Role theory: literature review and implications for patient-pharmacist interactions

Res Social Adm Pharm. 2005 Dec;1(4):483-507. doi: 10.1016/j.sapharm.2005.09.006.


Background: There is a need to describe how role theory has been used by researchers to describe various phenomena in pharmacy so as to identify gaps in knowledge and future research priorities.

Objective: The primary purpose of this article is to review how role theory has been used in the community pharmacy literature. Secondary objectives are to (1) examine the use of role theory over the evolution of the profession of pharmacy, (2) determine what role theory perspectives have been used, (3) explore the implications of role theory for patient-pharmacist interactions, and (4) explore implications for future pharmacy research using role theory.

Methods: A literature search of Web of Knowledge and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts was conducted. Articles were included if they examined some aspect of role theory in community pharmacy and were categorized based on their role theory perspective and "era" of pharmacy in which they were published.

Results: Thirty research articles were identified spanning from 1956 to 2004 with the majority (19 studies) using mail surveys. Articles used functionalist (9 studies), organizational (7), functional and organization (4), cognitive (10), and symbolic interactionist (1) perspectives to role theory. The number of articles using role theory has been increasing over time. The functional and symbolic interactionist perspectives provide rich descriptions of the multiple pharmacy roles and allow for a clearer understanding of the barriers affecting actors' experience. Using an organization perspective, role stressors such as role conflict, ambiguity, and overload were found to impact pharmacists' worklife. Cognitive role theory research has clearly shown that pharmacists' and patients' expectations for the encounter shape interaction.

Conclusions: The use of role theory informs both researchers and practitioners about the practice of pharmacy and patient interactions. Still, there is much work to be done in role theory and pharmacy research. Experimental designs, longitudinal studies, and qualitative research methodologies may warrant greater use and attention. Role change should be identified as a priority, and research is needed to elucidate what interventions change patients' and pharmacists' expectations of the patient-pharmacist interaction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Pharmacies
  • Pharmacists*
  • Professional Role*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*