Total Health Care in Aisle 5

MARCH 13, 2010
Susan Farley

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

A pharmacy inside a supermarket is convenient onestop shopping for busy individuals that comes with a bonus of increased medication adherence. Most customers/ patients visit their local supermarkets at least once a week, which means if they get their prescriptions from the same location, they are reminded at least once a week about their medications. It is because of these regular visits that supermarket pharmacies have an advantage over stand-alone pharmacies and continue to represent serious competition not only for prescription dollars, but for recruiting top-notch pharmacists.

 In fact, within the industry, pharmacist jobs at top supermarket chains are in high demand, as they represent less work stress than at highvolume drug chains. This may be due to reduced pressure to meet prescription quotas, which means not only a more positive work environment, but more time for one-on-one patient care. Supermarket pharmacies generally do not experience the high turnover rates often associated with the rest of the pharmacy world.
Top Dog
Currently, one of the nation’s top-rated supermarket pharmacies is Cincinnati-based Kroger, which staffs over 2100 pharmacy departments in 32 states. Clinical services are the main focus for Kroger pharmacists. Besides their day-today duties, many Kroger pharmacists provide specialized care in a number of areas, such as immunizations, diabetes management, high blood pressure, cholesterol management, weight management, and smoking cessation.
Kroger’s residency program is structured to train pharmacists in patient interaction and pharmacy care. Clinical training is also available for those pharmacists interested in being a provider for Kroger’s Patient Care Services program. In fact, myriad opportunities are available for pharmacists at Kroger, including internships, staff positions, and managerial positions. Advanced opportunities include pharmacy supervisors, division pharmacy merchandising, technology, clinical care, procurement, managed care, corporate pharmacy management, and health and wellness.
According to Kroger’s Pharmacy Category Manager Patricia Achoe, what makes Kroger’s patients and pharmacists successful is personal counseling and patient care. “This builds relationships [between] the pharmacist and patients. This also enhances the level of satisfaction for our pharmacy teams,” she says.
Southeast Leader
The employee-owned Publix supermarket, with more than 700 pharmacies throughout the Southeast, maintains the atmosphere of a neighborhood drugstore. Pharmacists are on hand to answer questions about medications, diseases, nutritional issues, and other health-related concerns. In fact, Publix gained national recognition by offering a free 14-day supply of select oral antibiotics.
Robin Sistrunk, PharmD, manager of integrated care at Publix, stresses the importance of dedication to patients. “Each day, we are focused on providing attention, compassion, and helpfulness in order to offer a unique pharmacy experience to both our patients and pharmacy associates. What better place to do this but in a grocery store, where you have a chance to see your patients regularly as they shop the store from week to week?”
At Publix, the commitment to going above and beyond is obvious by their services, which include immunizations, medication therapy management, and bone density and cholesterol screenings. To support their patient-centered philosophy, Publix focuses their recruitment efforts on aligning mutual professional interests with the pharmacists they hire.
According to Rhonda McLaughlin, pharmacy recruiter, recent college graduates often begin their pharmacy career with Publix as a graduate intern—a position they can occupy for up to 16 weeks. “During this time, they enjoy practical hands-on training as they prepare to sit for licensure.” Upon licensure, pharmacy school graduates earn a position as a floater pharmacist or assistant pharmacy manager. “However, many of our pharmacists were associates during pharmacy school, so their career path started as a technician and/or an intern. Many participated in the Publix Pharmacy Student Financial Assistance Program. The program offers qualified associates $2500 per semester with a maximum of $20,000 for all 4 years of pharmacy school.”
Texas Titan
Texas-based HEB, which stands for “Here Everything’s Better,” also offers tuition reimbursement for their technicians and interns, as well as scholarship programs. Once onboard at the state’s largest regional chain—210 pharmacies and counting—many HEB pharmacy technicians and interns end up liking the job so much that they decide to pursue a full-time career as a licensed pharmacist.
Donna Montemayor, director of corporate pharmacy operations, is a shining example of an HEB success story. She began working at HEB 20 years ago as an intern and advanced through different levels of management to where she is now in HEB corporate offices.
Of her current position, Montemayor says, “It affords me the ability to affect a greater population of people. I have been here since pharmacy school, and I have had great mentors, great training, and I have been able to take risks.”
Besides the standard competitive benefits package, Montemayor notes that one of the most powerful benefits of working at HEB is that pharmacists are not behind a counter counting pills all day. For pharmacists interested in helping large populations, it is important to note that HEB boasts one of the largest immunization programs in Texas. In fact, HEB has streamlined their processes for optimum efficiency, thereby allowing pharmacists to have more time for immunizations and counseling patients. Montemayor says HEB-designed software made this possible.
One of Montemayor’s favorite aspects about HEB is its open door policy, which allows pharmacists to share their ideas. HEB employees are considered “partners,” and HEB executives readily recognize that some of the best ideas come from the field.
Although it is important for HEB pharmacists to be knowledgeable, caring, and eager to serve the customer, it is equally important that they be curious, willing to learn, and able to “step outside the box,” says Montemayor.
Nutritional Component
Some of the best ideas for helping patients with their overall wellness come from aisles in front of the pharmacy counter. Kroger’s Achoe notes, “What makes grocery store pharmacy different is the complete offering of food in our stores. Food is the cornerstone of most disease states and, therefore, gives the pharmacist the opportunity to talk about total health care with their patients.”
HEB’s Montemayor agrees, “At HEB we offer a total solution for our patients. With all the food options available right in the store, we can show patients what they should consider. We have HEB brand products, which include a healthy line. We work with the grocery department and we make sure to have what we call ‘fully fit’ products. These are nutritional products that we can point out to our patients. We provide a total wellness package.”
According to Publix’s McLaughlin, “You can walk customers to the aisle and show them how to read nutrition labels. You can point out specific food choices that are better or worse for them.”
Effects of the Economy
When asked how the economy has affected the pharmacy practice at HEB, Montemayor noted that, in many instances, it has turned HEB pharmacists into primary health care providers. Individuals who have lost their jobs and health benefits do not have the luxury of going to a primary care physician anymore, and so they go to their local pharmacist for health care advice. “We help them get their medication more affordably, and we advise them not to take shortcuts, like splitting their pills. The calls and questions have definitely increased.”
“Oftentimes,” says Kroger’s Achoe, “the pharmacist at the grocery store is the most accessible health care professional for patients. Our pharmacists can impact many lives because they are available to answer questions, to offer professional counseling, and to educate.” ● 
Company Links
Kroger, Publix, and HEB all offer standard benefits packages that are competitive throughout the industry. Full-time benefits typically include medical insurance, dental insurance, prescription plan, vision insurance, 401(k) retirement savings account plan, homeowner and auto insurance, group life insurance, long-term disability insurance, long-term care insurance, flexible spending accounts, vacation, annual salary review, and a bonus plan.
To find career opportunities at these supermarket chains, visit the following Web sites:

Pharmacy Times Strategic Alliance

Pharmacist Education
Clinical features with downloadable PDFs

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