Chain Drugstores: On the Front Lines of Care and Change
Author: Barbara Sax and Aimee Simone, Assistant Editor
National retail chains are positioning themselves to be on the front lines of patient care, creating a wide variety of career opportunities for rising pharmacists.
In the changing health care landscape, community pharmacists are expected to interact with even more patients, taking a larger role in primary care. Over the next 20 years, approximately 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2010.
Another study, conducted in 2009 by the American Academy of Family Physicians, found that the number of medical students entering primary care medicine has dropped by more than 50% in the last decade.
These statistics have large implications for the challenges and changes facing community pharmacy. With an increasing number of Americans seeking primary care in an overburdened health care system—as the population continues to age and more patients are granted access to health care services through the Affordable Care Act—national retail chains of pharmacy, such as Rite Aid, CVS, and Walgreens, are positioning themselves to be on the front lines of patient care.
“There’s a tremendous opportunity to be at the forefront of change in community pharmacy,” said Al Carter, PharmD, pharmacy affairs manager at Walgreens. “The focus on pharmacy helps drive advancements for both Walgreens and the profession as we work to shift from a dispensing role to a health care provider role.”
The Expectation of Improved Care
In that expanded health care role, community pharmacists work with the overall goal of improving the health and wellness of their patients through counseling, medication therapy management, and various disease state management initiatives.
CVS Caremark’s Pharmacy Advisor program—an initiative launched in 2011—connects pharmacists with diabetes patients and those who require chronic cardiovascular care to improve adherence, manage costs, and close gaps in care.
“We utilize a wide array of tools, such as phone counseling, e-mail reminders, in-store counseling, and even home consultations, to help our patients stay on their medications and ultimately stay healthy,” said Papatya Tankut, RPh, vice president of pharmacy affairs at CVS Pharmacy, about the program.
In addition to improving adherence and outcomes for chronic disease patients, pharmacists also play a role in protecting the overall health of their communities through immunizations.
“We’ve actually made [immunizations] part of our pharmacist job description,” said Scott Jacobson, vice president of pharmacy at Rite Aid. “So it’s an expectation on their daily services that they provide immunization services to patients.”
The evolution continues as national drugstore chains continue to advance the profession by providing their pharmacists with the highest level of professional development and technology. Like the many expanded services these pharmacies now provide to patients, these improvements are centered on improving patient health.
“Walgreens pharmacists are encouraged to build on their training to develop relationships and improve outcomes for their patients through company-sponsored clinical programs and initiatives,” said Carter.
The leading drug chains also put significant resources behind helping their pharmacists achieve clinical goals by providing them with state-of-the-art tools and resources.
“When you have great automation, great work flow, it makes the process so much easier so [pharmacists] can actually move forward and take care of the patient,” said Michele Belsey, vice president of college relations and professional recruitment at Rite Aid.
Improved efficiency and better technology are also helping ensure that Walgreens pharmacists have more time to spend with patients in areas such as immunizations, chronic disease management, health screenings, and adherence programs.
“Walgreens is constantly improving our operations to allow for pharmacists to spend more time with their patients,” said Carter. “We’ve improved our operating systems to accommodate pharmacists by delegating more responsibilities that don’t require a pharmacist’s professional judgment to our certified pharmacy technicians, and we provide pharmacists with other tools that allow them to be more efficient in their professional roles.”
For pharmacy students, a number of options can lead to a successful and fulfilling career in retail chain pharmacy.
At pharmacy chains, pharmacists can choose to practice or advance their careers in a variety of settings, including community, infusion, and specialty pharmacy practice. “Our pharmacists also have the capabilities to operate in an outpatient hospital setting for the profession, each chain seeks pharmacists with unique characteristics and professional beliefs that fit the company’s mission and culture. “Having a license is the bare minimum standard every pharmacist must have,” said Jacobson. “But to us, it’s more about the personality that an individual has, their passion for their job, and how much they align to our A number of options can lead to a successful and fulfilling career in retail chain pharmacy. ting and collaborate with other health care professionals of the hospital,” said Carter. “There’s also the opportunity to pursue a career in pharmacy operations and oversee day-to-day operations of several pharmacies.”
CVS’s Tankut said that many paths are available to CVS pharmacists as well. “Whether in retail pharmacy, mail service pharmacy, specialty pharmacy or management positions, our colleagues are exposed to the many aspects of pharmacy care,” she said.
Belsey said that opportunities at Rite Aid can include positions in government affairs, managed care, business, legal, technology, the operations team, college relations, and recruitment.
“Our company’s driven by pharmacy. And as such, we have a lot of roles for pharmacists within our company,” Jacobson added. “Really, the opportunities can be limitless.”
Launching a Career
A career in community pharmacy affords pharmacists the opportunity to interact with patients on a daily basis, working toward improving their overall health.
“I think that for any pharmacist who has any inkling that they want to touch people’s lives going into school, community pharmacy is the job to be in,” said Rite Aid’s Jacobson.
That passion to help patients achieve improved health is the key to finding career opportunities within community pharmacy. In addition to passion for the profession, each chain seeks pharmacists with unique characteristics and professional beliefs that fit the company’s mission and culture.
“Having a license is the bare minimum standard every pharmacist must have,” said Jacobson. “But to us, it’s more about the personality that an individual has, their passion for their job, and how much they align to our standards and what we want to do as a company.”
Belsey added that, as a recruiter, she looks for future industry leaders. “I think we really look for someone who comes in with the mindset that the practice is continually evolving and who is willing to constantly change, move forward, and to embrace that change. And not only people who are going to execute that change, but people who are going to lead those initiatives.”
When hiring, Walgreens “looks for pharmacists who are active and passionate about the pharmacy profession, those who will engage their patients to stay involved in their disease management and promote a healthier lifestyle,” Carter said.
Tankut listed clinical knowledge, business sense, and communication skills as top qualities CVS looks for when hiring pharmacists. “Most importantly, we seek out individuals who are compassionate and caring, pharmacists who really care about improving the health of our patients, and really believe in CVS Caremark’s purpose— helping people on their path to better health,” she said.
Achieving the goal of improved patient outcomes and care will continue to take on greater significance for community pharmacists as the national health system evolves. As chains continue to expand their pharmacy as well as their health and wellness services, the career paths and growth opportunities for pharmacists will multiply as well. Pharmacists practicing in this setting will be helping to chart the course of the profession’s future.
Ms. Sax is a freelance writer based in Chevy Chase, Maryland.