Sunday, March 25, 2012

Research: Pharmacists and Pharmaceuticals in Your Writing

The Rockville 8 welcomes licensed pharmacist Dave Hopkins to answer questions related to pharmacists and pharmaceuticals. Dave graduated in 1990 from The George Washington University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology. In 1993, he completed his Bachelor of Science Degree in Pharmacy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He has worked in retail pharmacy since 1988 and has been a licensed pharmacist since 1993. Currently, he owns and manages his own retail pharmacy in Maryland which he has done since 2004. Dave answers questions for the Rockville 8.

We welcome your questions as well so if you have any research questions or any other questions, ask away!

1. What things relating to pharmacists or pharmaceuticals are unrealistic when you see them on TV, in a movie, a book or some similar venue?

Actually, I rarely see pharmacists portrayed on TV or in literature. The TV series 2 and ½ Men had a periodic pharmacist role and he was usually seen taking furtive sips from a codeine cough syrup bottle. Amusing but not really flattering or realistic. And of course who could forget the impoverished pharmacist who sold Romeo the poison with which he ultimately committed suicide? More flattering characters can be found most anywhere. I Googled the topic and there are several web pages that discuss the lack of pharmacists in fictional literature and I have included one of them here.

2. What is a common misconception the general public has regarding pharmacists?

I think, historically, we are often perceived as boring, curmudgeonly old men who hide in our pharmacy lab, avoiding the general populace. In a more contemporary setting we are seen as harried, overstressed gatekeeper’s who keep someone from getting their medication and blaming it on ‘insurance restrictions’ or the like.

3. What is your favorite part and what is your least favorite part of your job?

My favorite part is interacting with my patients and improving their health outcomes through my knowledge of pharmaceuticals. I always enjoy answering health related questions and get a real satisfaction when I can positively affect someone either through question/answer or by the medication I provide. My least favorite part is dealing with insurance companies. Despite what many people seem to think we don’t get a thrill from telling you your refill is too early or some medication isn’t on your insurance plans formulary. While I can empathize with someone over their frustration, I also must say my least favorite part of the job is being barked at over insurance issues, mainly since I have no control over them.

4. Beside you, what resources are there available to writers if they have a question?

All states have local pharmacist associations. In addition there is the American Pharmacist’s Association as well as several other national pharmacy trade groups. Most pharmacies receive free trade publications (such as Drug Topics) which describe current trends in the pharmacy profession. Finally every state also has a board of pharmacy which regulates all pharmacists as well as pharmacies operating in the state. In Maryland the board of pharmacy falls under the purview of The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the website is

5. What would you like to tell writers that we haven’t covered here?

Pharmacists often work in different settings and have different skill sets accordingly. I have spent the bulk of my career working in retail pharmacy settings and my skills are very different than a pharmacist who has spent many years working in a hospital, a long term care facility, or perhaps a mental health facility. The one thing that remains constant among any competent pharmacists is the knowledge of medications and the uncanny ability to read extremely poor handwriting. This includes dosing, side effects, and their prescribed uses (yes when you get an antibiotic filled the pharmacist knows where and what your infection is based on the antibiotic prescribed). If you wish to have a hospital pharmacist in your writing then you should sit and talk to a hospital pharmacist about their job. The same goes for a pharmacist in any other setting. Most pharmacists are more than ready to talk about what they do and the amount of training they received in order to do it.
I hope this was helpful, after all I would love to see a story someday that had a pharmacist as the protagonist, or at least a secondary character more flattering than Shakespeare’s pharmacist.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Joe Pilates, I think I love you

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been doing Pilates twice a week and I.Could.Not.Be.Happier. We all know that exercise is an important ingredient in the weight loss soufflĂ© but until this January, it was a missing staple in my pantry.
Exercise…patooey. The word has always left a bad taste in my mouth, made me tired and hopeless before I started. So I rarely started. But my goal is not to be skinny. My goal is to be healthy. And healthy means dense bones, flexibility, good lung capacity, strength. Losing weight is a great appetizer, but it's not the full meal.

