Pharmacists Thrive at Regional Chains

Author: Eileen Koutnik-Fotopoulos

Ms. Koutnik-Fotopoulos is a freelance writer based in Keyport, New Jersey.


Pharmacy studentIt is the final year of pharmacy school, and it is decision time. While in school, students have spent years taking classes, getting involved in pharmacy advocacy, doing an internship or clerkship rotation, and countless other requirements in preparation for becoming a pharmacist. Now it is time to take all the knowledge and experience and apply it to a career in pharmacy.

Career options in the ever-changing pharmacy profession offer students numerous avenues to pursue. Graduating pharmacy students need to consider all their options and determine if they want direct patient care opportunities, conduct research in the pharmaceutical industry, or go into academia. If they choose direct patient care opportunities in community pharmacy, they need to factor in the practice setting and size of pharmacy.

Many future pharmacists are choosing to work in smaller regional chains. As the most accessible health care provider, pharmacists play an active role in patient counseling and medication therapy management (MTM) as the number of Americans taking more medications grows. Regional drug chains are known for their personal care and patient service. A career in this practice setting affords graduating pharmacists the opportunity to assist patients with their health care needs and form relationships with people in the community.

Pamida—A Hometown Store
Headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, Pamida is one regional chain that offers an exciting, rewarding career. The company operates 142 pharmacies in 15 states, employs 1092 pharmacists, and dispenses, on average, 500,000 prescriptions per month.

Pamida is looking for prospective pharmacy graduates who have “strong pharmaceutical care skills, including customer service ability, business acumen, and willingness to differentiate Pamida from the industry via specialized services such as [MTM], immunizations, diabetes counseling, etc,” explains Tony Schmid, director of pharmacy operations.

Internships with Pamida are beneficial for pharmacy students considering a career with a regional drug chain. Schmid says that quite a few students who do internships with the company decide to stay on after graduating. Students who choose to pursue a career elsewhere are “generally looking for a bigger city to settle in.”

In addition to a competitive salary with the industry and a benefits package that includes medical, dental, and vision; 401(k) plus company match after 1 year; and 2 weeks’ vacation and 3 personal days, Pamida offers a lot more that is attractive to future pharmacists.

“Being that Pamida pharmacies are in small communities, our pharmacists are leaders and important members of their communities,” says Schmid. “They are able to work in a pharmacy that is oftentimes closed by dinnertime, and they never work Sundays or holidays. Our company is on goal to increase the percentage of nationally certified technicians, which we believe will aid in our pharmacists’ ability to interact even more with their customers.”

In its ongoing efforts to better serve patients, Pamida’s biggest incentive for its patients “is our service; it is what we stand behind,” comments Schmid. Services offered include free prescription mail-out service and intown delivery, private one-on-one consultations with a pharmacist, MTM and immunization services in certain locations, electronic prescribing capabilities, convenient drivethru in some locations, assisted living and nursing prescription service, and hospice service.

Pharmacists are facing more adversity as the pharmacy industry, particularly with small regional chains, continues to change. Schmid attributes it to “increased competition both for sales and recruiting. Sales and margins are being squeezed due to lowered reimbursements and competitive cash pricing on generics. The recruitment of pharmacists is becoming more difficult due to longer life cycles of pharmacists and higher wages of pharmacists keeping retirement-aged pharmacists in the game longer.”

Shopko—Pharmacist Founded
Built around the vision of pharmacist James Ruben, Shopko opened its first location in 1962 in Green Bay, Wisconsin (its headquarters). Shopko has 2 divisions: 136 Shopko stores and 6 Shopko Express Rx stores in 13 states throughout the Midwest, Mountain, and Pacific Northwest regions. The pharmacy fills approximately 12 million prescriptions per year.

Because pharmacy service is the cornerstone of the company’s business, Shopko offers future pharmacists an environment they can thrive in. Students looking for a pharmacy career with Shopko will need to have “exemplary patient care and customer service skills, communication skills, leadership potential, and the ability to understand business,” explains Shantell Nelson, corporate and retail health recruiting manager.

Pharmacy students can get a firsthand look at a Shopko pharmacy by doing an internship. “Pharmacy interns benefit from the same work culture that our pharmacists enjoy: strong mentoring relationships, development and leadership opportunities, and time and resources to focus on patient care and practice the profession,” says Nelson.

In addition to internships, the company implemented a pharmacy Student Loan Program to continue to promote the profession more than a decade ago. Eligible students can qualify for up to $33,000 in student loans. Students accepted into pharmacy school and remain in good standing can be recommended by a Shopko pharmacy manager for the program.

“At Shopko, development of future pharmacists is crucial to our success. Pharmacy accounts for more than 30% of our profit,” says Nelson. “We were founded by a pharmacist and have had pharmacists as senior leaders throughout our history, so it is important to help future pharmacist education.”

Nelson believes, for students who enjoy the community setting, “regional retailers can provide a unique balance between retail pharmacy with corporate resources and the feel of working for an independent pharmacy.”

In addition to a competitive salary with industry and comparable benefits to pharmacists who work a minimum of 20 hours per week, the benefit package includes medical, dental, and vision coverage; paid vacation and holidays; 401(k) after 90 days plus company match after 1 year; flexible spending account, employee assistance programs; and teammate appreciation sales. Perhaps what makes a pharmacy career with Shopko attractive is “access to senior leadership with a short chain of command. Shopko pharmacists have ownership of their impact on the community. They have access to corporate resources, yet are able to control scheduling, workflow design, work environment, community program offerings, and more,” notes Nelson.

The various Shopko pharmacy initiatives allow pharmacists to continue to practice pharmacy by doing what they do best—serving the patients in the community. For example, the pharmacies provide a range of disease state management programs as needed by an individual community. Some pharmacists also have built partnerships with assisted living facilities to provide special services, according to Nelson.

Shopko continues to succeed as the pharmacy industry changes. “Our focus has always been on patient interaction and education. As prescription volumes increase, we want to maintain the customer focus that differentiates us and provides value to our customers. We are always balancing profitability/volume with quality service,” says Nelson.

One thing is certain—graduating pharmacists will have many opportunities as they start their careers to make a difference in the health of the patients they serve.