FEBRUARY 01, 2008
Barbara Sax

Although Rite Aid operates more than 5000 stores, when it comes to pharmacy services, the chain's approach is still very personal. The chain's focus on clinical services, patient interaction, and professional growth sets the chain apart from the competition.

"Community pharmacy is a very interesting side of pharmacy," said Michele Belsey, vice president of college relations and professional recruitment for the chain. "Rite Aid pharmacists have regular contact with patients and can really make a difference in their patients' lives."

Offering clinical services helps pharmacists play a big role in their patients' health care. "Our definitive in-house clinical services division is a big niche for us," said Belsey. "We train our pharmacists across a number of clinical areas, such as immunization, diabetes, asthma, and hypertension management. It is an area in which we excel as a company." The company trains its pharmacists through group sessions, one-on-one instruction, and self-paced continuing education.

Rite Aid also gives pharmacists the support they need to spend more time with patients in the pharmacy. "It is important to have a strong pharmacy team, from techs to interns to pharmacy preceptors, so that pharmacists have the time to spend with patients," said Belsey.

Rite Aid's in-house drug information center, staffed by Rite Aid pharmacists, provides professional support on key issues such as compounding, pediatric dosing, unlabeled use, and drug interactions. "The drug information center is a great professional resource," said Belsey. "Our pharmacists always know they have professional support from an internal resource so they do not need to look outside for help."

Rite Aid's commitment to its pharmacists extends to its reporting structure. The chain's small pharmacy operating districts ensure that pharmacists have easy access to their supervisors—managers who are pharmacists themselves. "We are pure pharmacy, so pharmacists report to other pharmacists," said Belsey.

Belsey said that having the right pharmacists onboard has allowed Rite Aid to continue to excel in patient service. "We are looking for pharmacists who want to show initiative in this area," she said. "Our pharmacists see patients on a regular basis so they become important members of a patients' health care team."

That is 1 reason Rite Aid places most new pharmacists in 1 store, rather than hire them as floaters. "Some chains float new pharmacists, but we do not like to do that," said Belsey. "We want them to get started spending time with patients and getting to know them personally."

Being a large national chain does have its advantages. With more than 5000 stores across the United States, Rite Aid offers plenty of career advancement. "We like to see pharmacists go into pharmacy manager positions—we have 5100 of those. Then, there are 216 pharmacy district manager roles, 24 pharmacy regional vice presidents, and 1 senior vice president of pharmacy operations," said Belsey.

A Rite Aid pharmacist's career can take many other directions. Positions in operations, clinical services, human resources, government affairs, third party reimbursement, managed care, and drug information are just some of the possibilities.

Belsey said that, as a large national chain, Rite Aid can offer its pharmacists many lifestyle advantages. "Our medical and dental package is available on the first of the month as soon as graduate interns or pharmacists are hired—there is not a long waiting period. Pharmacists also can start investing in a 401(k) plan within 90 days, and every contribution is 100% fully vested on the first contribution. Other companies do not offer that benefit," said Belsey. Mortgage, cell phone, and car loan discounts are among the other benefits available to employees.

The chain is committed to its pharmacists because they are the core of the company's business. "Our pharmacists set us apart from our competitors. They take the time to interact with their patients and help them live healthier and happier lives," said Belsey."Without our pharmacists, Rite Aid would be just another chain."

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