The pharmacy profession is formed of different sectors. The two main ones are community and hospital pharmacists. Sociologists have examined if community pharmacists are a profession or not as a result of their marginalised role in healthcare and links with commerce. Few sociological studies have included hospital pharmacists. This study engaged with the theories from the sociology of the professions such as the neo-Weberian social closure perspective, professions as an interrelated system and Foucault’s concept of knowledge and power to explore the nature of pharmacy practice in healthcare in England, United Kingdom. Its purpose was to reveal new insights into pharmacists’ perceptions of the nature of pharmacy practice linking this to their status in society.
This qualitative collective case study consisted of four cases studies. Each case study included five pharmacists from community pharmacy, acute hospital, mental health or community health services, respectively. A total of twenty pharmacists were included. Only pharmacists registered for 5 years or more, who had worked in the relevant healthcare setting for at least 2 years and provided written consent were entered. Data were obtained from one in-depth individual semi-structured interview using a guide covering how they viewed their practice, contributions made to healthcare, their future and how others viewed pharmacists. Each pharmacist was asked to complete a diary for 5 days to include any positive contributions or frustrations experienced. The data for each case were analysed using inductive thematic analysis followed by a cross-case analysis. Five themes were identified; (i) the hidden healthcare profession, (ii) important relationships, (iii) pharmaceutical surveillance, (iv) re-professionalisation strategies and (v) two different professions.
The core function defining the pharmacy profession is pharmaceutical surveillance, shifting the sociological understanding of pharmacists’ practice away from dispensing. There is an internal split between community pharmacists and pharmacists in other healthcare settings due to differences in practice, re-professionalisation strategies and relationships with doctors including lacking ideological professional solidarity. Pharmacists are not recognised as healthcare professionals by the public but as ‘typical community pharmacists’ with an image as shopkeepers. Pharmacists interpret professionalism as a controlling rather than an enabling ideology. The status of pharmacists in society today remains unclear.
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