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Where do the French Go When Seeking Health and Medical Information?

Posted by on August 6th, 2018 Posted in: Blog, NLM Resources, Patient Engagement, Public Health





The inside of my elbow swelled up and it was burning and itching. Hardly, a medical emergency, but enough discomfort for me to seek out some treatment information.   I couldn’t help it, before I knew it, the Education and Outreach Coordinator part of me had a nagging question related to work, even though I was on vacation visiting some French friends in the city of St. Etienne (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint-%C3%89tienne, I had to know, where do the French go when they are looking for health information?

I was just about get onto the MedlinePlus.gov website. Thinking smugly to myself, how clever am I to use this sting experience as way to share my favorite health and medical website MedlinePlus.gov,  with my French friends? Before I could even type Insect Bites and Stings in the search box, Jeanne Marie offered to take me to the “Chemist” (the French name for “pharmacist.”) Little did I know that my sting would provide me with a lesson (and a blog post!) about the difference between French pharmacies and American pharmacies.  “We don’t look for information on the internet because our “chemists” are highly trained to provide medical information.”

I agreed to visit to the chemist who was located just a few miles away. After asking me a few questions and looking at my arm, the Chemist, went to a nearby shelf and came back with a a tube of hydrocortisone. She instructed, “Rub this lotion on the sting site 2 times each day.”  I followed her instructions and it took only a couple of hours for the swelling to go down and the itching and burning to stop.

Here are some interesting facts that I learned about pharmacies in France (on my vacation no less!)

  • France has about 23,000 pharmacies (to me that seems like a lot of pharmacies since the country of France is about equal in size to Texas.)
  • There are no pharmacy chains like CVS, Walgreens or RiteAid, only a Chemist can own a pharmacy and ownership is restricted to just 1 pharmacy.
  • In France, to become a “Chemist” one must study for about 6 years. Chemists are able to make up prescriptions and they have a certain degree of medical training. For minor ailments, most people in France ask their Chemist for advice before they seek assistance from their doctor.
  • At the end of their studies, the title of ‘Docteur en Pharmacie’ is given to students. The students take an oath called le serment de Galien, which is inspired by the Hippocratic Oath.
  • Shampoo and gum are not available in a French pharmacy, only medicine is sold in a French pharmacy. Conversely, you are not able to purchase medicine in any other place but a pharmacy.
  • “Over the counter medications” as they are referred to here in the United States, such as aspirin, or ibuprofen, can only be sold by the Chemist, in the pharmacy.
  • Chemists are also trained to identify certain fungi. Therefore, you can take your mushrooms along to the pharmacy for the Chemist to identify them as poisonous or nonpoisonous!

Image of the author ABOUT Susan Halpin
I am a former health and wellness educator who joined the NNLM NER in August of 2016, Excited to be promoting the excellent resources developed by the NLM and to provide training for anyone who would like to access the free and trusted information the NLM offers.

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