Meet Tambo Memorial’s chief pharmacist

“Helping patients through their journey to recovery and seeing them leaving the hospital with a smile is most fulfilling for me."

Have you ever wondered what a typical day for a pharmacist looks like? Well, to better shed some light on that, this journalist recently caught up with a local chief pharmacist, who gave us fascinating insights into the industry and explained what a typical day looks like for him and his team’s work.

After obtaining his Bachelor of Pharmacy (BPharm) at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan, pharmacist Kwanele Zondo joined Tambo Memorial Hospital in 2012 when he started as a Grade 1 pharmacist.
He has over the years been working his way up the career ladder and was recently appointed the hospital’s pharmacy manager. He is now managing a great mix of about 44 people in his department.

The 38-year-old Zondo described a pharmacist as a person who is professionally qualified to prepare and give out or dispense medicines that a doctor prescribes for patients in a hospital or shop.
“Basically we serve as a liaison between the doctor and the patient. The patient will first see the doctor and the doctor will write the prescription and then the patient brings it to us to issue the medication.”

Main duties
Zondo pointed out that their main duties at the hospital start at 07:30, but sometimes they arrive before 07:00 to render what he refers to as extended service where they help the patients who arrive early to collect their chronic medication.

“The first thing I do is to issue keys for the sub-sections, making sure that the teams have access to all the departments, including the stores, schedule drugs department and satellite pharmacies.
“I then check the staff establishment to see if everybody has reported for duty and ensure that the departments have balanced personnel and are capacitated enough to run smoothly.

“I then check my emails and diary to see if they are scheduled meetings that I have to attend whether physical or online, because we normally have regular meetings at the hospital.
“As soon as I’m done with that I go to the dispensary to see if everything is running smoothly, and if there are issues or complaints we deal with them immediately, making sure that each and every client leaves the facility happy.”

Zondo said their busiest time in the dispensary is normally from 10:00 after the doctors have arrived at the outpatient departments around 08:00 and 09:00.
“We also have patients who start coming in to collect their chronic medication starting from when the doors open.

“Even though I do a lot of admin work, I’m still in touch with what’s happening on the ground because I don’t want surprises.
“Every now and then I must touch base with what is happening so that if something goes wrong I can intervene immediately. This also helps me to experience firsthand any challenges, which can be discussed at the monthly meetings with the HODs and at our quality assurance meeting.”

Understanding doctors’ puzzling scribbles
Zondo explained that as a rule of thumb, he and his team of pharmacists do not prepare nor dispense the medication before fully comprehending and knowing what the doctor has prescribed and the condition of the patient.

“If a prescription is misunderstood or read incorrectly it may be a cause of tragedy.
“Mind you, there is no school that teaches us to read the doctor-handwriting or scribble, but it’s absolutely essential that the pharmacist correctly understands the prescription, interprets it, and makes sure that the patients get the correct medication.”

Sharing a piece of advice on how they decipher the message from the scribble, Zondo said as the hospital pharmacists they have developed a strong work relationship with the doctors.

“Instead of merely decoding the scribble, it’s also essential for the pharmacist to understand what’s wrong with the patient.

“Whatever the doctor prescribes, you will easily see the scribble when you understand the condition of the patient. You will see that this is Panado or this is Brufen because you also know what is wrong with the patient.

“So, it’s absolutely essential for the pharmacist to look at the patient’s history, or look at the entire picture even interpret the lab results.
“Also, in that sense, we play a critical role to even double-check if the doctor has prescribed correctly because sometimes we phone the doctors and correct them if they have prescribed either the wrong dose or an incorrect drug for that particular condition.”

With a titter, the pharmacist agreed that if they are unable to understand the doctors’ language sometimes they have to call the doctor in question and ask for help about what medication is written on the prescription.

“It does happen, especially when the relation or the bond has not been built yet, but we have the bond with the majority of the doctors that work here. So I already know even if it’s a scribble what he or she wants, based on the work relationship, the condition of the patient, and the diagnosis, and we get it 100% correct.”

Queuing system
“We have a queuing system that helps us to maintain our waiting time because that’s key to ensure that people do not wait for very long.
“Daily, we split the queues into different categories, including express queues and fast queues.

“For example, the fast queue is for patients who come to collect maybe two to three items on the script, and you don’t want to keep them in the waiting area for too long. We thereafter attend to the chronic scripts with 20 or more items.
“Our electronic dispensing system called RxSolution also helps us a lot to manage the dispense medication quicker.”

Zondo pointed out that because his department is the last stop, they sometimes find themselves on the receiving end of frustrated patients, who have experienced challenges after they have been through all the other hospital departments.
“We, however, intervene when we spot hick-ups in the process because we don’t want to end up with an angry and frustrated patient.”

Regarding security and safety of the inventory, Zondo said that the facility boasts an electronic management system to manage and monitor quantities of stock, issuing stock to the different sections of the hospital, and medication dispensing.

Ensuring the safety of the hospital medical inventory is one of his key responsibilities.
“In addition to the electronic management system, we have a key register system for each and every department where we store our medication.
“We do monthly stocktaking where we check our stock to ensure that is balanced. Whatever you see on the system is what you must find on the shelves.
“Yes, we do sometimes get minor discrepancies in the sub-sections and that normally emanates from human error. Checking our stock regularly helps us to pick up on small errors. We also have security personnel stationed at the doors to search each and every staff member when they leave the departments.”

“There is always room for improvement, especially with the constantly changing technology. There are certain projects that are in the pipeline, which we have already benchmarked with other institutions.
“The proposal is to in future have automated systems like vending machines, where patients, especially those who are working, can come in any time of the day, even if it’s at night or weekend or public holiday, to collect their chronic medication.”

Zondo said taking care of his grandmother aroused a lot of interest in caring for the vulnerable in society and prompted his career choice.

“I grew up in my grandmother’s household in Carolina (Mpumalanga) where I was taking care of my grandmother, including taking her to the hospital and other public services. I was so passionate about that, and I think that’s where my passion for caring for others, particularly the elders, developed.
“My main passion was becoming a doctor, but I fell in love with pharmacy as I was studying.

The idea was to study pharmacy and then move into medicine; a lot of my colleagues did that. But also with a lot of family commitments and having to take care of things at home, it became impossible for me as I needed to start working. However, what I’m doing now is not far off from it, as it’s closely related.”

“For me what is more rewarding with this job is that it puts me in a position where I get to learn all the different aspects.
“You find yourself learning from all the various professions that are in the hospital. You find yourself speaking to a doctor, speaking to a dietician, a speech and audio therapist physiotherapist, interacting with patients one way or the other. So, it’s fulfilling and enjoyable that way.
“Above all, helping the patient through their journey to recovery and seeing them leaving the hospital with a smile, especially the elderly, is most fulfilling for me.
“As pharmacists, we are not only dispensing medicine; we also dispense advice on all sorts of lifestyles, we interact with the patients and share a smile – with anyone at any time. I really do enjoy coming to work.”

Zondo’s advice to aspiring pharmacists is that you need to stay focused; be self-motivated because there are a lot of times when you are just discouraged especially due to the volume of work.

“There is a lot of work from when you are still studying and at the workplace. If you are not self-motivated or self-driven and goal-oriented you can get easily discouraged. I have a great team and I must say that they are quite supportive.
“To boost their morale, motivate and encourage them, we often organise team building functions, such as having a braai, and charity activities for our patients in the waiting room.”

Zondo is happily married to Zwakele and they are blessed with two children, Thando and Msimisi.
When he is not at work, he is at the gym or cycling and running marathons.
“I’m quite obsessed with a healthy lifestyle, and my next target is the Comrades Marathon.”

Also Read: Boksburg pharmacy found guilty of overcharging for face masks


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