaotic environment” that pharmacies sometimes have. Her typical shift involves entering prescriptions into a computer system, verifying prescribed drugs’ legal requirements, preparing medication, conducting technical and clinical checks and ensuring patients understand the drug they are getting and the impact it has on their health.
Throughout all this, she says, multiple phone lines ringing and patient arrivals cause distractions.
Ottenbreit recognizes the stress that many regular pharmacy staff go through, especially during COVID-19.
“It could get very draining and just overwhelming. I think stress levels are generally higher so it could have more of an impact on people working in it every day,” Ottenbreit said.
Guedo says it is common for her to be working at the pharmacy more than 12 hours a day. Staff reductions and shortened hours have had a great impact on her mental and emotional well-being, especially with a young family. She says support from Student Wellness and the U of S Students’ Union has helped her face these challenges.
On a more hopeful note, Guedo looks forward to pharmacies administering COVID-19 vaccines in the future, as long as the pharmacy’s temperature storage is suitable. Prior to COVID-19, the Medicine Shoppe was giving 2000 shots during the flu season.
For Ottenbreit, administering COVID-19 vaccines will be a “big undertaking” and will involve pharmacists in a big role. She also says that pharmacists in particular are important in addressing COVID-19 misinformation.
“There’s always buzz around the news so I think they’re just a really reliable source of information for how people can stay healthy, symptoms to watch out for [and] when to get tested for COVID,” Ottenbreit said.
Guedo says that despite the restrictions, Medicine Shoppe still offers many services that could help people during the pandemic. She encourages people to ask questions.
“We’re still there, answering questions and hoping to help people how we can,” Guedo said.
Although many customers’ visits to the pharmacy consists of merely picking up a prescription, Ottenbreit says it is deeper than that.
“There’s so much more going on, so many little pieces that all the pharmacy staff are trying to deal with with COVID and the regular kind of duties that they have to deal with,” Ottenbreit said.
“There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes at a pharmacy.”