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Pharmacy School Education and the World of OTCs

Posted by Ursula Chizhik, Pharm D

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Jul 11, 2013 9:54:00 AM


A great deal of retail pharmacy business is over-the-counter (OTC) business, yet most pharmacy school curriculum lack education about many of the frequently asked questions pharmacists face on a daily basis.


Some statistics you may find interesting:


  1. 93% of U.S. adults prefer to treat their minor ailments with OTC medicines before seeking professional care. (StrategyOne for CHPA, November 24, 2010)
  2. 81% of U.S. adults use OTC medicines as a first response to minor ailments. (StrategyOne for CHPA, November 24, 2010)
  3. 85% of U.S. parents prefer to treat their children's minor ailments with an OTC medicine before seeking professional care. (StrategyOne for CHPA, November 24, 2010)
  4. U.S. retail sales of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines in 2010 (excluding Wal-Mart) were $17 billion. (The Nielsen Company, 2011)


These numbers are staggering, yet as pharmacy students, our exposure to OTC medications is quite limited. My pharmacy school offered an OTC class as an elective, which just reiterates that OTCs are not even a mandatory part of a pharmacist’s education. Yet every day people come into the pharmacy asking about the safest sleep aid on the market, the most effective stomach medication available, or something that will help their persistent skin issue. Consumers place high value on nonprescription drug therapy; however, self-medicating patients frequently need assistance from an educated source to reassure them that they are properly being used.


You would think we should be better prepared to answer these routine consumer questions. We do gain some OTC experience when we get into our experiential learning pharmacy rotations, but that heavily relies on “on the job training.” Ultimately since we are wearing a white lab coat, customers trust that we know best about prescriptions as well as OTCs. This is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. We need to feel more confident about our OTC recommendations and about our understanding of RX drug-OTC drug interactions, and for that we should be more properly trained in school.


In a study published in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education ( Vol. 59, Fall 1995), self-monitoring techniques and OTC were the lowest scoring areas in pharmacy curriculum. The authors suggested that pharmacy schools might consider upgrading the self-monitoring techniques and OTC areas since our health care system is moving toward more outpatient care and self-treatment for health conditions. It is essential that we know appropriate use of OTC drugs and can confidently recommend an OTC drug that corresponds to specific patient symptomatology.


I think Linda L. Krypel, the author of “Constructing a Self-Care Curriculum” published in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education (Volume 70, Issue 6, Article 140) summed up the issue quite well:

pharmacist with flavorx customer

“Pharmacist-assisted self-care holds vast potential to serve the public interest, but this expanded practice role will require higher levels of professional practice commitment by American pharmacy. That commitment must be supported by practice-relevant, competency-based, patient-centered college and school of pharmacy curricula and continuing education that assures perpetual intellectual proficiency in nonprescription drug pharmacotherapy.”

Are pharmacy schools properly preparing future pharmacists to face the true challenges of retail pharmacy? What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Topics: Adherence, Compliance, and Health


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