In Nigeria, most persons who are not pharmacists operate medicine stores often in the capacity of pharmacists. They are popularly referred to as chemists and they sometimes pose a serious healthcare risk. To therefore differentiate between a pharmacy and a chemist has become of uttermost importance.
Pharmacists are healthcare professionals trained in the science of pharmacy. They are capable of dispensing medicinal drugs for various medical needs as well as providing the much needed pharmaceutical care to patients and other clients. Chemists are educated in the science of chemistry. They conduct research and experiments with chemical substances. These terms are often confused with one another.
The main reason for this occurring and recurring confusion can be traced to the British English translation of the term “chemist.” This term is defined as being “a shop where you can purchase medicines”. Nigeria as a British colony henceforth even calls the patent medicine dealers chemists as well. In this article however, we are going to generally employ the term “chemists” in referring to the wide range of individuals who own and manage medicine stores (and are non-pharmacists) especially without a valid license.
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For clarity, a patent medicine dealer ( who some may otherwise refer to as a chemist) is a person without formal training in pharmacy who sells orthodox pharmaceutical products on a retail basis for profit. The sales practice of patent sellers in Nigeria was reviewed in this article on PubMed
Now what is the main difference between a pharmacy and a chemist? Let’s have a look
A community pharmacy is often owned and/or managed by a pharmacist. The pharmacist is a qualified personnel who obtained a 5 or 6 year Bachelor or Doctor of Pharmacy degree from an accredited University within or outside Nigeria.
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The chemists are however non pharmacists who could have degrees in science or even non science courses. Some of them may have obtained a patent and proprietary medicine license from the Pharmacists council of Nigeria. This license gives them the right to sell some over the counter medicines while restricting them from selling and dispensing some prescription only medicines…. A rule they often continually flout.
Mixing of Drugs
Hear this now loud and clear, no pharmacist, I repeat NO PHARMACIST will mix drugs for you, in the way we know it in Nigeria. This is to say that you cannot enter a registered pharmacy and request to buy pain killers and the pharmacist will bring scissors to cut tablets for you. You are also very much unlikely to get a response from a pharmacist if you request typhoid and malaria drugs to be mixed for you.
But guess what? A chemist will gladly cut 2 tablets of Diclofenac and 2 tablets of Ibuprofen for you to use for your pain. They will not also fail to cut antimalarials, antibiotics and several other drugs for you to use to treat malaria and typhoid. While we keep lamenting that these practices are wrong and unhealthy, we will not also forget to remind you that at each time you enter any premises and you’re offered any of these services, then taking the next step out will be the best decision for you
Availability of a Pharmacist.
A registered pharmacy premises always has a pharmacist available. The availability of a pharmacist is one good way to differentiate between a pharmacy and a chemist.
The major question is, how do you know that the said person is a pharmacist? Well, accessing the dressing (especially if it is during the weekdays) will likely give you a good clue.
The reason why you have to do this is because no sane pharmacy owner would dress shabbily to work and as well they will not also allow their pharmacist to dress shabbily to work too. Granted they may not be on tie or ward coat and all the cooperate stuff but a pharmacist on duty (especially during the day time) will certainly wear a good shirt and trousers, with of course a good shoe.
The chemist may not really bother with outlook. They often see pharmacy only as a trade and as a business, hence how much is always the question and not the impact made.
Moreover, if you walk into a chemist and request to see the pharmacist, they will welcome you with a stern look, often doing one or more of the following;
They will be reluctant to show you to the pharmacist because in fact no pharmacist is around.
They will also be reluctant in telling you that the pharmacist is not around because they know the pharmacist not being around could mean trouble for them, especially now they are not sure that you’re not from any regulatory body.
In all you will see the sales attendant asking you why you want to see the pharmacist which is just an attempt to buy time and know the lie to tell you. In a pharmacy setting, you will most likely be directed to see the pharmacist on request, especially if you insist that it is private. This is usually done effortlessly because the pharmacist is always on duty.
One more important way to differentiate between a pharmacy and a chemist is the manner at which you’re attended to, especially by the pharmacist.
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Safe to say that pharmacists are the most polite, patient and respectful medical professionals you can ever meet. They provide you with free and unlimited consultations, while solving both your drugs and even non drug related problems. This they do, irrespective of how much money the pharmacy premises make in a day or how much the owner is capped at.
However, chemists may not be this patient with you and of course will not provide you with these free and unlimited consultations, because what are they even consulting in the first place? The few that have become wealthy from the practice also have higher chances of being proud because it has always been about the money for them, never about the impact and contribution to improving the quality of life of people.
While it may be difficult to differentiate between a pharmacy and a chemist, it could be easy to do so in respect to how a premises where drugs and related items are sold, is arranged.
First of all, Nigerian pharmacists have imbibed the act of branding. Most registered pharmacies have remarkable and attractive shelves, furniture and general upholstery design both inside and outside of the pharmacy, with very bright lights therein. There is also a very clear sign board (often in bright green or red color) showing the name of the pharmacy with the Rx sign written on it.
Again, a quick Google search of the name of the pharmacy can help you clear your doubts. Most businesses are now online (with standard websites) and the pharmacy sector is not left out. In fact if your Google map location is on, you could just find nearby pharmacies effortlessly.
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Most chemists don’t bother to go through this branding because it draws unnecessary attention to them. They would rather lie low and continue their shady businesses (of cutting 2 tablets of ampiclox for you) while making their money and evading the law. The few chemists who may be bold enough to brand themselves to the level of a pharmacy will need to hire a pharmacist and most of them either dread such process, while some do it rather grudgingly while of course obeying stipulated laws.
In all, how a pharmacy premises is branded and what a simple Google search brings out for you, tells you whether you’re in the right place or whether you should run for your dear life.
How do you know you’re in a pharmacy instead of a chemist? Share your thoughts with us
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