Chains Seek Team Players with a Focus on Patients

FEBRUARY 01, 2009
Susan Farley

Ms. Farley is a freelance medical writer based in Wakefield, Rhode Island.

Graduation brings myriad career opportunities for today's pharmacists. Employers from a wide variety of companies all agree that the latest group of pharmacy graduates is the best and brightest they have encountered, and they are hoping to find among these graduates forward-thinking pharmacists looking to educate patients and move the profession forward. From the job seeker's perspective, establishing a career at a secure and stable company in an uncertain economy is often a priority. To give these new pharmacists an idea of the professional landscape, recruiting professionals at some of the country's top retail pharmacy chains—CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens—discuss job opportunities and expectations.


CVS, headquartered in northern Rhode Island, recently merged with Caremark as well as completing a buyout of Long's drug stores, expanding its reach to 6800 stores across the country. Papatya Tankut, vice president of pharmacy professional services, says that this merger and acquisition will allow pharmacists to better leverage their expertise in pharmacy while continuing to provide community pharmacy experience and direct patient care. The Caremark merger in particular allows pharmacists to explore careers outside retail pharmacy with its comprehensive mail-order service. Besides the retail and mail-order avenues, pharmacists can also pursue corporate careers at CVS. Whether their interests lie in government affairs, regulatory compliance, marketing, or clinical journal writing, there is an opportunity for them at CVS. Tankut does stress the importance, however, of understanding pharmacy and the business aspect first: a solid foundation established "on the bench" in one of the many CVS stores across the country. "From there," she says, "you can do anything."

"You can begin in retail pharmacies, and as your life changes, you might want to do something different," explained Tankut. "You can do that here at CVS without changing companies. Some people are content to be staff pharmacists for their entire careers, and that is just fine. Others are not, and there are ways to expose them to other skill sets. If they are interested in regulatory affairs, they can attend certain meetings. Some people have a passion for it—they have an affinity for it."

Once a pharmacist moves to a new position, he or she will receive the proper training for it. Tankut says it is a matter of being able to identify what one's interests are. "Nowhere else provides this many opportunities under one umbrella."

Beyond the compensation and benefits package that is comparable to its competitors, CVS offers professional development with programs such as Emerging Leaders, which trains pharmacists at practice sites. CVS also encourages pharmacy students to be preceptors to teach future pharmacists.

As for ideal candidates, "We are looking for someone with the passion to take care of patients and the passion for service," says Tankut. "We want someone who is going to play a key role on the health care delivery team, someone who can make a difference."


Top retailer Rite Aid is also looking to recruit the best and most forward-thinking among the new pharmacists. Michele Belsey, vice president of college and professional recruitment at Rite Aid, notes, "If [pharmacists] are interested in being a community practitioner, then we are the ideal match. We are in 31 states, and we are the largest on the East Coast."

Rite Aid pharmacists are working at a good operating volume with a variety of locations, so pharmacists can work close to home. Belsey points out the competitive pay: "We are neck and neck with our competitors with our benefits package. Our 401(k) plan is the best in the business, and we have the best match. We offer benefits for part-time interns through our group health discount. Our benefits are low-cost, and we offer pet insurance, mortgage insurance, and discounts on cars and cell phones. Our benefits package is excellent."

Once on board, a career path can start as a staff pharmacist, working up to pharmacy manager. After working as a pharmacy manager, opportunities are available in other fill positions or in corporate. Much like CVS, before making the transition to corporate at Rite Aid, it is vital to take care of the store and patients first. Belsey advises, "You have to develop a tight-knit relationship with your physicians and emergency departments [EDs]. It is about performing in your own pharmacy. Be a resource for other pharmacists."

She adds, "There are 10,000 graduates from pharmacy school every year, and they are all very talented. Rite Aid is looking for people who will develop programs, be pioneers, and show initiative." She points to the clinical centers and services that did not exist 3 years ago but are flourishing now in part due to the forward thinking of ambitious pharmacists. "These are the people we are looking to hire."

"We are looking for students who have worked on special projects, developed certain programs, and are involved in their communities—especially for our premier locations. We want people who are interested in building bridges and building initiatives. You can be a pharmacist and walk in and fill scripts and go home. Or, you can build bridges with physicians, go to EDs and introduce yourself; go to community centers and talk about the Rx savings card. Sell the business. Up-and-comers—that is who we are looking for," she continued.


Amanda Bidlencik, Walgreens' manager of pharmacy relations for recruitment and diversity services, agrees that what makes a pharmacist successful is dedication to the profession and the motivation to continually improve patient care, which means focusing on improving health outcomes.

To achieve this, Bidlencik says pharmacists need excellent communication skills. This applies to the many Walgreens pharmacists who work on the "front lines" with the patients, answering questions and providing clinical services. She adds that a Walgreens pharmacist needs to be a team player who enjoys working with other health care providers in a team setting. Other ways a pharmacist can improve health outcomes, she says, are the ability to multitask, possessing good organizational skills, and being detail-oriented. Personally, notes Bidlencik, successful pharmacists need to have "high integrity to ensure our patients receive the highest level of care in our pharmacies." A positive attitude and demonstrated leadership skills will be an asset to the candidate, she adds.

For more information, please visit the following Web sites:
Rite Aid:

What makes Walgreens an attractive option for pharmacists is its stability, according to Bidlencik. "Walgreens has been in the pharmacy business for over 107 years. We employ over 24,000 pharmacists nationwide in a variety of pharmacy settings, including community, home care, long-term care, specialty pharmacy, [pharmacy benefits management], mail order, management, and clinics. Because Walgreens offers many diverse practice settings, pharmacists have an opportunity to work in any work setting they desire. In all of these practice settings, our industry-leading technology maximizes our pharmacists' time with patients." To assist pharmacists in meeting professional interests and goals, Walgreens offers customized training, continuing education, and developmental opportunities.

What pharmacists can expect from Walgreens are competitive salaries, incentives, and comprehensive medical, dental, and vision benefits. Bidlencik comments, "Walgreens' financial benefits exceed our competition, in that we offer a variety of options, including profit sharing, a stock option plan, and an employee stock purchase program that pharmacists can invest their money in to reach their financial goals."

For the most part, recruiters agree on the qualities of a good pharmacist: passion for the profession, leadership skills, and, most certainly, good communication skills. Expecting a high level of service plus the enthusiasm to learn and grow one's skills and one's business is the norm for these top chains, and it is what has made them successful. What these companies have to offer in return—compensation, benefits, locations, work schedules—will differ slightly and in important ways for each job-seeking pharmacist. It is important to learn which company is the best match.

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