Why Pilates? I’d never tried it before, but I’d heard such great things about it and, c’mon, those funky machines…so intriguing. The Reformer. The Cadillac. The Chair. The Barrel. I mean, where did they come up with those names? So curiosity brought me to the gym. And exhilaration keeps me there.

Pilates works for me on a number of levels.

First, I’m a beginner, but I never feel like I’m behind. The workout is tailored to my abilities.
Second, the emphasis is on quality, not quantity, so we don’t do endless reps. Each class has plenty of different moves, working all the muscles of the body and then from class to class, the routine changes up. No chance for boredom. Yay!

Third, I can see the results. Oh yes. Toned muscles are awesome! And just like stepping on the scale to see I’ve lost another pound, flexing my arm brings me the joy of progress. With joy comes renewed commitment.

Very satisfying! And encouraging. And exciting. And neat. And heartening. And, as I stated at the top, oh, it makes me happy. It does. So, add level four, after each workout, I get an endorphin rush that lasts for a couple of days. Better than drugs, baby! (Well, I imagine so anyway…)

As spring ramps up, I’ve added walking and in a few weeks my friend and I will start swimming. A coworker and I are knocking around the idea of doing a sprint-triathlon (a shorter race than regular triathlons) sometime later in the year. If I weren’t so stoked, I’d be worried I’m creating an exercise monster out of myself.

I think finding the right kind of exercise is at the heart of my happiness. Yoga never did it for me. Aerobics became tedious. Tennis is fun, but not something I’d turn to for getting into shape.
What about you? What activities do you turn to for fun and fitness? Kick-boxing? Zumba? Belly-dancing? Ye olde treadmill?

P.S. Many of you have been kind in cheering on my weight loss pilgrimage. Thank you. This morning I step on the scale and am delighted to report that since I started this diet in September of last year, I’ve shed 76 pounds (which brings my total loss since January 2011 to 81lbs.). Groovy, baby!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Word-of-the-Year Series: Believe & Balance

Welcome to the continuing Rockville8 word-of-the-year series. We’ve heard so many great words from members of the group and the life philosophy behind the choice of each of those words, that I’ve walked away inspired each week. It’s been an encouraging series for me to read.
I’m a pretty driven person. I set goals every January and I push hard to meet those self-imposed deadlines for myself. Therefore, when this conversation came up about choosing a word for the year, I only had to think of the goals I’d set for myself this year to choose my word. Well, actually, my two words. I couldn’t settle on one because I’d had such diverse goals this year. The two words I settled on this year that embody my goals are BELIEVE and BALANCE.

BELIEVE is such a great word because its scope is so great. I am a woman of faith, so believing as it’s related to faith and religion has been fairly easy for me since I was a child. The spiritual has always been important to me. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t BELIEVE in God. However, the harder aspect of the word for me to practice is related to my writing career. I’m a practical person. If I have a goal, I’ve always been able to envision all the steps it will take to achieve that goal. This mindset often hinders my ability to BELIEVE that my dream of becoming a best-selling author will ever turn into a reality since the steps to becoming a successful published author seem so daunting in today’s market.

So I decided this would be the year that I chose to BELIEVE it could really happen--this is the year where I BELIEVE I will be published. I’m doing all the right things. I’m writing and finishing polished manuscripts, submitting those stories to publishers and agents, networking, and building connections within the romance genre. Now it’s time to put my faith into action and see what happens.

The second word I’ve claimed is BALANCE. Since I’m goal-oriented, I tend to hyper-focus. I’m not very balanced. I have a hard time relaxing or just “being.” I can get lots of work done in the course of a week, month, quarter, or year. However, oftentimes, to achieve those word-count goals I’v set for myself--while working a full-time job and managing a family--other areas of my life have suffered.

My “fluffy” quotient rose exponentially over the past five years. Weight I’d gained during my three pregnancies never went away. And the more manuscripts I finished, the less exercise I got and the more I just ate without thinking about the food I consumd. So to achieve BALANCE this year, I’m working on my health--eating better, dieting, exercising. Already, I see a difference in my energy levels and how I’m feeling. Physical wellness is an important part of any balanced writer’s arsenal. If I don’t take care of my body now, I won’t be able to write into my Golden Years when I have the glorious luxury of time.

