How valuable is your pharmacist brand?

A brand is a promise.  When we purchase an item or service with a strong brand name, we expect no surprises.  The brand speaks for itself and ensures unwavering consistency.  The most valuable brand in the world today is Coke; the Coke brand name alone is valued at $80 B.  Another strong brand is ‘Big Mac’, (in my opinion a facsimile for food), but it is a consistent product right around the world.

Services & professions can represent brands as well.  When we visit a lawyer we expect that a degree of competence can be assumed; we count on it.

When a pharmacist graduates from an accredited university anywhere in the world from Karachi, or Alexandria, or Michigan State, or Toronto, etc and goes on to pass all qualifying exams, and is duly licensed as a BScPhm or PharmD, the pharmacist becomes a brand.

This means that patients make an assumption as to competency, professional responsibility, patient centricity, empathy etc and thereby brands the pharmacist in their minds.  A promise is struck between the patient and the pharmacist…theoretically.

Unfortunately, thousands of times a day pharmacists break this promise across Canada.  Each time this happens the pharmacist brand gets whittled away a little.  Today there is a great deal of effort being expended to build and strengthen the pharmacist brand.  As the role of pharmacists expands, as a result of expanded scope of practice, this becomes a high priority.

Pharmacist Awareness Month is an example; but do we really need a whole month?

The pharmacist brand has become tarnished.  Nowhere is this more evident than in dealing with governments.   Pharmacy associations approach governments professing to represent professional practising pharmacists and their value proposition, but what governments see is big business, commercial interests and powerful retail lobbyists.  Governments see through the façade, usually made up of a delegation of independent pharmacists with no big pharmacy chain in sight. Who do they think they are fooling?

The pharmacist brand is also becoming tarnished with the public.  We keep hearing how pharmacists are the “most trusted” professionals.  Trusted re what?  Trusted more than physicians performing open heart surgery? Trusted more than the dentist drilling in your mouth?  Trusted more than the car mechanic who replaces the brakes on your car?

This pharmacist trust thing is a perfect example of polling firms structuring a question in order to get a preconceived desired answer.  Let’s get real please.

Every time pharmacists allow commercial interests to over ride their professional patient centered obligations to their patients, pharmacists tarnish the brand for themselves and every other pharmacist in the profession.

Every time that pharmacists remain silent or recommend a useless cough syrup, an ineffective herbal remedy, a ‘cleansing flush’, a ‘fat burning’ potion, a mega vitamin etc…actually more than half the stuff that junks up the hundreds of feet of shelving and end displays surrounding the dispensary, pharmacists tarnish their brand.

Every time pharmacists put on a jacket festooned with logos like Healthwatch, Costco, WalMart, No Frills, Loblaw, Sobeys, Rexall etc pharmacists send a mixed message about their brand.  Is the pharmacist a professional along with all this entails?  Or is the pharmacist an employee/merchant of Super Duper Drugs and is promoting the commercial interests of the employer?

Notwithstanding that pharmacists have a legal obligation to serve patients’ interests first, and that this obligation is enshrined in their license to practise which is  provided by their provincial regulatory bodies, pharmacists surely  must have an obligation to themselves and to their profession and to hold themselves to an even higher benchmark.

Why do the regulatory bodies, which have real leverage, continue to sit back and do nothing to assist practising pharmacists in their struggle against non pharmacist pharmacy owners?

We keep talking about control of the profession being lost to vested interests.  We are now fighting to get it back.  I will say it again here: PBNs (pharmacy billing numbers) are a critically important step in this process; nothing will achieve as much as achieving PBNs towards this goal of regaining control.  The battle to achieve this goal will not stop, but until then….

Pharmacists can control every aspect of their daily professional lives.  They can protect their personal brand…the one they studied years to achieve and spent $100 K to attain.  Pharmacists must refuse to do anything they are not comfortable doing in the interest of their patients.

Pharmacists should begin by wearing their own plain professional jackets and not remain walking bill boards for their employers.   I know this is a tough one, but if all pharmacists did this, and did it now during Pharmacist Awareness Month starting Monday March 10th, what a powerful statement this would make re the independence of the professional practising pharmacist.  Do it.

You worked hard and invested plenty of dough to become a pharmacist.  Your brand is the most important professional asset you will ever own.

Don’t sell your brand cheap.


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