Pharmacist Vs. Family Doctor: What’s the Difference?

Pharmacist explaining medication to customer



If you are a parent, you are likely painfully aware of the acetaminophen and ibuprofen product shortages that have persisted for several months across Canada.


From there, they probably provided an over-the-counter remedy, and if it was a more serious concern, recommended that you schedule an appointment with your family doctor.


When you saw your family doctor, they examined and diagnosed you and sent you off with a prescription that you would then take back to, you guessed it, your local pharmacist.


So, why couldn’t your pharmacist diagnose you? And why couldn’t your doctor fill your script? The answer lies in the fundamental differences and specialties of pharmacists and physicians, whom each play an equally important role in our healthcare system.


Below, we explain the difference between your pharmacist and family doctor and provide an overview of how they work together to prioritize your family's health needs. Continue reading to learn more! 



Key Difference Between Pharmacists and Doctors

Pharmacists and doctors are both highly trained medical professionals. They study many of the same topics early in their academic careers before pursuing additional education and examinations to become pharmacists and physicians. For that reason, both professions are well-versed in the human body and overall health.


While pharmacists and family doctors are both health experts, pharmacists have robust knowledge about medicines and how drugs in those medicines interact with the body and other drugs. On the other hand, a doctor is proficient in the most current ways to examine a patient, diagnose an issue, and prescribe an appropriate remedy.


Therefore, pharmacists and doctors each have an important – but different - role to play in family health and our healthcare system overall. They each do their part to keep patient services running efficiently and ensure that no individual is responsible for knowing intricate details about every medical field. With their specialized knowledge in different areas, pharmacists and doctors are great teammates with the shared goal of providing you or your loved one with appropriate treatments for all your health concerns.



What Do Pharmacists Help With?

While family physicians primarily focus on diagnosing health concerns and prescribing medications, pharmacists "fill the scripts" and ensure that patients understand important information about their treatment plan. However, that is not all pharmacists do. There is much more to their role, including:


  • Double-checking that the drug and dose are appropriate and accurate
  • Confirming that the prescribed medication will not interact with other medications
  • Dispensing the prescribed medication
  • Providing education on how to consume and store the medication 
  • Explaining side effects and risks of medications
  • At Cook’s, our pharmacists also advocate on behalf of patients


We provide a highlight below for each of these important pharmacist duties.



Double-checking that the Drug and Dose are Appropriate and Accurate


While family doctors know which types of drugs are appropriate for their patients, it never hurts to have a second pair of eyes to double-check that the prescribed drug and dose are, in fact, suitable for the individual who will consume it.


Customer giving pharmacist their perscription


Doctors will (independently or in collaboration with a local pharmacist) consider the patient's health concerns, age, weight, allergies, and other medications. The pharmacist will then double-check it for good measure before dispensing it to the patient.


If a doctor is ever unsure which medication will work best for the diagnosis, they will step away and consult a pharmacist before they provide the script to you or your loved one. This is just one of the many ways that pharmacists and doctors collaborate behind the scenes every day!



Confirming that the Prescribed Medication Will Not Interact with Other Medications


Pharmacists study all medications very thoroughly in order to earn their credentials to practice pharmacy. They are also continuously learning about drugs and drug interactions to keep their knowledge as current as possible. Therefore, this area is where a pharmacist may know significantly more than your doctor about the nitty gritty - but incredibly important - details of all drugs.


Because of the many intricacies of medications, your local pharmacist will look at all the medicines you or your loved one take. They consider the ingredients (both medicinal and non-medicinal) in all medications and determine which drugs (if any) will not jive well with others. This allows them to ensure that unfavourable drug interactions are reduced as much as possible.


If your pharmacist does identify a concerning combination, they will work with your family doctor to adjust the prescription accordingly. This is another example of pharmacists and doctors working together toward their common goal of prioritizing the overall health and well-being of all patients.   



