Ms. Farley is a freelance medical writer based in Wakefield, Rhode Island.
Graduation brings myriad career opportunitiesfor today's pharmacists. Employers from a widevariety of companies all agree that the latest group of pharmacygraduates is the best and brightest they have encountered,and they are hoping to find among these graduatesforward-thinking pharmacists looking to educate patientsand move the profession forward. From the job seeker'sperspective, establishing a career at a secure and stablecompany in an uncertain economy is often a priority. Togive these new pharmacists an idea of the professional landscape,recruiting professionals at some of the country's topretail pharmacy chains—CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens—discuss job opportunities and expectations.
CVS, headquartered in northern Rhode Island, recentlymerged with Caremark as well as completing a buyout ofLong's drug stores, expanding its reach to 6800 stores acrossthe country. Papatya Tankut, vice president of pharmacyprofessional services, says that this merger and acquisitionwill allow pharmacists to better leverage their expertisein pharmacy while continuing to providecommunity pharmacy experience and directpatient care. The Caremark merger in particularallows pharmacists to explore careersoutside retail pharmacy with its comprehensivemail-order service. Besides the retail andmail-order avenues, pharmacists can also pursuecorporate careers at CVS. Whether theirinterests lie in government affairs, regulatorycompliance, marketing, or clinical journal writing,there is an opportunity for them at CVS. Tankut doesstress the importance, however, of understanding pharmacyand the business aspect first: a solid foundation established"on the bench" in one of the many CVS stores across thecountry. "From there," she says, "you can do anything."
"You can begin in retail pharmacies, and as your lifechanges, you might want to do something different,"explained Tankut. "You can do that here at CVS withoutchanging companies. Some people are content to be staffpharmacists for their entire careers, and that is just fine.Others are not, and there are ways to expose them toother skill sets. If they are interested in regulatory affairs,they can attend certain meetings. Some people have a passionfor it—they have an affinity for it."
Once a pharmacist moves to a new position, he or shewill receive the proper training for it. