Pharmacy Week: Mark Carlson Q&A

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Pharmacists provide a much-needed service in the healthcare industry. They are responsible for the storage, distribution and mixing of medications. They also play an important role in patient education. To celebrate National Pharmacy Week, we caught up with our pharmacist, Mark Carlson. In this interview, we discussed his career at Tri-County Health Care.

Mark Carlson

Q: Why did you become a pharmacist?

A: I wanted to become a pharmacist after working in a pharmacy as a technician.  I saw the diverse career paths in the profession with many options ranging from retail to research.

I liked where the pharmacy profession was heading from a patient experience perspective.  It is very rewarding to educate patients on medications and the nuances of how the medication works for their condition. I find drug-to-drug interactions, adherence and medication safety to be fascinating.

Q: What was your education like?

A: I went to Augsburg College for my Bachelors of Arts in Biology and then obtained my Doctorate of Pharmacy at the University of Minnesota. I was in the second class coming out of the Duluth campus. This program focused on pharmacy in rural Minnesota.

Q: What is your favorite part of the job?

A: I enjoy the variety. My day involves the clinical side of pharmacy, like knowing medication information and helping develop treatment options. Additionally, there is a lot of administrative work as well. I am very blessed to have a tremendous pharmacy team. They are very skilled and often go above and beyond.

Q: How has COVID-19 affected your work?

A: I have been able to integrate with other departments more during the pandemic. It has been a great experience to work with so many talented individuals. The vaccine and monoclonal team have done an excellent job. The pandemic has added to the daily challenge. but our collective effort is really making a difference.

Q: What is it like being a pharmacist at Tri-County Health Care?

A: Being a pharmacist at TCHC has been an excellent opportunity to expand my knowledge and skills. Everyone over the past five years has been great to work with. I was allowed to learn and develop on the job. Before coming here, I didn’t have as much hospital pharmacy experience. Tri-County Health Care places a high value on professional growth.

Q: What career achievement are you most proud of?

A: Being a part of the COVID-19 pandemic response team. Our mission is to help improve the health of the communities we serve and I firmly believe we are doing that, even during these challenging circumstances.

Please call 218-631-3510 to schedule an appointment. To learn more, visit and follow Tri-County Health Care on social media for regular updates.

Things you didn’t know about pharmacists

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By Michelle Hinojos, Pharm.D.

What is a pharmacist?

A pharmacist is an individual licensed to prepare, compound, and dispense drugs/medications upon written or electronic order (prescription) from a licensed practitioner such as a physician, dentist, advanced practice nurse or physician assistant. A pharmacist is a health care professional who consults with and often gives advice to the licensed practitioner concerning drugs/medications.


What do pharmacists do?Cropped shot of two pharmacists checking products while working together in a dispensary.

A pharmacist’s primary responsibility is to make sure patients receive safe and appropriate medication therapy. Pharmacists complete university-level education to understand everything about drugs from uses to side effects to how they react when combined with other drugs. Pharmacists interpret and share this knowledge with patients, physicians, nurses, and other health care providers.

When an order for a prescription comes through, they review the order to check for inconsistencies before compounding, packaging and labeling it.


What do you think are misconceptions about what pharmacists do?

  1. Pharmacists only count pills

Many folks think pharmacists only count and dispense medications. In reality, we double-check the dose, drug, route, frequency, interactions with other medications, etc. before giving out a medication.

There is a considerable amount of regulation that goes into filling your prescription. In a community or retail pharmacy, when a patient hands us a prescription, we have to enter it into our software system. This system tracks the availability of the medication, the last time the patient had the prescription filled, if the patient is allergic to the medication and if the dosing is appropriate. From there, it goes through the patient’s insurance.

If all of these steps are passed, we then check to see if that medication would react with the patient’s other medications. If no problems are detected, only then does the prescription get filled. The prescription goes through one last step of verification through the software before it reaches the patient.

  1. There isn’t job diversity

Pharmacists attend traumas, code blues, premature births and contribute to saving lives. As members of the health care team, we use evidence-based medicine to help providers choose the best drug for their patients. We advocate for our patients’ best interests and take that message to our nation’s legislators. We are involved in research, drug development and clinical trials for new medications. The possibilities are endless.


How important is a pharmacist’s interaction with a patient?

The pharmacy profession has evolved from its traditional drug-focused foundation to a patient-focused foundation. We are now part of the larger health care team working to provide better health care and help patients cope with a complicated health care system. As a result, pharmacy schools have created programs that incorporate the changing role of the pharmacist.

Pharmacists on the TCHC Team

The TCHC pharmacy team.

Medications are known to improve the quality of people’s lives, but they can also pose serious risks. Pharmacists, regardless of setting, are a member of your health care team and are trained to help you get the benefits of medicine while reducing drug-related problems and risks as much as possible.

