KMART CREATES A PATIENT-CENTRIC CULTURE WITH PHARMACIST EMPOWERMENT

Author: Elizabeth S. Roop

WITH MORE THAN 2 MILLION customers coming through the doors of the retail stores each week, it would be easy to assume that pharmacists in Kmart?s 1120 pharmacies would have little time to focus on providing highly personalized service. But that would be way off the mark.

?We give our pharmacists the autonomy to run the business as if it were their own,? says Hussein Smidi, manager of pharmacy human resources for Kmart, which has operations in 45 states as well as in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam, making Sears Holding Corporation, the parent company of Kmart, the third largest retail chain in the United States. ?Pharmacists want to make their own decisions, and when they are empowered to do that, it [positively] impacts the bottom line. It also has a huge impact on our customers, which is why we also focus on promoting pharmacists who are patient-oriented.?

In fact, a strong patient focus and community involvement are major parts of Kmart?s corporate culture. Pharmacists are encouraged to not only pursue certifications in areas such as diabetes education and flu shots, but also to strengthen their ties to the community by holding events such as smoking cessation and flu shot clinics.

In fact, Kmart even provides an online tool to help pharmacists educate themselves on disease states so they can, in turn, educate the community and serve as expert spokespeople.

?The resulting job satisfaction is phenomenal,? said Smidi. ?Our pharmacists are enthusiastic about the opportunity to make a difference in patients? lives and carry out what they learned in school. Here, they are not just a cashier or technician pushing pills, but rather, they are in a position to make serious clinical decisions.?

A Pharmacist-centered Culture

When Kmart managers set out to recruit a pharmacist, they look for very specific personality types. Because pharmacists are given a great deal of autonomy, they look for individuals who are excited about building a business and who are committed to the community. They seek out pharmacists who are outgoing and dedicated to making a difference in people?s lives.

?We want to make sure that we hire pharmacists who are excited about being part of a community pharmacy, about building that type of community business,? said Jeff Ambrosia, Kmart?s manager of pharmacy and field recruitment.

Those qualities are critical in the Kmart culture, because while the retail setting offers life style benefits, such as higher compensation and more flexibility with schedules, it also requires an outgoing, business-savvy personality.

?Ours is a patient-centered environment, and we empower our pharmacists to make decisions and run their business units as they see fit,? said Ambrosia.

A Long-term Commitment

One key reason Kmart has been so successful at creating a patient- and pharmacist-friendly environment is that the retail giant?s pharmacy operations are run by pharmacists?from individual in-store operations, up through corporate management. That, in turn, has created a culture that respects the individual career goals of its pharmacists?something to which Smidi can personally attest.

?When I joined Kmart as a pharmacist, I was quickly promoted to pharmacy district coach, then selected to go to corporate for pharmacy human resources,? he said. ?I?m a living example of how Kmart values career advancement; we are very big on succession planning and promoting from within.?

Some pharmacists begin their careers with Kmart through the company?s internship program, which works with students at every stage of education from entry level to graduate students. At any given time, they have between 350 and 400 interns working in their pharmacies nationwide.

In fact, college recruiting is a major focus of Kmart?s recruitment efforts. The company has a presence at approximately 98% of pharmacy colleges in the United States, and is very proactive in establishing relationships with new pharmacy colleges as they open. Other recruitment programs include the Internet and professional pharmacy association meetings and conferences.

Those who begin their Kmart careers as full-time staff pharmacists can work their way up to retail pharmacy managers, called coaches. Coaches then advance to floating pharmacists, who have additional responsibilities, such as scheduling and inventory and holding clinics and disease state management clinics, in addition to working in multiple stores. That position prepares pharmacists for positions as district pharmacy coaches, who are responsible for overseeing approximately 26 pharmacy locations. ?From there, they can move into divisional and corporate operations,? said Ambrosia.

Kmart also ensures pharmacists have all the tools they need to succeed in both running their business units and in achieving career goals. For example, the company?s KARxE program helps streamline work flow in the pharmacy, from the time a prescription is dropped off to the time it is picked up by the patient.

Pharmacists are also provided with free access to online continuing education (CE) courses through CECity, and can take educational leaves of absence to earn a higher degree. ?As our company tagline says, it is all about building a great company and allowing our leaders to do what is right for the customer. Sears Holdings is committed to improving the lives of our customers by providing quality services, products, and solutions that earn their trust and build lifetime relationships. This is what pharmacy is all about,? says Smidi.

Ms. Roop is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.