News & Stories

Working Retail through the Pandemic: A Pharmacist’s Story

The phone has been ringing off the hook at the Discount Drug Mart on Portage Street in North Canton, Ohio. Patients want to know where to go for medical help, now that COVID-19 concerns have curtailed access to physician offices, urgent care and emergency departments. “It’s up in the air for everyone. We’re just trying to make sure we give the best advice,” said Abigail Marshall, Pharm.D. (’13), the chief pharmacist, in a recent phone call on a day off.

“Some of my patients have been waiting for things like pain injections and we’ve been trying to find creative ways to hold them over until they can go in for them,” she said. “And I’ve had patients stuck out of state or out of country who weren’t expecting to be out so long. They were quarantined there without their medicine. That’s something I haven’t had to handle before.”

With customers chomping at the bit for thermometers, hand sanitizer, cold/cough products and even pulse/oxygen meters (the kind you pinch onto your finger like a clothespin), it has been a little crazy – “a retail setting on roids,” as Dr. Marshall puts it.

Things look different at the store these days. Chairs have been subtracted from the waiting area, to provide social distancing. Signs and lines define safety measures. When the drive-through facility was temporarily down, “We carried the meds outside,” she says.

On a recent Wednesday, Dr. Marshall was at home, quietly celebrating having made the last payment on her student loan – and feeling good that NEOMED had prepared her well for dealing with the uncertainty of this time. “Every day now, there are two or three unique questions, things we’re not usually asked. I feel like NEOMED’s College of Pharmacy really did ground us to be competent in many areas – the way it was cumulative learning, with opportunities to do compounding and to shadow in different pharmacy settings. I think to ask myself, ‘What can other practitioners offer than I can’t?’ and that comes in handy to come up with creative ways to help.”

On the patients’ minds

The mood among patients during the coronavirus crisis varies, says Dr. Marshall. Some customers feel they’re safe because they’re not within the high-risk criterion. Others have been really nervous and panicky.

The most common misconception is among younger customers – people who think that because they are not elderly or immunocompromised that there’s nothing to worry about, she said.

Her advice to them? Remember, staying home isn’t to protect you. It’s to protect other people.

In the meantime, she’s glad to report for work, taking all the needed precautions. And right now, people seem to appreciate their pharmacists, said Dr. Marshall. “They really do trust that I’m trying to get them the help they need.”