Community Pharmacy Is Alive and Well

Fred M. Eckel, RPh, MS; Pharmacy Times Editor-in-Chief
Published Online: Monday, December 28, 2009

Mr. Eckel is professor at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.



My whole pharmacy career has been as an employee pharmacist. I received paychecks from community pharmacies, health systems, and universities. Some of my mentors were quick to remind me that I should be appreciative of those entrepreneurial pharmacists who went into business for themselves and did very well financially. Indeed, it is the fact that any pharmacist can establish his or her own independent pharmacy that keeps pharmacists’ salaries high across the board. For this reason alone, I have kept my eye on how independent pharmacies are doing.

When I became a pharmacy association executive, I realized that it was the pharmacist owner who was most likely to invest dollar resources into his or her profession by supporting professional association programs. If this observation is accurate, then I have another reason to want a strong independent pharmacy community in our profession.

How Are Independent Pharmacies Doing?

Can we measure the success of independent pharmacy by how well the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) is doing? I think it is one measure we can use—and from my perspective, community pharmacists are doing well. As a pharmacy student, I received a John Dargavel Scholarship provided by the NCPA (then the National Association of Retail Druggists) Foundation. I also took the opportunity for several years during pharmacy school to be the student representative on the Board of the Philadelphia Retail Druggist Association. (Do you remember when community pharmacists used to meet at 10 or 11 pm after closing their stores?)

In my early years as a hospital pharmacist, however, I had little involvement with NCPA. My work with Pharmacy Times provided an opportunity to attend NCPA meetings starting in the late 1990s. These meetings have always energized and encouraged me because of the innovative ideas and political insights shared, and the obvious concern expressed about the profession and the patients served. Sure, like other pharmacy organizations, they have not always done things right in my opinion, but overall, I always left the meeting feeling that independent community pharmacy was helping itself stay strong.

This year’s meeting in New Orleans was no less enjoyable for the same reasons. But what caught my attention this time around was the encouraging statistic that in 2008, 3.4 new pharmacies were opened daily (2009 NCPA Digest). If 1225 new pharmacies opened, then it appears that we are seeing a process of stabilization after the large drops in previous years. It seems that this was the year for a pharmacist to fulfill that dream of becoming his or her own boss.

Seeing the number of student pharmacists in attendance in New Orleans also encouraged me, and pointed to the possibility that more of the next generation wants to be entrepreneurs. My own observation in my practice suggests that more students are very interested in this path, and I think that the next NCPA report will reveal that more independent pharmacies continued to open in 2009.

An Increased Demand for Services

News from the NCPA meeting revealed that “while other businesses witnessed a precipitous drop-off in revenue during the poor economic times, the determination and patient care skills of independent community pharmacies actually increased demand for their services. Challenges abound, from declining reimbursement, particularly in the public sector, to an uneven playing field from mail order. But community pharmacies are adapting by running more efficient business operations characterized by sterling customer service. As a result, profit levels appear to be in the process of stabilizing after the large drop that occurred with the implementation of Medicare Part D,” according to Bruce T. Roberts, RPh, NCPA executive vice president and chief executive officer, in response to the release of the 2009 NCPA Digest. He further stated “that community pharmacies have shown a remarkable resiliency, but so much of our future lies outside of our hands.” This dose of reality reminds us that all areas of pharmacy still have to make things happen. We can’t sit back and expect others to take care of us. We must chart our own future course. If you believe that our profession’s success will be better secured if the opportunity for pharmacists to become their own boss is realistic, then we seem to have a bright future. ■



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