Dispensing the Prescribed Medication


Dispensing prescribed medication is a key duty of all pharmacists, and it is likely the one you and your family are most familiar with. This one requires minimal explanation because everyone has likely experienced the prescription dispensing process at some point in life.


However, while your pharmacist makes dispensing look quick and easy, they are carefully counting, weighing, or measuring prescribed doses, printing drug information sheets, and adhering accurate labels to bottles to ensure everything is correct. They are also trying to keep their workspace and drug storage neat, tidy, and secure while ensuring all of their valued customers receive prompt attention and service.  



Providing Education on How To Consume and Store the Medication 


Once your pharmacist has dispensed your prescription, they will take time to provide instructions on consuming your medications. These instructions usually include details about how much medicine to take. Your pharmacist will also specify the intervals and will advise if you should take medications with food. They can help you learn to use a puffer, syringe, needle, or other medical devices, too, if applicable.


In addition, your pharmacist will indicate the best way to store your prescription to ensure its efficacy is not reduced. They will likely suggest that you store your medication in a cool, dry place away from heat and humidity.



Explaining Side Effects and Risks of Medications


While side effects and risks sound scary, many are mild or rare. However, it is still an important part of a pharmacist’s job to ensure you are aware of all them. Side effects are known or anticipated reactions to a prescribed drug and can include feelings such as nausea or drowsiness.


Pharmacist giving customer medication


In some cases, side effects are desired – such as when you take a nighttime cold medicine to help you sleep and welcome that drowsy feeling before bed! In other cases, they are not so pleasant but are normal.


Risks, on the other hand, can be more serious. Still, they are also generally anticipated in a very small portion of the population and are based on the robust testing the drug underwent before it was cleared to hit pharmacy shelves.


In addition to explaining anticipated side effects and risks, your pharmacist can also tell you what to keep an eye out for in terms of adverse drug reactions. Adverse drug reactions are unexpected and undesired responses to drugs that can range from mild to severe. These reactions require immediate medical attention.


You can learn more about this topic in our blog post about the signs of adverse drug reactions.



Other Local Pharmacy Services

In addition to managing all aspects of your prescribed medications, your local pharmacist can also help with a variety of other services – some of which can save you the trouble of booking an appointment with your family doctor.


Pharmacies tend to be located in central locations in towns and cities, making them a convenient option when you have a mild health concern or would like to utilize accessible health counselling services.


Below are just a few additional services your local pharmacy may provide to you:


  • Providing advice on minor health concern questions such as rash, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, muscle tension, pain and fever, allergies, ear aches, acne, and more
  • Administering vaccinations for COVID-19, the flu, or travel-related vaccines
  • Reviewing your/your loved one’s medication list(s)
  • Helping adjust the size, taste, smell, texture, or delivery format of drugs
  • Providing travel health consultations
  • Offering respiratory counselling
  • Assisting in developing a weight loss or weight management plan
  • Providing assistance with selecting, wearing, and cleaning compression stockings
  • Providing support in diabetes management
  • Offering  warfarin/INR counselling services


For more information see our blog post about what a pharmacist can help with in Canada. 



Consider Choosing Cook’s Pharmacy

Were you surprised by the differences between pharmacists and family doctors? Are you ready to contact a pharmacy near you to seek advice, purchase over-the-counter medications, or fill a prescription? Then consider Cook’s Pharmacy!


Cook's pharmacy is proud to be a family-owned pharmacy with locations in Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, North Dumfries, and Wellesley. Our team of professional and friendly pharmacists are dedicated to providing reliable, efficient, and trustworthy service every time you visit.


We are pleased to offer many prescription and non-prescription pharmacy services, including filling prescriptions, medication compounding, diabetic counselling, travel health consultations, weight loss programs, INR counselling, and more!


Reach out to us to learn more about how Cook’s Pharmacy can meet your family’s health needs.



Any medical or pharmaceutical information on this site is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information does not create any patient-pharmacist relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.


Please consult your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition.


Cook’s Pharmacy and its subsidiaries expressly disclaim responsibility and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury, or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained in this site.




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