Should someone who can’t use their hands be allowed to be a pharmacist?

I stumbled across this article the other day and was instantly interested.  A gal with cerebral palsy desperately wants to get into pharmacy school, but the physical requirements of pharmacy school may prevent her from getting in. From the author, “cerebral palsy interferes with her dexterity and she is bound to a wheelchair.”  The article also goes on to state that the “spasticity makes it difficult or impossible for her to do anything with her hands, which she often keeps clasped.”

As I read the article, my initial gut reaction was if she has the mental capability, the grades, and is better than the competition on that aspect, there needs to be a way to get this gal in.  I realize that it is easy to look at this from the outside and say “yes”.  All of the accommodations that will need to be made for her potential candidacy will be very significant.

I think back probably about 5-10 years ago prior to having kids, and I can’t help but wonder if my reaction might have been a little more rigid.  If she can’t do everything that everyone else can, she can’t be a pharmacist.  She won’t be able to compound drugs, do a physical assessment, check a blood pressure, and administer a vaccine.  She really won’t be able to do a lot of things that most pharmacists can do, but should exceptions be allowed?

As I look at the situation today, I can’t help but think about being one of the parents of this woman.  Watching your child grow up struggling throughout her life, not being able to do what other children can do, would be incredibly challenging.  It’s extraordinarily inspiring to me to watch people overcome enormous obstacles in life and pursue what they love.  Knowing the profession and obviously having gone through pharmacy school, she is capable of doing many pharmacist related activities.  With the rapid advancement of technology, I believe she would only be able to do more and more activities as her career goes on.

What role could she take on in her pharmacy career?  Could she be a world class pharmacy educator, going around the world promoting the profession she loves? Absolutely. Could she round with physicians and nurses and provide expert clinical advice? Absolutely.  If she is qualified to get into pharmacy school, I think it should happen.  There has to be a baseline cognitive competency, but should a pharmacy license be given to people based upon what they can’t do, or should it be based on what they can do? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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  1. Mary Butcher

    Thank you for posting this topic. I could not agree more. There are many opportunities to contribute to patient care and the profession.

    • Eric Christianson

      Thanks Mary!

  2. Dennis

    I have personal knowledge of a good friend who is “visually challenged” and practices pharmacy. He did have an issue with the Board of Pharmacy obtaining his license but it did happen, as he did pass is board examine.

    I do wish to advise the potential student to check things out with her intended schools, and the states in which she intends to practice. She does need to inquire as to potential barriers to achieve her goal. I do believe there are laws in place dealing with the development of ” reasonable accommodations,” which are intended to assist her.

    As Mary has said, there are opportunities in pharmacy, but they are just not as many as the majority of the opportunities as to areas of practice.

    I do wish her “Good Luck!!” and my deepest admiration, for her desire to practice.

    • Eric Christianson

      Great comment Dennis…interesting.

  3. JH, Pharm.D., BCPS

    My answer to your question and response to other commenters before me is “absolutely”. My school has had applicants with various disabilities (including a wheelchair user that I knew of). And they have graduated and gone to become exceptional pharmacists. Before a candidate makes the decision to apply, he/she will likely have given it a lot, a lot of thought, and have the will to do well. It is not our job to impose restrictions on these individuals; rather, it’s our job to see their potential and what they will bring to the profession.

    Also, a little terminology: the person is not “bound to wheelchair”. They simply use the wheelchair.

    In my experience, I find that whenever an institution or an organization meets a situation for the first time, there’s a lot of uncertainty about how they would do things. But once people are able to put the “can’t” aside, and focus on the person’s strengths and potential, then they will make stride toward progress and have on their hands a unique candidate/student who will soar beyond their expectations.

    I don’t need to say “good luck” to this candidate; instead I say to her “go for it!” What should be admirable is not her desire to practice, but the open minds of those around her who will not be held back by their own views.

  4. Helen A

    Thanks Eric for the article. I think the question here is not whether or not she should be admitted to pharmacy school. I am assuming she must have completed prerequisites for pharmacy school admission or even obtained a BSc degree that in it self shows her capability to learn. I am not saying it’s the same but a good start. People go to school for different reasons. Not everyone that go thru pharmacy (medical or nursing) school practice pharmacy. I know someone who went to pharmacy school but has not practiced since graduation by choice. She said she simply went for the knowledge. Preventing this lady admission to pharmacy school is placing a limitation on her right to acquire knowledge. She may ultimately choose not to practice if the board deems her unfit for public service. Although she can very well practice in none patient roles.

  5. Fazfarma

    Thank you for posting this topic. I could not agree more. There are many opportunities to contribute to patient care and the profession.

  6. Don Black

    Thank you for blogging about this woman and her situation. I am a CPhT and I also have mild cerebral palsy (I can walk without assistance and use my hands, though my reflexes are slow), so this story interests me in multiple ways. I would definitely encourage her to pursue a pharmacy career. The fear I would have in her place is completing pharmacy school, accumulating debt, getting licensed, and then not finding a job. She can have opportunities, but not as many.

    I think that the pharmacy community needs to follow the progress of this, because the underlying question being posed is “What is the essence of being a pharmacist?” Is it just what a person can do physically, or is it something else?

  7. Jo

    I am an intern at a company that does MTMs over the phone for various health insurers and there is a gentleman where I work who is in a wheelchair due to an amputation of both legs well above the knee. We also have a professor at school who is a complete quadrapelegic. There is no reason this young woman shouldn’t be able to do the same, even if she can’t make an IV or count pills on a tray. It will definitely be a challenge but it’s not so insurmountable that she could never be a pharmacist.

    • Wenda Sullivan

      I completely agree. Well stated.


    “We can do anything that we put our mind to”, that applied to every single person on this planet, including those with a disability.


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Written By Eric Christianson

December 20, 2015

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