Lessons from China: Community Pharmacies

Since our arrival in China, the difference between Western and Asian community pharmacies has been irrefutably evident. All throughout Beijing, small “community pharmacies” can be spotted, each varying from location to location. During our first week in Beijing, we entered pharmacy located a few blocks down from the hospital. Throughout the isles were many Chinese traditional medications and over-the-counter medications, with prescription medications kept behind the counter. Immediately, we were met by employees in white coats, but none of these employees were pharmacists nor technicians; they were simply sellers. Prescription medications could be purchased without a prescription, just point to the box, pay and the medication is yours. Other “pharmacies” along the street boast weight supplements and skin care regimens, with no real over the counter or prescription medications in sight.

For our last day at the hospital, we were taken to a “real” community pharmacy, which staffed pharmacists, doctors and Chinese medicine specialists alike. The pharmacy itself was divided into four main sections including a doctor’s office, a Chinese medicine area, a prescription and over the counter medication area (modeled after Western pharmacies) and a Chinese medicine specialists office. We learned about the various types of traditional medications the pharmacy stocked, ranging from five year dried orange peels to deer antlers to human placentas. It seemed as if most of the traditional medications available were to help realign energies, though I am sure in reality there is an immeasurable amount of indications.

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