JANUARY 01, 2007
Elizabeth S. Roop

WHEN ELAINE G. WATANABE, PharmD, started working for Kaiser Permanente 22 years ago as an inpatient pharmacist specialist, it was her dream job—something she would be happy doing for the rest of her career. Before long, however, she was encouraged to expand her horizons and take advantage of other opportunities within the organization.

Today, Dr.Watanabe is administrative pharmacy services manager with Kaiser's Pharmacy Strategy & Operations. Each day, she says, brings a new and exciting challenge and allows her to fulfill the goals she set when she became a pharmacist to give to others and practice what she believes.

"It has been wonderful to have had the chance to be mentored and to mentor others. It is very satisfying to think that, even in some small way, you have made a difference in a student's, intern's, resident's, or new manager's growth," she said. "The professional environment and collaborative practice at Kaiser Permanente makes it a very desirable place to work and to provide patient care. Most of all, it has been the people within pharmacy who have touched my career and life in the most positive of ways. We often refer to those we work with as our ‘Pharmacy Family.'"

Dr. Watanabe's experiences working for the nation's leading nonprofit integrated health plan are not unique. Considering Kaiser Permanente services 8.2 million people in 9 states and the District of Columbia, it is easy to see why the organization is considered by its employees to be an amazing place to work.

For starters, multiple career settings exist within Kaiser Permanente, including ambulatory care, hospital, or inpatient, community or outpatient, drug use management and education, home infusion centers, informatics and technology, automated refill pharmacies, drug information services, pharmacy outcomes research, pharmacy analytical services, pharmacy call centers, and administration and management.

Pharmacists can specialize in patient population care management or disease state management, in areas such as anticoagulation, oncology, asthma, HIV, cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, geriatrics, nephrology, pediatrics, primary care, medication therapy management, and other pharmacist-run clinics. Within the organization's hospitals, pharmacists practice in the intensive and critical care units, neonatal intensive care, pediatrics, chemical dependency, medication safety, antibiotic surveillance, surgical centers, emergency departments, and other acute care services.

Pharmacists also can find challenging roles in finance, benefits, drug use management, contracting, material services, compliance, professional affairs, and human resource departments.

"With all of these exciting areas to participate in, pharmacists do not find jobs at Kaiser Permanente, they find careers," said Dr.Watanabe.

Another key differentiator for Kaiser Permanente is the fact that it is a nonprofit organization, which means decisions are not made by the stockholders, she added.

"We are a unique blend of medicine and business. We practice evidence-based medicine and can make the choice for the best appropriate care for our patients without the pressure of making high profits," said Dr. Watanabe. "For pharmacists, there are so many opportunities to work in multiple environments, and the collaborative role of working with a health care team allows them to utilize their clinical skills and grow professionally."

She noted that compensation and benefits are "exceptional," and include employer-paid comprehensive health and dental plan coverage for employees, spouses, or domestic partners and eligible dependents.

Kaiser also offers generous paid time off, company-paid retirement plans, life insurance and income protection options, flexible spending accounts for health care and dependent care, and employee discount programs. A high value also is placed on maintaining a healthy work/life balance.

"Kaiser Permanente's philosophy is based on preventive care.We provide various classes and wellness programs to keep our patients and employees healthy," explained Dr. Watanabe. "Even the Kaiser Permanente brand identity is ‘Thrive,'and demonstrates a belief in the activities and lifestyles that promote good health and well-being. By providing excellent compensation and benefits, as well as working for a stable company that has a clear vision of its purpose, Kaiser Permanente desires to provide the best level of care and work/life balance to their employees."

The profession of pharmacy requires a lifelong commitment to learning, she added. As such, Kaiser offers multiple opportunities for continuing education and tuition reimbursement, as well as ongoing skills training designed to keep pharmacists up-to-date on the latest in technology and industry advances.

Training is provided via different avenues on different topics, including face-to-face interactive classes and online e-learning programs. For those who might be interested in management or who are in lead positions, Kaiser also conducts lead development classes. Finally, because of their participation in the education of others,many pharmacists attend preceptor classes to assist them in honing their skills as a mentor for others.

"We are especially proud of the various programs for managers, including management excellence, manager technical training, a formalized coaching and mentoring program, middle management courses, and advanced leadership programs," said Dr.Watanabe.

Another distinguishing characteristic about a career with Kaiser Permanente is the focus the organization places on making sure its pharmacists have all the tools they need to provide top-quality care for their patients.

For example, they are in the process of implementing an electronic medical record system across the nationwide Kaiser Permanente program. That is in addition to the computerized systems that support various pharmacy settings, including inpatient and ambulatory care. In larger regions, localized call centers and large regional filling pharmacies are in place to assist local pharmacies in expediting prescriptions to patients.

"With the information necessary at their fingertips, pharmacists will be able to provide the type of pharmaceutical care services that they were trained to do," said Dr.Watanabe. "?Kaiser Permanente Pharmacy is continually striving to find new ways of sharing best practices to provide quality patient care and world class pharmacy services."

For those interested in learning more about careers with Kaiser Permanente, the best resource is the organization's Web site, www.jobs.kp.org. There, individuals will discover that opportunities abound for pharmacists at all career stages.

For those joining right out of school, they may become inpatient pharmacist specialists, outpatient pharmacists, or participate in one of the organization's American Society of Health-System Pharmacists- accredited pharmacy residency programs. Others may choose to do a residency with Kaiser, practice in an inpatient setting, or move to one of the ambulatory care clinics. Some will become drug education coordinators, go into administration or management, become clinical operations managers, or move into the pharmacy strategy and operations offices.

"Our pharmacists tend to stay with us a long time and are able to partake in a wide variety of practice settings and job responsibilities," said Dr. Watanabe. "...The opportunities are vast and exciting, all within one organization."

Ms. Roop is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.

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