Hibbert, Derek, Bissell, Paul and Ward, Paul R. (2002) Consumerism and professional work in the community pharmacy. Sociology of Health and Illness, 24 (1). pp. 46-65. ISSN 0141-9889

In this paper we consider the professional role and status of the community pharmacist (chemist) in the context of consumerist health care. The sociological perspective of pharmacy as an incomplete or marginal profession has been challenged in more recent work, which describes how pharmacists act to ‘transform’natural objects (drugs) into more valued social objects (medicines). We consider this process as it applies to the everyday and ‘taken-for-granted’ act of buying medicines in the pharmacy. We draw on focus group and interview data from a study involving consumers and pharmacy staff in the North West of England. The consumers had purchased one of a group of ‘deregulated’ medicines, which were previously available only with a doctor’s prescription. One way in which pharmacists have sought to develop their professional role is by trying to formalise their involvement in the surveillance of medicine sales. We show how this professionalising strategy is challenged by the consumer’s power in the commercial transaction and perceived expertise in the management of minor illness. This challenge forms a boundary to the pharmacists’‘transformatory’ work, and forms part of an ongoing negotiation of the meaning and relevance of their expertise. We present the strategies adopted by consumers and pharmacy staff to (respectively) obtain the desired medicines and fulfil professional responsibilities against a background of differing and contested assessments of the risks associated with medicines use.

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