JANUARY 01, 2007
Barbara Sax

CHOOSING A CHAIN TO WORK for is a lot like selecting a school?a large state university will provide a different environment than that of a smaller college.

Many pharmacists who opt to practice at a smaller, regional chain say their choice is based on a desire to be closer to the business as well as to the community in which they practice.

Raleigh, NC-based Kerr Drug is one example of a regional chain that is very serious about pharmacy. The company is committed to providing patients, the medical community, and health plan sponsors access to the most comprehensive and convenient health and wellness offering in the industry.

Kerr pharmacists and community pharmacy residents deliver medication therapy management and a variety of other related screening and monitoring services including full lipid panel testing, blood pressure measurement, nebulizer training, and 30-minute diet and exercise consults. The chain's vision of the retail community pharmacy is on the cutting edge of everything innovative about diagnostic, disease state, and drug therapy management.

"Pharmacy is where it's happening in our company," said Briony Voorhees, vice president of human resources at Kerr. "It's where the patients are, it's where the customers are, and it's where the cash registers are. We are moving in a new direction in the delivery of pharmacy-related products and services."


Ten percent of the chain's 105 stores are designated Health Care Centers and include affordable and easily accessed health screenings, as well as a staff of dedicated health care specialists. The chain's counseling areas set an industry standard. "Our prototype is the drugstore of the future," said Voorhees. "Our flagship store in Lenoir, NC, has a huge counseling area. Throughout the chain, many of our pharmacists are trained in disease state management as well as medication therapy management. They spend a lot of time counseling patients."

The chain's corporate office is "incredibly supportive of continuing education [CE] for our pharmacists," said Voorhees. The company pays for CE classes for its pharmacists to keep employees on the cutting edge of the practice.

That focus on a full range of professional services is a common theme at regional chains. Discount Drug Mart, an Ohio-based chain of 65 stores, also offers disease state management and various testing and screening services. The chain, which fills over 4.5 million prescriptions a year, is dedicated to its community involvement.

"We administered 10,000 doses of flu vaccine last year," said Tom Nameth, director of pharmacy at Discount Drug Mart. "Our pharmacists are involved in local health fairs and outreach programs. We are very active in the community."

A big event for the chain is Senior Celebration Day, an event for seniors done in conjunction with the Cleveland Zoo. "We have 6 or 7 pharmacists there doing bone density screening and talking to seniors about their medications. It's a way to really get out in the community."


South Dakota-based Lewis Drug may be an even smaller chain, but all 30 stores are focused on providing a range of pharmacy services. "We provide bone density testing, diabetes management, and adolescent obesity services," said Bill Ladwig, vice president of professional services at the chain. "Since our services encompass retail, clinical care, and long-term care, pharmacists have a number of different directions they can pursue."

The chain also shares a faculty position with South Dakota University. Ladwig said Lewis pharmacists practice community pharmacy in every sense of the phrase. Pharmacists are a part of the community in which they practice, but they also have formed their own community within their organization. "Our 65 pharmacists interact with each other as a team and support each other in professional development," he said.


The ability to become an integral part of the business is frequently cited as important to pharmacists who work at smaller chains. "There's no hierarchy here," said Ladwig. "I try to lead by example and work a shift in the stores whenever I can. In turn,we empower our pharmacists to make decisions that will affect how they practice. Our pharmacists can target their services to the individual needs of their communities."

"You get more personal attention when you work for a smaller chain," said Discount Drug Mart's Nameth. "We get to know our pharmacists." The chain recently remodeled one pharmacy department based on the recommendation of a head pharmacist. "Pharmacists just don't have that kind of input in a large chain. Pharmacists have a voice in what happens in their store. This pharmacist had worked for us for a long time and felt a remodel would really benefit the store. Within 2 weeks, we started the remodel. If a pharmacist comes to us with a program or initiative, as long as it makes good business sense, we will consider it."

Kerr's Voorhees agrees that regional chains offer an opportunity to have a direct impact on the business. "We have an open door policy," she said. "Pharmacists can call our president, Tony Civello, on the phone and talk to him. One of the reasons our pharmacists love to work here is that when they call headquarters, we know their names."

Further evidence of the chain's commitment to 2-way communication is a new "Point Pharmacist" position the chain created."The Point Pharmacist is responsible for 6 peer stores and coordinates with those pharmacists to communicate what's happening in the industry and to get input from their peers to bring to the corporate office," said Voorhees.

"There's a range of opportunity available," said Nameth. "Some pharmacists are very comfortable behind the pharmacy counter and others want to become certified to do fittings." Nameth said that pharmacists who have a broader interest in wider retail experience can explore hats as well. "Everybody at headquarters level has come up through the ranks," he said.

Ms. Sax is a freelance writer based in Chevy Chase, Md.

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