What’s more, we see patients with similar conditions using different medications every single day. We know which side effects could mean serious trouble.

By partnering with a local pharmacist whom you trust, just as you would a doctor or advanced practice provider, you can build a trusted long-term relationship.


What do you love about being a pharmacist?

What I love about being a pharmacist is that I am fortunate enough to work with a knowledgeable team at TCHC, and I continue to learn something new each and every day. Pharmacists are a trusted link between patients and their providers. This position gives us a unique perspective on many facets of health care.

I deeply enjoy and appreciate being a medication information resource for nurses, patients and providers in order to positively impact patient care. I am blessed to work in a rural community hospital that continually challenges me to stay up to date on the latest clinical practice guidelines in a variety of areas of health care such as emergency medicine, inpatient care, disease state management, ICU, OB and chemotherapy, just to name a few.


Pharmacy Fun Facts

  • Coca-Cola was invented by pharmacist John Pemberton. Pepsi and Dr. Pepper were also invented by pharmacists.
  • The pharmacy profession can be traced back to at least 4000 B.C. The Sumerian population living in modern-day Iraq wrote the earliest surviving prescriptions from at least 2700 B.C.
  • Benjamin Franklin is considered one of the founding fathers of pharmacy by playing a part in establishing one of the first public hospitals and hospital pharmacies in the U.S.
  • It typically takes 6-8 years of schooling to obtain a doctorate degree in pharmacy. Pharmacists can also spend an extra 1-2 years in residency or fellowship training in specialty areas such as critical care, emergency medicine, pediatric, geriatric or oncology.
  • Aside from retail or hospital settings, pharmacists can also work in areas such as academia, public health, government, pharmaceutical research, informatics and managed care.


Hinojos Family

Michelle and her family.

About the Author: Michelle Hinojos was born and raised in Wadena. She graduated in 2002 with her Doctor of Pharmacy from NDSU in Fargo and has been employed as a pharmacist at TCHC since July of 2002. She and her husband, Vince, have three children – Maddy, 21; Grace, 18; and Lucas, 16. Vince is a system administrator at Alomere Health in Alexandria. Maddy will graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the University of MN – Twin Cities in May of 2019 and plans to attend medical school starting that fall. Lucas and Grace attend WDC High School, with Grace set to graduate in May.

How do I get my prescription refilled?

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It’s that time again. You only have a few tablets left of your daily medication, so you’ll need to get more. But when you check the bottle, it says that you do not have any refills left. This means you cannot get a new supply until your refills are renewed.

That begs the question: “How do I get my prescription refilled?”Woman Phoning in Prescription Refill

The very first thing you should do is call your pharmacy.

“Even if I have zero refills?”

Yes, even if you have zero refills.

The pharmacy is the expert bridge between you and your provider that makes the process easier and more efficient for everyone.

When you call your pharmacist, they send a message straight to your provider’s care team. They can also make special notes, such as if you are concerned about your dosage.

Nursing staff will review the request from the pharmacy. Nurses are expertly trained to review medications in this situation so that they can give providers more time to spend with you and other patients during appointments. They also check to make sure you are eligible for a refill.


How do I know if I’m eligible for a refill?

When your provider’s nurse receives a request from the pharmacy, they will look up the last time you came in for a physical or medication review. A medication review can include a Medicare wellness exam, post-partum exam, well-child exam, pre-op exam and more.

pharmacist shows woman prescription refill instructionsIf you were seen within the last year, then you can typically be approved for a refill without having to see your provider.

The reason for requiring a recent exam is so that they can get updates on your health, required lab work and to make sure you are taking the proper medication and the correct dose to keep you as healthy as possible.

If you have scheduled a physical or exam but it is many months away, not to worry. As long as the nurse sees that your appointment is scheduled, they will refill your prescription.

On the flip side, if you request a refill and are due for a physical, the nurse will write that on your prescription and contact you to help you get that scheduled. If you schedule that appointment, they can then refill your prescription. If you don’t, they can’t refill it until you do.


Can I use MyChart for a refill?

MyChart is a wonderful tool for viewing test results, communicating with your provider and more, but we recommend that you do not use it to request refills.Prescription pills

MyChart and your pharmacy are completely separate from one another. Your pharmacy is the one that keeps track of how many refills you have left and when your medication is ready to pick up.

If you request a prescription refill through MyChart, that message gets sent straight to your provider’s care team. The nurse who reads the message has to call your pharmacy to confirm how many refills you have.

Often times, the pharmacy will find that you actually do have refills left and can fill your prescription right then and there. Your nurse does not have access to that information if your request comes through MyChart, which makes you wait longer for your refill.

By calling your pharmacy directly instead of using MyChart, you make the process easier and shorter.