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Is it the end for anonymous pharmacists on social media?

Johnathan Laird

IF you have ever stolen a dispensary pen, taken part in a Dull Pharmacist Twitter quiz, or perhaps read an anonymous column in a pharmacy magazine then you will have stumbled upon the phenomenon of the ‘anonymous pharmacist’.

I have existed online for a few years now (I also exist off-line…) and the positives for me professionally, massively outweigh the negatives. That said, in that time, I have witnessed some absolutely repugnant behaviour. More often than not, these particularly nasty posts outside the sphere of pharmacy social media are anonymous. It is so easy to drift into the shadows and be completely racist, sectarian, sexist…the list goes on.

In a liberal society freedom of speech is a key component of a functioning society of this nature. A robust press that speaks freely and holds the political class to account in my view is critically important. Everyone should have their say, but should they have a say anonymously?

I have been pondering the idea of an ‘anonymous pharmacist’ for a while now and something just does not add up. For me it is all about the ‘why’: why would you want to be an anonymous pharmacist?

Perhaps the individuals feel disenfranchised by the profession or their current role. Anonymity provides the cloak from under which a pharmacist can vent frustration about their own particular situation without fear of retribution from their employer, or regulator. This happens frequently and a few pharmacist Twitter accounts come to mind where this is the case.

The thing is, pharmacists are not like the general public. Whether we feel hard done by or not, we are in my view in a privileged position. It is an absolute privilege to be trusted with patients’ health worries and sometimes their personal problems too.

We are part of a profession, and as such are bound by a self-imposed code of ethics. It’s a mutually agreed contract. We are a collective of professional pharmacists making a difference to patients. It makes me quite angry when pharmacists do not see these things as a privilege and sometimes prioritise their own personal situation over those in their care. If this is you, then I think you should start looking for another job.

The aspect of professionalism that underpins all of this is trust. Trust in the professional sense for me has two aspects to it: you agree as the pharmacy professional to take on the responsibility and accountability of holding a position of trust, and your patient inherently trusts you because you are a pharmacist and all that goes with that professional notion. Without these two discrete elements the professional relationship is a non-starter.

As I return to the idea of anonymous pharmacists I try to find where elements of professionalism cited above exist. My conclusion is that they don’t exist and therefore the anonymous pharmacist is also a concept that cannot and should not exist.

I say this with some sadness because one previously anonymous pharmacist with a talent for making people laugh and giggle in the middle of a busy day had to fall on his sword and delete his anonymous account.

He, and other good pharmacists like him, are perhaps the exception to the rule, but to remove the weeds unfortunately sometimes the flowers have to disappear too.

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All views are those of the author and not of any associated organisation.

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