"We Practice With Compassion"

APRIL 30, 2019
Karen Berger, PharmD
Ernie Sykora, DPh, RPh, and Niki Sykora Cox, PharmD, a father-daughter duo, are co-owners of Ernie’s Pharmacy & Wellness Center in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Ernie’s Pharmacy originated in 2008, when at age 65, after enjoying a successful retail pharmacy career, Ernie pursued his lifelong dream of owning a pharmacy. Ernie, a 1969 graduate of Southwestern Oklahoma State University College of Pharmacy in Weatherford, purchased an old McDonald’s building, which was located at an ideal spot and had a drive-thru, and turned it into a pharmacy. Niki, a 2006 graduate of the University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy in Oklahoma City, helped out part time while working as a clinical pharmacist at St. John Medical Center. When Ernie was ready to hire a full-time pharmacist, Niki jumped at the chance. Combining Ernie’s established clientele with Niki’s clinical expertise has become a winning combination.

In addition to medication synchronization and medication therapy management, compounding is a specialty at Ernie’s. By popular demand, the pharmacists compound an old Histex HC (carbinoxamine, hydrocodone, and pseudoephedrine) syrup formula that is no longer available over the counter, and it has become known as “Ernie’s Magic Cough Syrup,” which doctors often request.

Ernie’s also is an accredited durable medical equipment (DME) supplier and has a niche in diabetic shoe fitting. This niche has grown quite a bit since it first started. When Ernie and his wife, Dorothy, were certified, they notified local physicians about the new service. Patients come in for an initial fitting for sizing, the shoes are ordered, and then a final fitting is scheduled. The pharmacy handles physician communication and documentation and has gained many new patients with diabetes as a result of offering this valuable service.

At Ernie’s, the pharmacists believe in coaching their staff members to reach their full potential: 1 technician is also a diabetic shoe fitter, 1 is a DME specialist, and 2 are compounding experts. Ernie’s aims to be a 1-stop shop by focusing on what patients need and growing to accommodate them. To ensure excellent customer service, there are 4 registers in the store and a 2-lane drive-thru.

“It is our mission that everyone is greeted promptly,” Niki said.

When patients enter the store, they are greeted by the smell of fresh popped popcorn. Ernie, a self-proclaimed “popcorn fanatic,” enjoys offering his favorite snack to patients, which they say is the “best in town.” The pharmacy uses a machine to keep fresh popcorn popping all day. Even the drive-thru patients request a bag.

Communication is key for this pharmacy. The pharmacy uses several platforms to reach patients: Facebook (Ernies-Pharmacy-Wellness-Center-117911894888539/), a mobile application (PocketRx), and a website (erniespharmacy.com/). The most “liked” Facebook post was of Ernie himself receiving a flu shot, and Niki is planning to create a “healthy tips” video for the pharmacy’s Facebook page. The staff is also proud when local parents routinely praise Ernie’s Pharmacy on the local Facebook page, Muskogee Now (muskogeenow).

Although social media is important, Niki said that the pharmacy’s commercials are the most successful marketing tool. Through commercials, Ernie’s Pharmacy has reached a broader demographic and branded itself within the community. Local producer Edward Venters works with the pharmacy to help get its message across on television, and the staff members recently produced a fun commercial for the pharmacy’s 10th anniversary, where Ernie showed off his dance moves.

“The cost of local TV commercials is more affordable than you would think,” said Niki, who highly recommends that independent pharmacies look into this method of advertising.

“We have fun making the commercials, and our customers enjoy seeing us on TV,” she said. “The feedback has been incredible.”

Giving back to the community is important to Niki and the employees. They participate in local health fairs where they highlight new products and services, such as lymphedema sleeves for patients with breast cancer. They also hold flu clinics at churches and workplaces.



“Our personal service sets us apart. We practice with compassion,” Niki said.

Going the extra mile is important to the pharmacy’s staff members. They routinely discuss therapeutic alternatives with doctors and help patients search for manufacturer coupons and cost-saving alternatives. One example is of a patient who was unable to afford her insulin, and the pharmacy staff was able to help her enroll in a Medicare D plan. Now the patient is compliant with her medication regimen and reaching her health care goals. It is often helpful to assist diabetic patients to find ways to save money, as insulin is one of the highest-cost items, Niki said.

Also, “Dad’s cell phone number is on the door,” she says. “The accessibility and personal service is a winning combination.”

In Niki’s spare time, she enjoys spending time with her 3 children, as well as tap dancing. Ernie enjoys hosting grandkids and family at his lake house. He also enjoys cooking heart-healthy chili, full of beans and vegetables, that has won awards at Muskogee’s well-known Annual Azalea Festival and Chili Cook Off. Ernie, who is celebrating his 50th year as a pharmacist, plans to travel more, and Niki hopes to fill her dad’s shoes and make sure he fulfills his plans.

“His continued excitement about the profession keeps me motivated,” she said
 
Karen Berger, PharmD, is a pharmacist at an independent pharmacy in northern New Jersey.
 

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