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You see them in your most vulnerable times - in pain and in need of guidance and help. Pharmacists - how well do you know yours? Or even the profession?

According to the Self-Medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa (SMASA), here is some information you may want to know:

 What is a pharmacist?

 According to Dawn Rosenberg McKay at, a pharmacist is, “a health professional who, in addition to dispensing prescription medication… also provides information about the drugs. He or she explains physicians' instructions to patients so [they] can use these medications safely and effectively.”

The South African Pharmacy Council adds that, beyond being the custodian of medicines, pharmacists, particularly those working in a pharmaceutical company, are also the “formulators, manufacturers, distributors and controllers of safe, effective, and quality medicine”, which is no small responsibility.

Becoming a pharmacist

Pharmacists understand precisely what happens in your body when you consume a medication, and how it interacts with conditions you may have or other medicines you may be taking. Just one look at the rows of pharmaceuticals over the counter, and you’ll understand how complex this must be. To become a pharmacist, one must first complete a Bachelor of Pharmacy that is accredited by the South African Pharmacy Council (SAPC). This traditionally four-year degree is then followed by a year of practical training and community service.

Beyond this, successful pharmacists need a host of other skills.

For instance, the South African Pharmacy Association’s 2017 Competency Standards for Pharmacists in South Africa states that, depending on their domain, pharmacists should be competent in anything from epidemic and disaster management, to counselling, supply chain management, facility management, human resource management, communication, and critical analysis.

Pharmacists and self-care

 A retail pharmacist’s role can be broad. The SAPC (2016) says it can include:

  • Determining the indication, safety and effectiveness of a therapy
  • Dispensing medications on authorised prescriptions
  • Advising people on the safe use of medicine
  • Determining a patient’s compliance with therapy
  • Providing pharmacist-initiated therapies
  • Compounding, manipulating, preparing, manufacturing and/or packaging medicines

In self-care, the World Health Organization (1998) sees a retail pharmacist’s role as paramount. This is because they fulfil so many roles: communicator, quality drug supplier, trainer, supervisor, collaborator, and health promoter.

In view of these broad skills, you can chat to a pharmacist to address things like understanding your medicines and how they interact with other health conditions and drugs, urgent repeat medications, side effects, minor ailments, the morning-after pill, lifestyle advice, basic health checks, quitting smoking, and medicine disposal.

For more serious diagnoses and treatment, it’s safer to visit your GP.

Understanding the rules

There are certain standards that every retail pharmacist must meet. According to the SAPC (2010), this includes:

1.     Prioritising the welfare of the patient and the public in general

2.     Providing appropriate information and advice to patients

3.     Ensuring the correct use of medicine, and monitoring their effects

4.     Ensuring the safety, quality and efficacy of medicine

5.     Maintaining relationships of mutual trust with patients

6.     Adopting appropriate professional discretion

7.     Keeping essential medical and pharmaceutical information about each patient

8.     Having independent, comprehensive, objective and current information about therapies and medicines

9.     Ensuring that treatment and patient support is always professionally rather than commercially focused

How to lodge a complaint

On rare occasions, not all pharmacists may behave knowledgeably and ethically. In these instances, you can lodge a complaint with the SAPC.

There are two ways to do this. The first and easiest way is to complete the SAPC’s online complaints form. Alternatively, you can submit your complaint manually by:

1.     Writing out and signing your complaint (or having a legal representative do so)

2.     Making sure you include all relevant information, like:

a.     Your name, postal address, and contact number

b.     The name of the person(s) you’re lodging the complaint against

c.     The name of the relevant pharmacy

d.     The nature of your complaint

e.     The date and time of the incident(s)

3.     Forwarding your letter to the Registrar of the SAPC.

Postal address: Private Bag 40040, Arcadia, 0007.

Physical address: 591 Belvedere Street, Arcadia, Pretoria.

Fax number: (012) 321 1479/92.

Email address: [email protected]

(Adapted from a press release)