Skip to main content
  1. Posts/

Pharmacists who don’t speak the engrish

·3741 words·18 mins
Table of Contents

Its pretty bad when I have a post-it (Upsher-Smith Klor-Con no less) with all the website fodder I think of during the day.

I’ve ranted and bitched on here about nurses, “nurses”, and other health care people about their lack of verbal English skills, but I think its time for me to shit in my own profession gene pool a bit.  Now I’m the last one to bitch about someone’s written grammar, however in this case we are talking about verbal skills.

To be an effective pharmacist, you need to speak clear English.  Plain and fucking simple.

I get really pissed off when a pharmacist calls for a copy only for me to hear nothing but vowel noises on the other line.  Sure, you may have more therapeutic and clinical data in your genitalia than I do in my entire body.  Sure, you may be able to recite LexiComp and Facts verbatim to me.  You may be the fucking master of warfarin dosing or can just recite off a Vancomycin dose like Rainman.

However if you cannot speak clear English, you have no business in retail pharmacy.  Sorry, that’s the truth here.  Go work in a hospital or in mail order or somewhere where the public isn’t going to be talking to you.

Yeah, this sounds like a total dick-move on my part, but think about it.  To be a good pharmacist, you need to be able to speak to your patients and other health care professional in a clear a concise manner.  Patients (as stupid as they may be) should not have to guess or decipher what you are saying.  Other health care professionals can barely speak English, so why add to the confusion with your own lack of English skills?  We are the forefront of free advice, why confuse the matter (and the patients) even more than they already are?

This isn’t a dig towards one specific nationality or background, its just the cold hard truth being delivered in the most un-politically correct way possible.  Speak English.  We expect it from everyone else, so why shouldn’t we expect it from you.

Comments #

Comment by TheAngriestPharmacist on 2008-10-21 20:27:51 -0700 #

No freaking shit. I had graduated with several people that didn’t even have BASIC English skills. They could understand the written word, memorize very well, and be successful on exams — but if we were to ever have a Clinical/Practical or Application test, these fools wouldn’t get above a 50%.

Comment by anonymous on 2008-10-21 22:19:26 -0700 #

Under Section 5.a.9.iii of the Pennsylvania Pharmacy act a pharmacist “is guilty of grossly unprofessional conduct.” “The public assertion or implication of professional superiortiy in the practice of pharmcy.” Not that I’m claiming you are making such a claim (especially since you acknowledge their clinical skills), just a reminder to all those PA kids before posting any comments without really considering what they’re saying. Not worth the penalty. That said, it is very difficult to determine what is being communicated at times by many health care professionals. I once spent 10 minutes with a doctor trying to figure out what he wanted. Turns out it was as simple as what the patient’s last fill quantity was. After all that he told me to go ahead and dispense the refill. Unfortunately for my pharmacist, I’m only an intern and she had to decipher his Engrish all over again.
…and I wish I was that good at memorizing law, I just happened to be studying it for an exam.

Comment by Google Account on 2008-10-21 22:51:21 -0700 #

I agree 100%! I would really love to see some sort of program that offered speech coaching or some sort of speech class that would help alleviate the cloud of confusion that arrises from this problem, but we all know that would be out of the question, because the poor English speakers would be filing suit calling it “discrimination”. I can already sense a pack of lawyers drooling at the idea.
Too many times I’ve had to actually step in for a pharmacist that had a strong accent which literally left the patient staring in utter confusion. A look of horror was begining to twist into shape just as I walked up to lend my English speaking skills. I imagine the patient wondering “how can he read the prescription properly?” or “is that powdery film on the inside of the bottle anthrax?!?”. Sometimes I wish I could mind read…

Comment by Reddie on 2008-10-21 23:31:48 -0700 #

Don’t know about the practice in your country/area, but there are wonderful pharmacists in other countries who do not speak English very well (even though they’ve passed out from the course conducted in English) but communicate well with the heartlanders / old folks who can only speak and understand another language or dialect. They may not have perfect grammar or diction, or even pronounce certain English words properly, but some are the most patient and good-natured professionals who are able to connect with the people who need them most.

Comment by Google Account on 2008-10-22 07:00:01 -0700 #

May I be a really angry nurse for a moment? No, no, not with you, so far I haven’t read a word in this blog that I disagree with!!!
No, my pissiness is directed to the plethora of MD offices that allow their $9.75 an hour “Medical Assistants” with five minutes of training to call themselves “NURSES”. I have two college degrees and busted my ass to be a RN, and I’ll be damned if some 19 year old is going to give my profession a bad name (we do fine on our own with that, but that’s another post!)

Comment by Dying to Retire on 2008-10-22 07:00:30 -0700 #

Thank you for bringing up another one of my biggest pet peeves. And they have the nerve to act like I’m stupid because I can’t understand their jibberish. ‘Scuse me, Mr. Incoherency, but I believe it is YOU who are causing ME the problem. It is bad enough to have to take this shit from doctors and nurses, I’ll be damned if I’ll take it from a colleague.
While I’m on the subject, another one of my favorites is the pharmacist who calls me for a copy and then makes me drag every piece of information out of them. “And you are calling from which pharmacy? And you are located where?
And your phone number is? And your DEA number is? And your name is? And how do you spell “Fandango Bungalow”? I mean honestly, just give me the freakin’ information so I can go on to other meaningless tasks I hate just as much as this one.

Comment by on 2008-10-22 10:53:26 -0700 #

I’ve always felt bad when my pharmacists are trying to help patients who can barely communicate in English.
One woman once practically dropped trou in front of my pharmacist because they were barely making any headway on what turned out to be a rash.

Comment by Cathy Lane RPh on 2008-10-22 11:48:23 -0700 #

Hang it all–ear trumpets for everyone! Sensitive to this issue as some of my folks and relatives are non-native speakers…just sayin’ that some of the native English American accents are pretty difficult to understand, as well. From my traveling RPh experiences, I’d have to say that some of the audiphone devices encountered have la lot to be desired in picking up human voices e.g. soft voice, too high voice, background decibels, etc., plus the noise level in the pharmacy, and front end area can be distracting. If we merely focus on accents, I’ll reiterate a technique I’ve found very useful…SDSWP (slow down and spell the words, please).

Comment by neumeindil on 2008-10-22 17:22:42 -0700 #

A prescription came in a few days ago for a birth control that read “Black, Velvet. Orfro vera 3 patches weekly” when the pharmacist got it off of the voice mail. No DoB, no patient phone number, a nonexistent drug and improper dosage instructions, all in one Rx.
The pharmacist, being very nice but concerned for obvious reasons, called the office for clarification. Three hours later, the same incapable of coherent speech assistant that called in the Rx originally called back, asked for the pharmacist by name and (apparently) said: “It’s the birth control patch! 3 weeks on, 1 week off. Anything *else* you need clarified?” I almost cheered when B. replied, “Yes, actually. No identifying information was given for this patient. What is her birthday? … Thank you. I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt here and say that it’s a new employee that called this in the first time, but whomever it was, someone there needs to remind her that one day taking her time to do her job right might save someone’s life.”
Conclusion: the only thing worse than unintelligible speech is unintelligible speech + a nasty attitude/no patience. Mistakes happen. Dr. offices and pharmacies are noisy, busy places. Taking the time to slow the hell down and enunciate, even with an accent, goes a long way.

Comment by The Ole’ Apothecary on 2008-10-22 17:46:54 -0700 #

Eddie Murphy (as Axel Foley in “Beverly Hills Cop”): I’m here to see Jenny Summers.
Foreign-born assistant: “Vat is dis pataining?”
Murphy: Excuse me?
Foreign-born assistant: Pataining. Meaning. About.
Greek Tailor: Euripides?
Customer: Yeah—Eumenides?

Comment by on 2008-10-22 18:28:56 -0700 #

I’m going to disagree with you on this one TAP. I’ve worked with a guy who by now should be a pharmacist who is hearing impared. He wears a hearing aid, and while on the phone he might be a bit difficult to understand, face=to-face he is absolutely one of the best listeners and care providers I have ever interacted with.
In another situation, I was working with a floater who spoke fine english with an accent. One of my challenge customers came in and was having difficulty with X, Y, Z, and Medicare. By happenstance, they both spoke the same dialect of Arabic, and that problem customer was never a problem again.
If you can’t take copy over the phone confidently, then politely ask for a fax. That pharmacist had to pass the board and pharmacy school somehow. I really don’t see why this is such a big deal.

Comment by The Ole’ Apothecary on 2008-10-22 19:29:35 -0700 #

If we must have healthcare colleagues with accents, why can’t those accents be British, Irish, Australian, or even German, Mexican, or Russian? Why must they be, almost to a man (or woman), those people with the paralyzed tongues and the impossible cadences?
Most healthcare professionals, pharmacy included, are required to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), which, as I understand it, contains a portion that tests speech. I sense that the people performing this this test must be looking (or listening) the other way when they administer it. Apparently, they themselves are not out here in the field, just the ones who do the testing. If they were like us, they would never pass these people until such can speak English succinctly.

Comment by rph3664 on 2008-10-23 15:39:42 -0700 #

Around the time that the movie “Being John Malkovich” came out, one of the medical groups in the city where I was working hired a phone nurse who was almost certainly legally deaf.
That movie features a deaf receptionist.
She didn’t last very long, although she appeared to be a very nice person.
I now work in a hospital, and so many of the night nurses speak such poor English, it’s a patient safety issue.

Comment by KDUBZ on 2008-10-23 16:51:58 -0700 #

Amen angry nurse, as a pharmacist I too can not stand the I work in a physicians office, therfore I am a nurse mentality. I swear the people who clean physicians offices think they are nurses. It is frustrating when they introduce themselves as nurses and then ask you to spell names of common drugs and other things a real nurse would know.
Let me just say, I have loads of respect for what nurses, and I mean real nurses, do. I sure as hell wouldn’t do that job. I’m adding you to the people who I have to buy a drink for list!
More on topic, amen….can people please not have a full donut in their mouth when they call and leave a voicemail?

Comment by nodrugs4u on 2008-10-24 00:52:13 -0700 #

I think that no one here has any problem with healthcare professionals speaking with an accent. I speak with an accent and I have no complaints from anyone so far. I think what our problem is with those who do not speak/enunciate clearly and not necessarily those who speak with an accent.
Anyway, why can’t people just spell things out a little. Not everything, but an occasional D as in David, or N as in Nacy would save all of us a lot of time. Funny thing is, those who speak clearly tend to spell more often.
First voicemail I got this morning was from an doctor on her cell phone trying to leave a prescription. I took down as much as I could, but all I could figure out was patient’s first name and the fact that there would be no refills. She did try to spell the patient’s last name, but all I hear was a bunch of A and E sounding letters. Fortunately I saved the voicemail, because the patient came in 20 minutes later looking for his prescription. After listening to the voicemail, he shrugged his head and took out his pocket medical license and asked for a blank prescription pad.
I consider myself very lucky that we do not deal with phone calls (new or refill Rx’s) very often. Most docs in our area use faxes as means of communication (which I believe is great–I am much better at deciphering chicken scratch than I am at teasing out words out of static/noise).

Comment by Crusty RPh on 2008-10-24 06:19:53 -0700 #

Throw in talking fast and I’m fucked. They think talking faster makes them seem more knowledgable. I tell them I can’t hear as fast as I used to. They normally laugh then say it too fast again. Then I give them the lecture. Slow down and break it into sections– Your name, Dr, Patient, Medication, strength, Quantity, then directions. Then explain that they shouldn’t give it any faster than they can write it. It’s sort of like training a dog. If you get excited and run around the dog will too. Now now let’s slow down a little and enjoy our conversation. I just love training them.
Crusty RPh

Comment by WAGslave on 2008-10-24 09:18:14 -0700 #

I totally agree … it takes a lot of brains and courage to come to America and get a pharmacy degree, especially with all the added baggage of a new a crazy language / culture. But, come on folks, you have to deal with the public, in a health care capacity, so do the rest of the world a favor and get a grip on your English.
Also, if English is not your strong suit… don’t speak louder! I can’t stand it when I have someone on the phone who I can barely understand in the first place, and upon my requests to repeat themselves, starts barking into the phone even louder. As if that helps … I still don’t understand you, and now my phone is distorting like the latest Ministry CD and my ears are bleeding. Just sepak slowly, yelling doesn’t help!
On the flipside, when a pharmacist speaks fluent English, but still has a minor accent, there’s no need for the public to freak out. I work with a very talented pharmacist from China, who speaks fluent English but has a hint of an accent. I routinely get complaints about “the foreigner who can’t speak a word of English”. I finally got fed up and last week told the last person who complained that he needs to clean the wax out of his ear and try to stop being a redneck moron.

Comment by Google Account on 2008-10-24 19:15:37 -0700 #

Cheers on the fake nurses issue. If I, as a R.N., were to call myself a doctor, or heck even a Nurse Practitioner, hell would rain down from above, quite possibly evenly legally. Yet medical assistants with no training, comically wearing stethoscopes that they have no idea how to use or even what they are used for swing from their necks proudly bray that they are “nurses” to who ever will listen.
Perhaps off topic but fuck I hate fakers.

Comment by CPhTinschool2 on 2008-10-27 20:56:29 -0700 #

It is hard to communicate with someone who doesn’t have English as a first language. I have found that listening very intently and repeating what I think they said helps. Especially if they see I’m trying to listen because so many people will half listen when they hear an accent and then get mad because they couldn’t understand. On the nursing bit, I’m in nursing school and have seen the MA students thinking their courses are “so hard”. I’d like them to sit in on the wet lab dissecting fetal pigs and tell me how easy it is to locate the femoral vein, artery, and nerve without cutting something. They don’t even know how the RAA pathway works? The RAwhat? They are glorified office personnel nothing more nothing less and it terrifies me to think that I’ll get lumped in with them as an un-knowledgeable idiot. No wonder so many people think nurses are dumb, I never understood that since I’m not dumb and plan on becoming a nurse practitioner at some point. How can they justify calling themselves a nurse? Isn’t there a law against that? You can’t go around “pretending” to be nurse you have to be licensed right? Don’t get me wrong I’ve met some smart MAs and dumb RNs but that really upsets me that they would call themselves nurses. A lot of the MA students at my college had to go with the MA course because they couldn’t pass the TEAS exam which is an entrance exam. They especially complain about math and how hard fractions and ratio/proportions are. Yeah it helps I’m a pharm tech because we use that math everyday but it scares me to think those who don’t understand those math problems would ever do any dosing calculations. I’m cool with people bettering themselves and everything and God knows we need more capable people in the medical field with more “baby boomers” needing more medical services; I just hope they get a proper education and don’t misrepresent themselves. I know I will correct anyone who I come across claiming to be a nurse or professional that they aren’t.

Comment by Ribeye of your Dreams on 2008-10-28 01:31:57 -0700 #

Hey there, I’m baaaaack!!!!
How ya been, AP?
Formalities aside and on the language issue,
Last night, I had a table of Jamaican people who were speaking with a very thick accent and asking me for things they knew we wouldn’t have. One of them asked for some kind of Jamaican soda, and I had no idea what he was talking about. His girlfriend made it a point to be smart with me and say, “Of course you don’t know what he talking about, it’s a Bohemian soda.” At that point, I was forced to get smart with them too, and said “Well I’m not gonna know about that, this is America, not Bohemia!” That pissed them off, and they asked for another server. I wasn’t upset about it.
Keep up the good work, I’m trying to =)

Comment by GingerB on 2008-10-28 09:58:16 -0700 #

Have you ever been to Baltimore? The foreigners speak clearer English than the natives there.

Comment by Google Account on 2008-10-29 10:30:09 -0700 #

If you want to read about some ignorance from the world of pharmacy lawsuits, check this out. I hate the big chain pharmacies, but this is completely bogus…

Comment by CPhTinschool2 on 2008-10-30 08:13:40 -0700 #

I wanted to add that you might want to watch the movie Crash. If is quite enlightening.

Comment by Google Account on 2008-11-11 19:59:54 -0800 #

You have really hit the nail on the head with this post. I also have a real problem with pharmacist’s assistants (not pharmacists) who question my prescriptions without a clue as to why I’m treating MY patient. Nice blog!

Comment by hellomarylu on 2008-11-30 04:23:27 -0800 #

Yo Angry Pharmacist…
“Go work in a hospital or in mail order or somewhere where the public isn’t going to be talking to you.”
Ah my DOP husband asks that you don’t send the non-English speakers to hospital either. The stakes are higher– and when you can’t understand a damn word, or even every third word they say… You can kill someone.

Comment by meyan on 2009-03-19 19:15:36 -0700 #

I am confused… A question probably to all the US pharmacy schools. I am a foreigner, and I speak English with no accent whatsoever. I can speak it WITH an accent if I wanted to. Foreign pharmacists need to pass FPGE, TSE, TOEFL, NAPLEX and MPJE. If the TSE (Test of Spoken English) is required of us, why not the US-grads who are not native English speakers? I know of pharmacists who graduated from US schools who cannot speak clear English. I just feel bad for them when customers start ranting about foreigners invading the country. =)

Comment by optimist on 2009-05-04 09:24:52 -0700 #

I totally agree with Meyan. I am a foreign graduate myself. I have given all the exams required by NABP and state board which includes TSE. I do have accent because i believe i have learned british english back in my country. Here in US people have notion that if you cant speak in american accent you dont know english. Well i think if i could come to other country and achieve my professional goals i will learn and adapt to there language or dialects very soon.

Comment by Shraddha on 2014-04-21 13:23:36 -0700 #

I am foreign Physical therapist and speak good English.Never had any complaints from patients ever.
It was fun reading your blog and now hooked to it.