JANUARY 01, 2007
Iris Rosendahl

SOME CAREER CHOICES ARE obvious, some are not. Lois Adams, RPh, MBA, president and chief executive officer of HHCS Health Group in Orlando, Fla, has made some important career choices in pharmacy based on her own life experiences and those of the people who work for her. For instance, she set up a cystic fibrosis (CF) pharmacy in 1985 because a friend named Beverley Donelson "came to work with us and got interested in cystic fibrosis when a grandchild was born with the disease," she said.

The child, now 21, became a cross-country runner in high school and continued the sport in college and is about to graduate from college and get married.

"She had excellent care from birth. The disease is well under control," explained Adams. "She had meconium ilueus and had a portion of her bowel removed when she was 3 days old. It's a difficult disease for the whole family."

Donelson, known as "Grandma Bev" to CF patients on the Internet and all over the world, has worked at HHCS Health Group for 24 years. She is on the listserves of the CF population, and patients often ask her for advice on issues other than medical questions, says Adams.

Today, the CF pharmacy sends medicine all over the world. "We can compound products and make it more economical for patients," said Adams. "And it all started with this young lady. One of the insurance companies would not provide her with a medicine (a vitamin E formulation) because of cost. I went to the manufacturer and asked them to reduce the cost and they refused. I reformulated it for her and gave the formula to Duke University," because she attended Duke and went to the Duke Clinic, Adams explained.

Other pharmaceutical manufacturers were more generous. "When we first started the CF pharmacy, we got free medications from pharmaceutical manufacturers for those without money to pay," said Adams.

When she decided to change the structure of the pharmacy's business, Adams got a revised pharmacy permit from the Florida Board of Pharmacy for her operation. In addition to being an infusion special permit pharmacy, HHCS also converted to a community special permit pharmacy. "The permit enabled the pharmacy, which has 2000 to 3000 patients from all over the country, to send medications such as capsules and noninfusion medications to patients," she said.

Patients learn about the pharmacy from physicians, other patients, on the Internet, from CF organizations, health fairs and education days, and media advertising, says Adams. HHCS Health Group is the umbrella name for the corporations, with several other wholly owned corporations as offshoots. These include the Cystic Fibrosis Pharmacy; Freedom Pharmacy and Wellness Centers; a Diabetes Shoppe; a Center for Memory Disorders; the HHCS Research Institute; Freedom Specialty Division for specialty drugs; International Pharmacy Corp; HHCS Inc, a wholesale company; and Medipaws, a pet pharmacy.

Adams also has Florida Ambulatory Infusions Centers where patients can come to be infused if they do not want to go to a hospital, and the centers have disease management for other respiratory diseases, women's health, autoimmune diseases, and oncology. Adams, a pharmacist for over 40 years, set up the Center for Memory Inc, a 501(C)(3) not-for-profit corporation which is located in the same facility as the pharmacies. It was established as a legacy to her mother after her mother's death from Alzheimer's disease. Her mother, age 92 when she died, "had the finest care," said Adams. "She outlived it [the disease]."

The Center for Memory Disorders conducts clinical trials and evaluates, diagnoses, and treats patients with memory loss, with a staff that includes primary care physicians, a neurologist, a psychiatrist, a clinical neuropsychologist, a clinical coordinator, a social worker, and pharmacist Adams.

In addition to her busy schedule at HHCS Health Group, Adams mentors students from the University of Florida School of Pharmacy in Gainesville, which has a branch in Orlando, and the High Tech Institute.

Located just blocks away from the pharmacy, the High Tech Institute prepares students to enter the allied health professions. "Students come into the store and we show them what a pharmacy is and what a pharmacist does," said Adams.

She also conducts clinical trials for pharmaceutical manufacturers at the research institute. "We had a lot of patients with HIV disease in Orlando, Tampa, and Miami," and the clinical trials focused on drugs for treating HIV/AIDS. "We are getting ready to do [clinical trials] for memory disorders," she said.

Asked what advice she would give to pharmacy students who are close to graduation, she said, "keep your options open, and think outside the box. Many options are open." Pharmacists "need to be well rounded and understand that pharmacy can be a very rewarding field." She added, "there is more for you than a $100,000 salary and an expensive car."

Pharmacists should consider getting an MBA, she continued. "The field is changing all the time. They need to understand reimbursement, money, and health care in general." Pharmacists have to become familiar with the basics of both the Medicaid and the Medicare program, including Medicare Part D, because "it's an important part of ultimate success in the profession."

Students also should learn about the legislative process, she emphasized. "They must be proactive and work with legislators. They can't sit back and let things happen." She urges pharmacists to back candidates who will help the profession and stresses the need to work within pharmacy associations, as she has with the Florida Pharmacy Association, the Florida Independent Pharmacy Network, National Association of Compounding Pharmacists, and the American Pharmacists Association.

Community work also is important to Adams, as is the time she commits to the University of Central Florida, where she has been inducted into the College of Business Hall of Fame. She is the recipient of the Wyeth Bowl of Hygeia Award, the RQ Richards Public Relations Award from the Florida Pharmacy Association, and the Elan Innovative Pharmacy Practice Award.

"You must be involved. There are many opportunities in the profession. If you have a passion for something, it affects your life." She urges graduates "to carry the banner. We're a very trusted profession."

She has worked hard to get where she is. As a single mom, she went to graduate school for her MBA, had 2 jobs, and raised 3 children. She has 2 sons?Dr. Bo Evans who is a family practitioner and Byron Evans who is a recruiter?and daughter Marlo Moore who is a full-time mother.

Adams says firmly, "I love what we do." In fact, she finds the field so rewarding that she has no intention of giving it up. "I have been asked about selling, but I don't want to. I have wonderful employees, and I don't want to retire." Besides, she asks, "If I retire, what would I do?"

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

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