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University of Buffalo winning team: Alexandra Centono, Kathryn Jones, Liliana Yohonn, Christina Ramsay, and Advisor Professor Karl Fiebelkorn
Each year, 3 big competitions challenge pharmacy students to show off their skills and talents: the American Pharmacists Association counseling competition; the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists clinical skills competition for 2-person teams; and the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) Pruitt-Schutte Student Business Plan Competition. Twenty years ago, the University of Buffalo was number 1 in one of those prestigious competitions and has always placed in the top 5 or top 10. This year was different, however, because the all-women team from Buffalo brought home top prize in the Pruitt-Schutte Student Business Plan Competition.
The team consisted of captain Kathryn Jones, Christina Ramsay, Liliana Yohonn, and Alexandra Centono, advised by Karl D. Fiebelkorn, MBA, RPh, CDM, clinical assistant professor, assistant dean for student affairs and professional relations, and director/editor of the Pharmacy Law Newsletter with the university's School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
As classmates in Fiebelkorn's business class, Jones and Centono decided to form a team for this competition with their friends, Ramsay and Yohonn, and the 4 women embarked on a long but rewarding task of research, legwork, analysis, and presentation.
The team's winning plan focused on developing a women's pharmacy—a natural idea proposed by this all-women team. This was the first time in the history of the competition that an entry has been about a pharmacy for women—certainly one of the aspects that made their plan stand out among the tough competition. The plan was to go into a junior partnership in Rochester, NY, with a compounding pharmacy. The pharmacy would be geared toward women but would fill prescriptions for everyone in the family, as the team's research showed that women between the ages of 24 and 40 are the number 1 shoppers in pharmacy and the number 1 shopper for health care for their entire family—husband, kids, and parents.
It would be called Isabella's Pharmacy after the first woman pharmacist, who they discovered through their research to be practicing in the 1600s. Prescriptions at Isabella's Pharmacy might include hormones, antidepressants, ob-gyn prescriptions, and anything to do with women's issues and health. According to team advisor Fiebelkorn, the pharmacy was designed to be warm and safe and to make their customers feel comfortable. The students did a survey of 100 women and traveled to different towns to find the ideal location. They settled on Pittsford, NY, because of its favorable demographics— higher socioeconomic status, more than half the town are women, and a high concentration of prescribers— meaning lots of potential referrals from endocrinologists and ob-gyns.
As a team advisor, Fiebelkorn would point them to where they could find information but could not tell them what to do or put in the plan. One aspect he stressed was that the plan had to be firmly based in reality. He wanted the team to find actual locations with actual rents, among other variables. "I do not know if it specifically states that in the rules, but I tell my students they must be realistic." For that practical research, he sent the team to the business library where they discovered the wonderful world of demographic research.
Their plan was very conservative, compared with some of their competition. They understood that their business would start out slow with part-time pay, one employee dedicated to marketing, and a remote medication therapy management pharmacist who was bilingual to cater to some of the Spanish-speaking population. Because 2 of the team members speak Spanish, they were able to incorporate that into their presentation. The team even developed a logo—a vine rather than a snake wrapped around a challis.
The team met about 50 or 60 times during the course of competition preparation. Fiebelkorn would constantly drill the team with questions to prepare them for the rigorous question and answer session that would follow their presentation. They even held a dress rehearsal to be doubly prepared—dress included charcoal gray suits with pink blouses, a running theme in their business plan and presentation. For the rehearsal, Karl brought in colleagues to fire some tough questions their way. These efforts fully prepared the women for the competition question and answer session.
According to Fiebelkorn, the team's biggest challenges were the financials and having them come out right and make sense. They drove to competitors and estimated their prescriptions filled and compiled a lot of background research to make sure their data were accurate and consistent.
Once at the NCPA conference in Anaheim, California, the women let loose the night before at Disneyland before giving a stellar presentation the next day. With 32 schools entered in the competition, the key is to get into the top 3. After a day of deliberation, the team learned their 180-page plan won first prize.
It is important to note that the students get no college credits for their efforts; it is purely a volunteer effort. Fiebelkorn estimates they spent several hundred hours researching and writing the plan—equivalent to about 6 to 8 weeks of full-time work.
Previous team members are still waiting to utilize and implement their business plans.
This year's winning team does not yet know whether they will follow through and actually open their pharmacy for women. Whatever the women decide to do, however, Fiebelkorn is sure they will be successful. "These students are motivated," he concluded.