A Little Side-Talk with the "Freshmen" in Pharmacy.


Some months ago Prof. Attfield, of London, in reply to certain queries relative to the manner of teaching practical pharmacy by the Pharmaceutical Society, informed us that what is here called extemporaneous pharmacy was not taught by that institution, but that pharmaceutical and analytical chemistry occupied the students in their practical school, giving as a reason that all matters pertaining strictly to Galenical pharmacy needed by students were derived from the preceptors where their time was served. Unfortunately, as much cannot be said in this country. The demand for pharmaceutical service has far outstripped the supply of well-grounded pharmaceutists; mere tyros from necessity have many times assumed the position of principals, and in turn being teachers, their tuition has not seldom been the reflection of their own disadvantages. It was to meet this difficulty at home that the Chair of Pharmacy was established in Philadelphia 24 years ago, and in the Practical School commenced the present session it is proposed to afford practical instruction in the most essential details of a dispensing store. The chief hope of beginners is, however, the preceptor, and the books. If among these there are "freshmen" who need a word of advice, who feel discouraged at the slowness of their progress, or the apparently trivial character of their engagements, to these we would offer a word of encouragement and advice, based on personal experience.

The situation of a boy just entered on duty at a dispensing store is not to be envied. The calls for his service are numerous and frequently beyond his appreciation, so as to make him feel that he is as yet almost powerless to perform his duties from his ignorance of the material with which he has to deal. Besides the mechanical operations, which require dexterity and nimbleness, and which at first are performed with a bungling slowness, he is constantly at fault in finding the locality of drugs, when called by name, or the implements required by a dispenser on whom he is waiting. This epoch soon passes, as with even mediocre perception be should soon acquire sufficient knowledge to render useful aid in many ways. The rapidity of his advancement, next to his natural ability to learn, is much influenced by the character of the dispenser with whom he is associated, and to whom mainly he is to owe the lessons and instruction he is to receive. His duties, besides the cruder ones of opening, sweeping and dusting the shop, making fires, etc., embrace, in a thorough establishment, the use of the contusing mortar and pestle and the handmill in preparing drugs for percolation and infusion, the washing of mortars and graduated measures, the cleansing of spatulas and other implements used for ointments, the washing of new and old bottles, the replacing of bottles, etc., used at the counter, cutting labels, making paste, filling shop bottles and drawers from the storehouse and the cellar, the filling, corking, sealing and labelling of bottles of liquid and other preparations, wrapping packages and folding powders, making and using filters, the management of gas heat in making syrups, infusions, plasters, etc., and in conducting evaporation and distillation, the stirring of liquids for extracts, the making of pill masses and the rolling of pills, garbling and cutting drugs, and many other engagements, too numerous to mention here. Not one of these but may be well or ill taught, and carefully or slovenly learned. The old quotation, "as the twig is bent the tree's inclined," applies forcibly to this period, and he is a fortunate youth who falls under the guidance of an earnest and sensible instructor, whose patience is equal to the task of bearing with the aberrations of the beginner. The object of this appeal to the young minds in pharmacy is to urge on them the great value to them in after years of a thorough mastery of these preliminary rudimental details, in which too frequently they receive no special instruction, having to "pick up," as best they can, how to do what they are told. In contusing drugs for powders, when the pestle is held firmly, and the blows planted on a different spot each time, so as to bring the whole material under its action, much more progress is made than when it is carelessly dangled about, striking the sides of the mortar, as though the object was to make much noise. In triturating, Dover's Powder for instance, the same advantage is gained by a constant change in the path of the pestle, so as to cover every portion of the comminuting substance, by alternate spiral motions from the centre to circumference and back again. In nothing is the difference between good and ill training manifested sooner than in cutting and placing labels on bottles and boxes, and the beginner should practice the use of the shears both on curved and square labels until he can not only cut them neatly but quickly; a label with a loose edge or an irregular outline is a mute though less forcible rebuke to the dispenser than when it returns to him for renewal upside down on the bottle, or on the bottom of the pill-box. The washing of mortars often involves far more science than the beginner possesses, and he has constantly to apply for information. Let each difficulty be a lesson for study; why an alkaline or alcoholic solution of soap should remove a resinous body, or an alkali Prussian blue, or muriatic acid a metallic sulphide. Scrupulously clean graduated measures are an ornament to any store and an honor to any junior, and are only attained by constant attention and the habitual use of a swab or feather to remove the insoluble matter precipitated on the interior surface from many liquids when diluted with water, in rinsing. Poisonous bodies like aconitia and veratria, when rubbed down on the ointment slab with alcohol, leave a stain not very perceptible, and which, overlooked by the junior, might damage the next ointment. For this reason the dispenser should be responsible, unless he gives special directions to the junior.

There is a subject which we feel specially called upon to urge strongly on principals, especially druggists, as well as on our present friends, the beginners. It is the want of order in the store-room and cellar. How can the junior be sent with safety to fill bottles and drawers unless every receptacle is labelled correctly according to its contents? Many months must elapse or even years before he can rely on his knowledge. Labels drop off, covers become displaced, and at times residues returned to the store-room are heedlessly thrown into the wrong barrel. We could adduce an instance where a long chapter of trouble arose from this cause in a neighboring city. Only lately one of the best dispensers of Dublin caused the death of a prominent citizen by an error arising from sending an ignorant agent to the store-room to fill the carbonate of ammonia bottle—cyanide of potassium being substituted. Hence the importance of an intelligent and frequent supervision of these depositories to insure order, out of which comes safety and dispatch, and untold satisfaction.

But the danger of getting prosy, from the very extent of the theme, admonishes us to be brief. Our young friend should bring to his aid an earnest intention to succeed, an obliging disposition, and all the patience that his nature admits of. Let him keep wide awake to what is going on, but especially to all that relates to the business in hand; let him gain the respect and confidence of his seniors by steady and reliable service; let him read attentively the preliminary chapters of Part Second of the United States Dispensatory, and such portions of the special works on Pharmacy as relate to his duties, and we will venture to predict that his difficulties will rapidly disappear, and be replaced by a consciousness of growing knowledge and developing power.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XLIII, 1871, was edited by William Procter, Jr. (Issues 1-4) and John M. Maisch (Issues 5-12).