/publications/career/2006/Careers_2006-09/Careers_2006-09_3908

UPWARDLY MOBILE OPPORTUNITIES IN LARGE CHAIN DRUG STORES

Author: Iris Rosendahl

CHAIN DRUG STORES OFFER many opportunities to the newly graduated pharmacist, ranging from a chance to develop clinical skills in programs such as diabetes care, blood pressure monitoring, and weight control, to moving ahead as business managers.

At Rite Aid, new graduates participate in a series of computer-based training programs that cover daily pharmacy operations and general practices over a 2-to 3-week period, said Michele Belsey, vice president, college relations and professional recruitment. "The new pharmacist is partnered with a training pharmacist or mentor," to whom he or she can go with questions, she explained. "As part of the training period, partnerships are developed with other mentors, too."

Once the individual is in position as a staff pharmacist, there are opportunities to develop clinical skills, she said. "First, the new pharmacists should work to become familiar with daily pharmacy operations, and then they can move into more advanced opportunities."

Rite Aid supports its pharmacists clinically with an inhouse drug information center and a clinical services department, she said. The department teaches pharmacists how they can work clinical programs into their daily responsibilities. These programs range from diabetes care and weight control to immunizations (in those states where pharmacists are permitted to immunize patients).

The type of clinical care can vary from state to state based on the pharmacy practice act, said Belsey.When it comes to diabetes care, for example, a patient brings a daily log with him to the pharmacy which may show high peaks and low peaks on blood glucose levels, she explained. A pharmacist reviews the patient's diet and exercise as recorded in the log and teaches the patient how to create more of a steady level so these high and low peaks do not occur, she said.

Staff pharmacists who think they want to move ahead as managers can participate in training programs to develop the necessary skills,Belsey said. "This includes a lot of computer work in modules on daily operations, such as inventory, shrink, profit and loss statements, and key profit indicators."

Along with programs that encourage professional development, Rite Aid offers pharmacists extensive benefit packages that are available as "first of the month employment," she said. This means that a full-time, nonunion pharmacist who is hired on June 26, for example,will participate in the benefits as of July 1. These benefits include prescription drug, dental, vision, and medical plans. Multiple medical plans are available to employees, but one major plan is offered to everyone, she said. "It has no preexisting condition clause and no lifetime maximum. Rite Aid also offers a 401(k) plan that starts 90 days after employment. Associates can contribute up to the federal maximums for the 401(k) plan, so for 2006, they can contribute up to $15,000. The company match feature starts after 1 year and 1000 hoursworked; the match is 100% of the first 3% and 50% of the next 2% saved by the associate. Once an associate starts contributing, he or she is 100% vested.

Other benefits include a 20% discount on products sold by Rite Aid; a car purchase program, with discounts offered on Ford brand; home and auto insurance; as well as a mortgage program with a discount rate through Wells Fargo.

CONTINUAL LEARNING AT WALGREENS

At Walgreen Co, a pharmacist is learning systems in the first year, including filling prescriptions, inventory, scheduling, and how they work together to free up time to counsel patients, said Amanda Bidlencik, RPh, manager, pharmacy relations.

Clinical skills are developed on a daily basis at Walgreens, she said, answering patients'questions, perhaps about blood pressure or diabetes care. A pharmacist can be certified in diabetes care, she pointed out. This includes several hours of continuing education (CE). If a pharmacist submits the test and passes, then he or she is diabetes certified and qualified to counsel patients in the community. These certified pharmacists often speak about this subject at senior centers or local libraries as well as to interns working at Walgreen stores.

A pharmacist who is interested in management can learn these skills through a training program on CDROM. It consists of 6 different CDs, including inventory, management, patient complaints, and pharmacy operation, said Bidlencik. Regular meetings are also held at a district level on subjects such as a new quality assurance program.

Other programs at Walgreens include "People Plus Learning," said Bidlencik, which is available to pharmacists over the computer.At the time of the Medicare Prescription Plan rollout, a pharmacist could log on to the computer at work and complete the tutorial. "It's an interactive program and covers what's changing in the profession, as well as at Walgreens," she added. CE programs are available at www. mywalgreensce.com and are created by the health systems division. Currently, 26 programs are available; the program keeps a record of the courses taken by an individual pharmacist and the number of credits received for the courses.

Still another system that is in place at Walgreens is Intercom Plus, which tracks what happens to a prescription from the time a patient drops it off at the pharmacy to the time the prescription is picked up. With this system, the pharmacy technician gets the information from the patient, scans it into the computer, and then a pharmacist verifies that the information is correct. The computer then prints out the label and checks to see if it is the right medication; this is done by scanning the prescription and the stock bottle. Then, the prescription goes to the pharmacist for final verification of the product, said Bidlencik. "Each time it's scanned, the computer verifies the prescription. If the prescription is going to be ready later than expected, the computer will call the patient."

Benefits available at Walgreens are comprehensive and include health care (medical and dental), as well as profit sharing. "Employees can contribute 2% of their annual salary to the profit sharing plan. Once they reach a certain salary level each year, the contribution increases to 5%; the company matches employee contributions, based on company profits for the year," she said. Also available are a credit union and family medical leave, among other programs.

DEVELOPING AS A CVS PHARMACIST

At CVS, a pharmacy school graduate is seen as an individual "with a wealth of drug knowledge and expertise. As a new pharmacist at CVS, the first year primarily focuses on building relationships with their patients and physicians, understanding our computer system and workflow of the pharmacy, learning how to create a positive work environment and leading a store team," said Papatya Tankut, vice president, pharmacy professional services.

When it comes to developing management skills, Tankut explained, "being a successful community pharmacist and health care provider requires an employee to incorporate management skills into their workday every day. For those individuals who are interested in future management positions, we have identified core skill sets and core competencies that individuals are trained in and exposed to through the CVS/pharmacy Emerging Leaders Program. The program assists in preparing high-potential employees for management positions through structured workshops, networking opportunities, and an individual development plan."

As for clinical skills, "a CVS pharmacist utilizes and develops their clinical skills every day while filling prescriptions and counseling patients," she said. "Our technology and pharmacy work flow also allows our pharmacists to spend more time counseling their patients on their individualized health care needs. Every CVS pharmacist has access to on-line self-help clinical resources to further help guide them through therapeutic situations."

CVS also "invests in clinical programs that pharmacists are not only exposed to, but can personally participate [in] and impact. Some of these programs include store level MTM [Medication Therapy Management] programs, pharmacist-administered flu and immunization programs, collaborative practice agreements with physicians, as well as other disease-specific medication programs," Tankut said.

The chain provides all pharmacists the opportunity to participate in live CE programs that are offered at least twice a year. In addition, all CVS pharmacists have complementary subscriptions to many on-line and journal-offered CEs.

Benefits at CVS include a pharmacist incentive plan, 401(k) participation and matching plan, professional liability insurance, and auto and home insurance discount plans.

As the above indicates, each of these large drug chains offer pharmacists opportunities to develop skills based on their own interests. Once hired, it is up to the pharmacist to develop a career plan.

Ms. Rosendahl is a freelance writer based in Fort Lee, NJ.