Large Retail Chains Let Pharmacists Choose Their Path

SEPTEMBER 01, 2008
Elizabeth S. Roop

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

With hundreds of new stores opening each year, top-of-the-line technology, and professional development opportunities, large retail chains give pharmacists the opportunity to apply their training and talents to a pharmacy career that is as traditional?or nontraditional? as they want it to be.

From patient service to store management, government affairs to human resources, pharmacy-centric large chains like CVS/pharmacy and Walgreens allow pharmacists to experience aspects of pharmacy that they may never have considered. They also remove geographic limitations, letting pharmacists pursue their profession wherever their hearts or circumstances take them.

?Having worked with CVS since I graduated, I would say that CVS/ pharmacy provides the foundation, resources, and tools to really enjoy the profession. It has been very rewarding for me and has opened up my eyes to a lot of different areas of pharmacy,? said Papatya Tankut, RPh, vice president of professional pharmacy services with CVS/pharmacy. ?The profession is rewarding in and of itself, and CVS allows you the opportunities to view it in so many different ways and to take your career wherever you want it to be according to what your passion is.?


CVS/pharmacy, the retail division of CVS Caremark Corp, as of the most recent acquisition of Longs Drug Stores Corp, has 6800 retail locations nationwide. A steady growth plan includes the planned opening of 300 to 325 new stores in 2008. As part of Caremark, CVS offers pharmacists as many opportunities outside the pharmacy as it does within its stores, including health management and pharmacy benefits management services. It also features 26 mail-order facilities, 56 specialty retail pharmacies, and more than 500 MinuteClinics.

?When you think about the opportunities available for pharmacists at CVS/Caremark, it is really limitless,? said Tankut. ?What makes us unique is whatever your passion, you can do that at CVS/Caremark through different career paths. It is also the support we provide. We have got so many tools and resources to make our pharmacists successful so they can focus on what they went to school for.?

Part of that is ensuring that pharmacists have the support and technologies they need to provide highquality patient services, including workflow systems supported by technicians who focus on the technical functions within the pharmacy. It allows pharmacists to spend more time counseling patients. ?CVS provides an environment that really fosters pharmacists becoming an integral part of the health care delivery team,? said Tankut.

Technology Helps Reduce Errors and Frees Pharmacists? Time

CVS/pharmacy also is a leading proponent of electronic prescribing (e-prescribing) technology for its ability to reduce or eliminate prescribing errors. The company, which works closely with physicians to help them adopt e-prescribing technology, currently fills 30% of the nation?s electronic prescriptions.

Its focus on meeting the needs of pharmacists and patients is part of the overall pharmacy-centric culture of CVS/pharmacy, where almost 70% of the business is pharmacy. It starts at the very top, where the chairman and many of the corporate executives began their careers as practicing pharmacists.

?It rolls off our tongues very easily to say that pharmacy is the heart and soul of our business. Most of the key strategic and day-to-day decisions that are made are done at the highest levels of the organization with pharmacy in mind. [It is] done with support and input from our pharmacists, but it also trickles down from the top, from people who have been practicing pharmacists,? said Tankut.

Professional Development at CVS

CVS/pharmacy also is focused on the professional development of pharmacists, offering a number of internship programs that allow soon-to-be and new pharmacists an opportunity to gain valuable experience within the pharmacy. For those who choose to stay on the patient care side, CVS/ pharmacy offers a management path that can lead to regional management and area vice president.

Pharmacists interested in putting their talents to work outside the pharmacy can move into the corporate career path by taking advantage of the company?s leadership development program. That sets them up for opportunities in such diverse areas as marketing, legal, real estate, government affairs, human resources, and clinical services.

Pharmacists who join the CVS/ pharmacy family all share a passion for engaging and educating patients and the ability to communicate with other health care professionals?qualities that cannot be taught in school.

?We want that pharmacist to have compassion, empathy, and enjoy interactions with patients, because that is where we have an opportunity... to really make a difference in the lives of patients,? said Tankut. ?? We are looking for individuals who are great clinicians with great clinical knowledge, but who also are great business men and women.?

For information on careers with CVS/pharmacy, new graduates and pharmacists are encouraged to visit the company?s Web site at


Walgreens, which has 6300 drugstores in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, also has aggressive growth plans that include opening nearly 500 new stores in 2009.

Opportunities Abound

?Because we are expanding, there are many opportunities within retail pharmacies. There are also opportunities beyond retail pharmacy, such as in specialty pharmacy,? said Tiffani Bruce, Walgreens spokesperson. ?There are pharmacists who come to work in our home care division, and there are pharmacists around the company that are helping to develop formularies for our [Walgreens Health Services] pharmacy benefits plans. There are lots of different roles that need pharmacy insight. So there are lots of opportunities even beyond our corner drugstores.?

Bruce notes that Walgreens is first and foremost a drugstore, with pharmacy making up about 65% of its business. As such, providing pharmacists with the tools they need to perform efficiently so they are free to provide patient counseling services is important.

Sharing the Workload

That focus is driving the implementation of workload balancing technology at stores in 36 states and Puerto Rico. The digital system is designed to spread the prescription background work, such as insurance verification, evenly among stores in the same state. Thus, if one store is extremely busy, the system will automatically assign part of the routine work to other stores that are experiencing a lower volume at the time.

By sharing the workload, it gives pharmacists ?more time to have oneon- one interaction with patients,? said Bruce. ?Our mission is to go well beyond just dispensing medications. We want our pharmacists to be viewed as the health care professionals they are. They are the most accessible front-line health care provider. Our vision for pharmacy is for our pharmacists to be utilized in that way. That means freeing up more of their time for counseling and one-on-one interaction serving as a resource for patients.?

It also means ensuring that pharmacists can put their pharmacy experience to work in other aspects of the pharmacy profession. In addition to Walgreens Health Services, pharmacists will find opportunities in divisions including Walgreens Health Initiatives Inc, a pharmacy benefit manager, as well as the company?s mail service, home care, specialty pharmacy, and long-term care divisions. The company also operates 183 convenient care clinics within their retail stores and worksite-based health and wellness services at 355 employer campuses.

For more information on career opportunities with Walgreens, new graduates and pharmacists are encouraged to visit the company?s Web site at or e-mail .

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