Magazine article Drug Topics

A Look Inside a Russian Pharmacy: Apotheka #134

Magazine article Drug Topics

A Look Inside a Russian Pharmacy: Apotheka #134

Article excerpt

Apotheka #134 is touted as the most modern and advanced pharmacy of the Vologda region in the former Soviet Union. Constructed inside a nondescript building just outside the walled city of the Festeropov Monastery, Apotheka #134 would be difficult to find if you did not know just where to look.

Above the doorway is a very plain sign, painted on wood, that reads: Apotheka #134. No advertising, no Rx symbol, no caduceus or any other pictorial symbol that Americans would associate with a pharmacy in this country.

Apotheka #134 is the largest pharmacy in the Vologda region, serving approximately 50,000 people. It would not be considered modern by our standards, but it is the pride and joy of the "director of pharmacy," who served as my tour guide along with the chief pharmacist of Apotheka #134.

It is the largest pharmacy of the several that I visited during my stay in Russia. It is also brightly lit on the inside by florescent fixtures--something I did not see in the others.

Most peculiar is the interior of the pharmacy. A vast amount of open space seems to be dedicated to nothing other than a waiting area. The centerpiece for this open area consists of some "medicinal plants"; their names as translated to me, however, are meaningless.

Since Russian medicine relies heavily on herbal and botanical remedies, these medicinal plants are used as a type of pharmacy symbol. All Apothekas that have the floor space have some type of similar plant display at the front of the pharmacy.

The floor is simply poured concrete without additional flooring material. Off to one side of the Apotheka is a cashier enclosed by a glass cubicle. Russian pharmacists do not process any monetary transactions. It was explained to me that this is simply not part of their job and that it would be considered unprofessional for a pharmacist to handle cash.

The cash register appears to be a vintage antique of the manual type that we need to see behind the old-fashioned soda fountains. I was told that it is capable of recording only one sale at a time. Transactions requiring multiple entries are first handwritten on a receipt and then totaled by means of an abacus for single entry into the register.

Although we were at the Apotheka at 3:00 P.M., I was astonished at the fact that there was not a single patient in the pharmacy. Given the large population that this pharmacy serves, I would have expected it to be very busy. I learned that this Apotheka fills about 200 to 250 Rx orders per day and that the majority of the activity occurs before 1:00 P.M. The typical pharmacy customer is female and usually combines the daily chore of marketing with that of pharmacy needs during the morning hours. Since the pharmacy closes at 6:00 P.M., male patients are rarely seen unless they have taken the day off from work due to illness.

During the busy morning hours, six pharmacists work at filling prescription orders, counseling patients, providing OTC remedies, and manufacturing bulk products. After 1:00 P.M., the staff is reduced to three pharmacists.

All pharmacists work six days a week, including the chief pharmacist. Store hours are 9:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M., Monday through Saturday. The pharmacy is always closed on Sunday, although the chief pharmacist can usually be found in her "flat" above the pharmacy for the occasional Sunday emergency. All pharmacists receive three weeks of paid vacation a year, six paid holidays, and unlimited sick time.

Being a pharmacy patron in Russia can be a difficult process by our standards. There is virtually no front store as in most of our pharmacies; everything sold in the pharmacy is behind the counter under the direct control of the pharmacist. There are very few OTC remedies, as we know them, in Russia; most OTC remedies sold in the Apotheka are herbal-type medications used for a variety of ailments. All OTC purchases require, without exception, consultation with the pharmacist. …

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