Pharmacists as Protagonists: Is That Weird or What?

In pitching my debut novel to agents at writing conferences, I’ve gotten a few comments like, “A pharmacist as the main character?  Why?” or “Pharmacist turned vigilante?  Really?”

I never thought of my main character as being weird.  I’ll admit, though, he is unusual.  He’s got heart-wrenching childhood issues to deal with, is ex-Special Forces and has more nasty suppressed memories than most of us will EVER experience.  But he works hard at having a normal life, and at least outwardly he succeeds.

So what if he is a pharmacist?  So am I!  And writers often write about what they know.  I’ve spent a lot of years as one: first in retail, then in manufacturing, then back to school for an advanced clinical degree.  Then I spent years in specialized clinical patient management and drug study management.  Wow, where did the time go?

Anyway, I thought it was time for a pharmacist to be the hero, albeit a flawed hero, but someone who takes control of his life when things go terribly wrong.  Why can’t a pharmacist save the day and live to tell about it?  And why isn’t a pharmacist portrayed as the protagonist more often?

To answer that, I had to dig back through the cobwebs of my brain.  Came up empty: no pharmacists as protagonists (except for my character, of course).  So I went to the Internet and found reference to a Law and Order episode where the pharmacist was a murderer.  He was diluting cancer drugs to make extra money to donate to his church.  Really??  Probably that was one of those “ripped from the headlines” episodes about that Kansas City pharmacist who diluted drugs for extra profit, as he explained, “They were going to die anyway”.

Then there’s George (who dated Bree on Desperate Housewives) and who switched the heart meds of Bree’s husband out of spite.  And who can forget the pharmacist character on The Family Guy who came to his kid’s school to discuss career choices and then started telling all about the embarrassing illnesses the other kids’ parents had.  Didn’t see that one, but wished I had.  Anyway, these characters are secondary and not presented as having good, memorable character traits.  They’re often nerdy, awkward, backward people.

So, in short, I found no pharmacist protagonists and no pharmacist heroes (except for one short reference to John Wayne playing a gun slinging druggist).  Maybe you guys can come up with something I missed?  I hope so, because in my experience I’ve come across some neat people as pharmacists.  They’re caring, thoughtful, courageous people who I can visualize “stepping up to the plate” if the need arises, both for themselves as well as for others.

Possibly it’s because of the type of pharmacy I ultimately practiced: advanced clinical practice with more direct patient interaction and a more collaborative approach involving a team of medical professionals: the physician, the nurse, the pharmacist, as well as an array of other healthcare professionals working together to bring patients back to normal.

The ultimate question is, do I actually have a unique character?  A sophisticated, successful health professional whose past shortcomings give him the scrappy personality to fight back when someone threatens to take away all that he’s worked so hard to achieve?  Sounds like it to me.

But would my novel be more believable if the protagonist was a cop or a federal agent?  Maybe so, but that would be true only if my pharmacist character hadn’t done all those nasty things in Special Forces.  That levels the playing field some, and the black ops friend he associates with doesn’t hurt either.

The bottom line is: pharmacist or doctor, law enforcement guru or ordinary citizen, when the situation is believable enough for the protagonist to pick out the bad guys and have the courage and resources to fight back, then the starting profession is immaterial.  And so, a vigilante pharmacist?  Why not?  All a writer (like me) needs to do is weave the best fable he can.  And that’s really what good fiction is, a lie told so well that it’s believable.

Thoughts?  Comments?  I’m curious.  Let me know.

About James J. Murray, Fiction Writer

With experience in both pharmaceutical manufacturing and clinical patient management, medications and their impact on one’s quality of life have been my expertise. My secret passion of murder and mayhem, however, is a whole other matter. I’ve always loved reading murder mysteries and thrillers, and longed to weave such tales of my own. Drawing on my clinical expertise as a pharmacist and my infatuation with the lethal effects of drugs, my tales of murder, mayhem and medicine will have you looking over your shoulder and suspicious of anything in your medicine cabinet.
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9 Responses to Pharmacists as Protagonists: Is That Weird or What?

  1. Jim,
    Pharmacists as Protagonists? Let’s see. We give them access to drugs and access to the money of insurance companies and governments. The pharmas expand the effectiveness and variety of drugs thus driving up demand, plus they spend millions on advertising. How many more pharmacists are there now than just 10 years ago? How many more will we need 10 years from now? Even at a very very small percentage of less than ideal pharmacists, we have a growing number of potential protagonists who are and will continue to come up with schemes to make money from the system. I think the real surprise is not that a pharmacist might be evil, but that so few of the stories have come to light. Keep writing.

  2. Normandie says:

    James Garner in Murphy’s Romance was a pharmacist. Go for it.

  3. Noha Banjar, Pharm.D says:

    Don’t also forget Mission Impossible II! My pharmacology professor once told us in a lecture “Pharmacists are like the joker card, they fit everywhere and master everything”, I don’t play cards but through my residency my respect for the profession grew more and more. Looking forward to read your novel 🙂

  4. Andrew K. Pharm.D says:

    I’ve run into the same problem. Like you I always get the question or comment, ‘Why would you have a pharmacist as the protagonist?’ or the slightly more neutral ‘Oh, that’s interesting, I never thought of a pharmacist that way…’


    I’ve searched around for a pharmacist protagonists in stories and have come up empty handed. I think it has a lot of potential though and I continue to explore the possibilities. I did create a short story about a pharmacy technician that was working with a serial killer who happened to be a pharmacist. Does that count?

    In all seriousness I think a pharmacist protagonist could fit the mold of a Hercule Poirot type character nicely. Someone cerebral and analytical that investigates medical mysteries.

    Better go grab my idea notebook…

    • Andrew K. Pharm.D says:

      Edit: My comment was made before I saw your fine book had been published. Congrats!

      • I hope your enjoy my novel “Lethal Medicine”, Andrew. The setting is in a home infusion pharmacy which was my specialty. But that’s where the real-life similarity ends and the fiction begins. Good luck with your short story writing. I wrote a short story called “Cuffed” that I’ve included in the eBook anthology “Unforeseeable Consequences” and that was based on a true event that happened one night as I worked a graveyard shift a few years ago.
        All the best!

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