Behind the Bench: Inside Kmart's Pharmacy Service

FEBRUARY 01, 2009
Susan Farley

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

In eighth grade, Howard Kramer won $25 for writing an essay about a chosen profession: pharmacist. At age 15, Kramer went on to work in pharmacy, working nights and weekends through high school and college. After pharmacy school, he worked for an independent and then a chain. In 1974, Kmart opened a store in Virginia that offered a pharmacy service. It was there that Kramer took a job as pharmacy manager. Within a few months, Kmart opened many more new stores, and Kramer became district manager and was later promoted to buyer at Kmart's headquarters in Troy, Michigan. At the time, there was no human resources department for the pharmacy portion of Kmart, and, in 1991, Kramer was asked to fill that void. With 34 years as a pharmacist for Kmart under his belt, Kramer has a lot of insight for new grads interested in working for a mass merchandiser.

First and foremost, says Kramer, Kmart encourages its pharmacists to get to know their patients and establish a personal relationship. "That is a nonnegotiable," he says. "We have pharmacists who know their patients by name and call them, send birthday and get-well cards. That is the kind of environment we like."

A certain tone is set because the pharmacy management team is run by registered pharmacists, not retailers. In fact, Kmart relies on 4 advisory boards to help guide decision making for its pharmacy service. "These boards are made up of people who are in the trenches and behind the benches every day. They take advice from people who know the business and their patients."

Kramer adds, "We are always on the lookout for the talented people who have the skills to be on these boards. We need to identify the ability and the inclination. It is quite an honor to be selected out of the 2500 pharmacists in our employ."


The most critical traits for a Kmart pharmacist are the ability and desire to communicate, not just with the customers, but third-party managers, physicians, district managers, etc. "New hires must have a passion to provide great communication," says Kramer. "They must find a way to say yes. That is something that differentiates Kmart from the rest—we try to make things happen."

From a corporate sense, Kmart wants to put the patient and customer first. The goal is to provide the best possible care by analyzing the patients' needs and finding out how to serve them best. Kramer says that most patients are looking for pharmacists they can trust. Patients should feel comfortable referring to Kmart pharmacists as "my pharmacist" the same way they would refer to their physician as "my doctor," says Kramer. "We want to establish that high level of trust."


A career path in Kmart pharmacy, depending on experience, usually begins as a staff pharmacist or pharmacy manager. The company then identifies high-potential pharmacists and places them in a floater position where they can learn more and help the pharmacy district manager (PDM) by acting as the eyes and ears in a traveling, troubleshooting role. This floating position is preparation for the PDM position, offering invaluable on-the-job training. After working as a PDM, pharmacists can then advance to pharmacy divisional director or the unlimited opportunities in Kmart's corporate offices.

With an attractive benefits program, establishing a career at Kmart is an appealing option. The compensation and the health care plan are competitive; the pharmacies are closed on 7 major holidays; and there are flexible work schedules and a generous 401(k) match.

Kramer points out that Kmart operates in 47 states plus the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. "That is a lot of opportunity and flexibility. We have a pharmacist who works in one part of the country for part of the year and another location for the other part of the year. We do our best to support pharmacists if they want to change locations."

Pharmacists coming out of pharmacy school today are brighter and more mature and more engaged than ever before, says Kramer. "They should know this is a great profession with boundless opportunities. All pharmacists have choices to make upon graduation. Whether or not they end up at Kmart, we would like them to focus on driving the profession forward and taking their practice forward."

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