JANUARY 01, 2007
Wendy K. Bodine, Assistant Editor

EVERY DAY, MORE AND MORE grocery chains are realizing that the inclusion of a pharmacy in their stores not only serves their customers better, but increases the store's outreach to their communities as well. Pharmacies give employees the opportunity to interact on a more personal level with their customers and make a significant impact on their lives.

A grocery chain that discovered this reality early on is Publix. Based in Lakeland, Fla, Publix opened their first in-store pharmacy in 1986 and since then, has expanded to over 660 pharmacies in 5 states?Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina. For the fourth year in a row, Publix pharmacies were ranked the number-1 supermarket pharmacy in customer satisfaction by Wilson Health Information, a leading independent health care consumer research firm.

Robin Sistrunk, manager of integrated care for Publix Super Markets Inc, appreciates the positive effect pharmacists can have on their patients. "As a pharmacist, you have an unbelievable opportunity to make a difference with your patients at your location," she said. "Not only can you get involved with various patient services, but you are expected to intimately get involved with the health care of your patient." She stated that "as a supermarket pharmacist, you see some of your patients several times a week, since they visit the store regularly. We have stories of pharmacists literally making the difference in someone's life because they listened and cared enough to build a lasting relationship with their customer."

Sistrunk explained that Publix pharmacies offer a wide variety of customer services in their stores that give pharmacists the opportunity to work one-on-one with patients to help them with their health care concerns. Select stores offer medication therapy management, immunizations, and screenings for cholesterol levels and bone density.

Publix offers incoming pharmacists a myriad of opportunities for growth and advancement. The company has been among Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" 9 years in a row. Publix believes in promoting from within, so a staff pharmacist has the opportunity to advance to assistant pharmacy manager or pharmacy manager at a retail location, where they oversee the operations at their home store. From there, they can advance into a pharmacy supervisor position where they would be responsible for a group of pharmacies in a geographic region. Beyond that, divisional and corporate opportunities are available, which include managed care, integrated care, procurement, and so forth.

New Publix pharmacists train alongside experienced mentors, so they can begin to establish customer relationships from the start of their careers. Sistrunk explained, "We want our pharmacists to practice pharmacy and be caregivers. We want them to provide premier service to patients by not only offering them valuable services, but by building a relationship with them. To do this, we hire pharmacists who are friendly, caring, personal, proactive, and engaging." Publix employs an average of 2 to 3 pharmacists per store, both full-and part-time, depending on customer volume. They also hire pharmacy technicians, clerks, and interns, so pharmacists can spend more personal counseling time with their patients. If a pharmacist needs time off, "floater pharmacists" fill in for absent pharmacists to keep the customer care going. "Because of our commitment to providing premier customer service, we only use Publix-employed pharmacists in our stores?we never use temp agencies," Sistrunk stated.

Pharmacy students do not have to wait until graduation to benefit from being a Publix associate. The company offers a financial assistance program specifically geared towards pharmacy students. Full-time students who maintain a cumulative "C" average and work at least an average of 30 hours every 6 months at a Publix pharmacy can qualify to receive up to $2500 per semester. These students need to be recommended by a supervisor and plan to continue their pharmacy career with Publix as a full-time licensed pharmacist within 6 months after graduation.

When a pharmacist comes to work at Publix, he or she will not be left stranded. Along with a substantial support team and training beside knowledgeable professionals, Publix also offers numerous continuing education (CE) resources, as well as sponsoring live CE sessions. Publix also is a licensed partner with the American Pharmacists Association, and together they provide "Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery" certificate programs to pharmacists interested in dispensing immunizations (where state laws permit). Publix pharmacy also offers reference materials at each pharmacy, as well as in their online library, for quick and easy access to vital information. Pharmacy supervisors also are available in the field to respond to any needs that may arise.

Sistrunk pointed out that Publix offers its pharmacists "a wonderful work environment. We are committed to our associates by providing a great place to work. We believe in rewarding our associates for their outstanding efforts, achievements, and steadfast commitment to superior customer service." Some of the benefits of being a Publix employee include ample support staff, competitive salaries, a 401(k) plan, and the opportunity to purchase stock in the company. "Think about it--Publix is one of the largest employee-owned companies in the nation," Sistrunk said. "This means you own Publix, and you make the difference. Working with all owners of the company adds a level of pride that is indescribable," she added. "It's like working with a family?we're all on the same team."

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