On a side street in Mundelein, Illinois, you will find a cozy independent pharmacy known as Lakes Apothecary. An essential oil diffuser on the check-out counter creates a soothing atmosphere, as it gently coats the air with a fine mist. As soon as patients approach the entrance of the building, pharmacist Byron Strakusek opens the door, and welcomes them inside.

In today’s fast-paced world, there are still family-owned pharmacies with a small-town vibe, including Lakes Apothecary, founded in September 2017.

Strakusek wanted to own a business that would allow him to take care of patients, not corporate metrics. His mission is to support patients on their health journey, and to give back to the community. His pharmacy provides medications, compounded prescriptions, and immunizations. The staff also delivers medications throughout Illinois, ensuring that patients with transportation or mobility issues receive their necessary therapies.

In addition to supporting other local businesses, and encouraging people in the community to also become their customers, Strakusek precepts pharmacy students. Working with local schools, such as Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, he demonstrates to future pharmacists that they can contribute to their communities in meaningful ways that change patients’ lives for the better.  

What distinguishes Lakes Apothecary from many other businesses is that staff members go above and beyond to ensure that patients get the most out of their treatments. Because they contact prescribers and insurance companies, they can provide individualized customer service to make it easier for patients. They also coordinate medications so they can be picked up together; this saves time and avoids gaps in therapy or missed doses for patients.

“We anticipate when people are going to need their medications ahead of time,” Strakusek said.

In addition to saving trips to the pharmacy for patients, Strakusek wants to personally know people. When he recently had some new patients transfer to Lakes Apothecary, while he was on vacation, he was unhappy that he did not get a chance to meet them at their first visit.

Strakusek seeks to have continuity in his business; he knows his patients by name and which medications they take. One patient said that Strakusek is a “concierge pharmacist,” since he is always available to answer questions or assist in other ways. His level of customer-oriented service makes patients feel that they are taken care of well. 

Working at 2 large chain pharmacies for 28 years inspired Strakusek to start his own business. Even though being a traditional retail pharmacist gave him valuable experience, he did not have time to take care of patients in the way that he wanted. He strived to get to know patients individually, and have time to review their therapeutic regimens with them.

While working at the chains, he noticed that Spanish-speaking patients did not always have someone to talk with in their native language. For that reason, Strakusek hired fluent Spanish speakers at Lakes Apothecary, guaranteeing that the Hispanic population in his community would not be underserved.

Additionally, Strakusek keeps his business open 365 days a year—including holidays–to serve patients when other pharmacies might be closed.

“It’s a pleasure to have a business in the community that I live in, and I feel more connected,” Strakusek said.

In today’s hectic, constantly-on-the-go society, customers can have peace of mind that they have an accessible health care provider who cares about them.

Many pharmacy students will graduate soon, and begin looking for jobs or residencies. They can draw inspiration from people like Strakusek, who care enough about patients that they try to make a difference for them. While operating an independent pharmacy is a difficult, and time-consuming endeavor, staff members can leave at the end of the day knowing that they made an impact on people’s lives.
 
Betty Derza is a 2020 PharmD candidate at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, North Chicago, Illinois.