Negotiating roles in pharmacy practice: Interactions across linguistic and cultural barriers


  • Fiona Stevenson University College London
  • Grant McNulty
  • Miranda Leontowitsch St George’s University of London



Communication in consultations, Pharmacy, Cultural and linguistic differences, Non-verbal communication, Professional roles, Video


There has been relatively little discussion of the effects of cultural and linguistic differences on communication in consultations. Moreover, communication in community pharmacy is largely under-researched. This study explores interactions between pharmacists, pharmacy assistants and patients conducted across cultural and linguistic barriers. We drew on a data set collected in a pharmacy in London. The data consisted of 12 video recorded consultations in which patients spoke in Sylheti (a dialect of Bengali), the pharmacists spoke in English and pharmacy assistants used both languages. These data were supplemented with focus groups. Despite the fact that the pharmacy assistant was the only person able to follow all the interactions, pharmacists worked to fulfil their legal and professional duties. It could be argued that the very existence of cultural and linguistic barriers prompted the pharmacists to engage to ensure that the patient understood how to use their medicine. There was no acknowledgement that the pharmacy assistants were fulfilling an additional role. It is likely that explicit negotiation of a flexible and adaptive communicative model would lead to a more satisfying encounter for all participants.

Author Biographies

Fiona Stevenson, University College London

Fiona Stevenson is senior lecturer in medical sociology at University College London. Her research interests include communication between health care professions and patients, chronic illness and the ageing body, patient and public involvement in research and e-health. She employs a range of qualitative methodologies in her work.

Grant McNulty

Grant McNulty has significant experience as an academic researcher and consultant. Through his current PhD work (Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative, University of Cape Town), he has a growing conceptual knowledge of history and the functioning of heritage in South Africa. He worked on developing the first digital video archive of human communication (CAVA) at University College London’s Department of Human Communication Sciences.

Miranda Leontowitsch, St George’s University of London

Miranda Leontowitsch is lecturer in qualitative research methods at St George’s University of London. Her research interests include communication in pharmacy settings, later life and ageing, in particular maintaining health in later life through self-care and researching ageing men. She has edited a collection titled Researching Later Life and Ageing: Expanding Qualitative Research Horizons (Palgrave, 2012).



How to Cite

Stevenson, F., McNulty, G., & Leontowitsch, M. (2013). Negotiating roles in pharmacy practice: Interactions across linguistic and cultural barriers. Communication and Medicine, 9(1), 83–94.




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