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Promises, promises….staying true to the pharmacist's oath

It was the end of April in the year 2000. In spite of a major concern with something called Y2K just a few months prior, I found myself sitting at the dinner table with my graduating class from pharmacy school. 

I attended the University of Pittsburgh. There had been a graduation ceremony for all graduating students at “The Igloo” (where the Pittsburgh Penguins play) earlier in the afternoon. However, due to the number of graduates, each school within the university is simply recognized briefly. The real deal was this graduation dinner later in the day in the Station Square part of Pittsburgh. Here the graduates and their families gathered around numerous dinner tables in celebration of the milestone that had been reached. 

Now it was time for the main event. It was time to get our diplomas. What we had worked for over the last several years was finally going to be realized. The graduates were instructed to line up alphabetically to receive their diplomas. This was going to be a major test for us – do we know our alphabets? (Perhaps my colleagues who have worked in the community setting can recall a time when a patient’s order alphabetized in a different way….)

As we were beginning to stand up, one of the faculty members grabbed the microphone and put a halt to these proceedings. Before we receive our diplomas, we first had to recite the “oath of the pharmacist.”

There were about 100 students in my class graduating that day. And I would suggest to you that at least 99 of us experienced a moment of extreme panic because no one knew the oath of the pharmacist. We started mumbling it out loud until someone realized it was printed in the program and we were all able to catch up and join in.

Now I hope you can find some humour in that story. I also hope that you have no idea what a situation like that feels like. Because as I look back on it, I am all the more embarrassed by it. In fairness to all of my classmates, this is my recollection of the events of that day. They may remember these events in much brighter terms. Perhaps I was the only one unprepared to recite the oath of the pharmacist.

My experience after graduation unfortunately tells a different story.

I share this story with you because in continuing what we began to discuss last time, I believe that our oaths are one of those defined points that we must anchor ourselves to professionally and with our leadership. Oaths are promises that we make to the people we serve. And when we keep those promises, we can progress in an expected way. If you are unfamiliar with the oath of the pharmacist you can find an example here.

The oath is updated from time to time, so this may have changed from when you first saw it to today, and it may change again in the future.

Earlier, I mentioned some experiences where it seemed that some pharmacists forgot the promises they had made. 

It was around 2010 and I found myself on a team that was challenged to train about 13,000 pharmacists to provide immunization services in the pharmacy. As you can probably imagine in a group that size, there were some who were super excited to provide these services, while others were super not-excited to provide these services….  There were certainly some challenging times. Some pharmacists came to training kicking and screaming. Some decided not to come at all.

Now here we stand over a decade later and we can see how history has unfolded. But let me ask you to consider this situation through the lens of the oath of the pharmacist.  More specifically, through this particular promise: “I will embrace and advocate changes that improve patient care.”

Now let me ask you this: Does learning a new skill (such as providing immunization services) fit with this promise? Does refusing to learn a new skill break the promise?  While I am sure that some readers may want to debate certain situations and exceptions, I believe that we can find the decision a bit more obvious to make in light of the oath, the promises, that were made.

The first fixed point that can guide our leadership is the promises we make. Most notably, our professional oaths are of key importance. 

What promises have you made? How do you remind yourself of those promises? I encourage you to make a list of those promises, keep them handy, and review them regularly. You may be surprised how quickly acting in alignment with those promises will propel you, your team and your patients forward!

Until next time -

Jesse McCullough, PharmD

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