BALANCE is also necessary where my family commitments are concerned. My boys are teenagers. They’re pretty independent. They can cook their own meals, do their own laundry, and pick up after themselves. Yay! This is such a change from those years when they were little and needed so much from me while I tried to squirrel away an hour here and there to write. I now have more independence, too. Plus, more time to write. However, my boys still need me. BALANCE gives me permission to spend the time I need with them to enjoy the young men they’ve become and are becoming, while still making my dream of writing a reality.

Instead of taking every weekend to write, I’m learning to manage my time differently. I’m taking more breaks between manuscripts--a reward to myself when I finish a project. I try to write a few hours during the week, when I can, so that I don’t need to be away all day on Saturday and Sunday to write to make up for the time I didn’t get to write during the week.

I’ve also started to work intentional reading back into my morning routine. I’m an avid reader. I love to read. I binge when I’m not writing. But to keep the well full, both emotionally and mentally, I need to read on a regular basis, not just when I’m not working on a project. We can only expand genres and take our own story-telling to the next step if we underestand what’s currently being written within those genres. In that morning time, I’m reading both fiction and the how-to non-fiction books I adore. Talk about starting your day off right. Getting ready for work is much better after I’ve enjoyed a chapter of a good book. All throughout the day, my mind returns to that book, that story. How cool.

And, I’m working on learning to stop to smell the roses. My focus on BALANCE has lead me back to yoga, long walks, meditation, and expanding the contemplative life I love so much.

All-in-all, good results for concentrating on two simple words. I highly recommend it!

Tell me what you do to practice BALANCE in your own life--writing or otherwise. And I’d especially love to hear what you do to help you BELIEVE a successful writing life is possible for you. I’m always looking for “angels” to inspire me and keep me going. Tell me your story. I’d love to listen.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


At the end of critique group a few weeks ago, someone asked what my word of the year was. My mind went blank for a moment and I couldn’t remember what I’d been considering. Finally, I remembered—focus. After we had a good laugh, I realized how much I needed to consider this word.

There aren’t many times I am free to write for long periods of time. But there are many times when I have at least some time to write. If I add up these chunks of time, and I am really able to focus during them, then these pieces would soon amount to something substantial.

In order to stay focused, I have to stay with my book. I’ve been trying to do something about it most days in order to stay in contact with it. Make notes, brainstorm, and record my ideas in a notebook are all things I can do when I can’t get to the computer. This is important to focusing. If I can’t remember what I was thinking the last time I wrote then it takes forever to start writing the next time. Time spent trying to remember my next scene reduces time spent actually moving forward with the story.

I’ve also kept a log of each time I write and how many words I’ve written. This makes my progress concrete and helps keep me on track. I have a loose-leaf binder where I keep my plot outline and story notes. My outline also includes a list of scenes surrounding each plot point. In addition, I never turn the computer off without making notes at the end of my manuscript (in bold type so I can tell them apart) about what I want to do next. This keeps me from having to review several pages before where I am in the story. I read a couple of previous paragraphs, the notes I’ve left myself and then I’m ready to go. Once I’ve written what I made notes on, I delete the notes. I don’t lose anything by doing this because I still have them in my notebook.

I also tell select close friends and family how many words I’ve written that day. This gives me a sense of accomplishment and keeps me honest. Also, it is another way to keep my manuscript at the forefront of my life.

Another method is to change scenery—go to the library or a coffee house—anything to eliminate distractions. Not having the laundry, the dishes and the TV helps me to concentrate. In addition, having a new environment keeps me fresh. It stimulates my creativity to change my surroundings.

And, of course, my best way to focus is my critique group. There are so many ways this helps me. Regular meetings, submitting my work for critique, discussing the industry, blogging and commiserating on writing issues are some of the many ways that being a member of the Rockville 8 keeps me on point.

So, that's my word for the year. Hopefully, all of this focusing will lead to writing. Because that's what writers do—we write.

What are some ways you keep yourself focused on your writing? I'd love to hear how other writers do it.