You and Your Health: The changing face of a pharmacist


With Andrew Watson of Goodmeasure Pharmacy, Parkgate

As we reach another year and get set for what lies ahead, I wanted to take you on a nostalgic journey looking back at the pharmacy world and the vast changes that have occurred over the past 50 years.

My family have worked as pharmacists since the 1960s, with both my parents, Hilary and Terry, first taking up the profession at Boots the Chemist. They met while studying at Sunderland School of Pharmacy, before winning a competition which enabled them to open their own pharmacy in Chesterfield before moving to Wickersley.

It was perhaps fated that I too would follow in their well-trained footsteps. Even as a young boy, I remember peering over the counter watching amazedly as my mum mixed up ointments, or my dad showing me how to fold paper to wrap up powders.

Sadly, those days have long gone and we are now fully wrapped up in the modern world of medicine.

What’s in the bottle?

Like my mother, some of you may have recollections of the pre-NHS days. She tells me of how her own mother would visit the village chemist’s shop for a ‘bottle’ if anyone was ill. Nasty tasting and reverently administered, you may even still shudder at the thought of what the chemist concocted, wrapped in white paper to disguise the contents.

As 1948 arrived, the birth of the National Health Service brought with it free prescriptions for all; these were completely indecipherable and seemed to result in a similar ‘bottle’.

Mum’s time mixing up her career

Mum became a pharmacist by sheer chance, having seen an advert for a trainee with Boots. She started her apprenticeship at 17 and worked in a large Jewish refugee community in North Manchester.

Back in those days, chemist walls were lined with polished brown drawers which encased a whole host of unfamiliar spices and ingredients such as saffron, senna pods and comfrey. The dispensary technician would carefully weigh out herbs in apothecary measures such as grains, scruples, drachms, ounces and pounds which are all now abolished.

Antibiotics had not been in use for long and were kept in a separate drawer; back then, an antibiotic prescription meant the patient was seriously ill and treatment was hastily dispensed.

Each morning, Mum’s job would be to make up big stock bottles called Winchesters, following strange recipes from the British National Formulary such as Mist Ammon. Morph. for irritating coughs, or Mist Cret. Aromat. c. Opio. for diarrhoea.

Other tasks included mixing ointments on a slab with a spatula or making and sterilising eye drops. Today, most medicines are mass produced by corporate companies and so the skill of making treatments remains with the old school pharmacists.

Swapping steel toe cap boots for Boots the Chemist for Dad

My dad was a natural in the art of making medicine and found he took to the career like a duck to water – which no doubt surprised his old chemistry teacher. After failing to secure any A Levels, he spent four years in the RAF, studying at night school to qualify for a profession in making things.

Boots took a chance on him and gave Dad excellent training before he left to go to Sunderland. Here, he excelled in his final exam, finishing in the top six students nationally.

Three years studying resulted in lots of knowledge about new drugs, their doses, uses and side effects as well as in depth organic chemistry and practical dispensing.  Today, pharmacists must still have an expert knowledge of the drugs being prescribed or administered, but their roles have also expanded medically to include community services such as blood pressure and diabetes checks, giving out flu jabs or offering counselling.

Bringing back customer care

After qualifying, my parents went down different avenues; Mum worked in a busy day and night pharmacy while Dad worked for a large multiple. Yet both were unhappy with how different their jobs were from those early Boots days.

Although a very busy shop, Mum worked in the upstairs dispensary and so never saw a customer; the prescriptions would be sent down in a lift. Dad’s first job also bypassed customer care, but with a demanding sales policy.

On opening their own pharmacy, they could get back to their roots and concentrate on their customers.

Dad became renowned for his skill and never turned away a prescription from neither patient nor other pharmacy, making everything from capsules and powders to sun lotions and greying hair treatments.

Mum took over The Apothecary in Wickersley where she qualified in natural remedies and herbalism meaning she could once again concoct mysterious ‘bottles’, creams and ointments.

Following in my parents’ footsteps

When I qualified in the late 80s, I had to undertake a year postgraduate where I trained in hospitals, retail pharmacies and even a prison. Working among a broad range of people meant I knew I always wanted to put the patient first in my own line of work, too.

In what can sometimes be such an automated world of healthcare, the personal factor can be lacking. You request your prescription from the GP reception, your medication is delivered by a driver and you’ve often had no contact with a healthcare professional.

At Goodmeasure, I am joined by a team of five dispensary technicians who are all trained professionals. This means that we don’t just deliver your medication, we care about all of our patients and are able to offer advice for any issues or problems you are facing. We know all of our patients by name and understand the conditions they may have.

That rapport is like saffron to me.


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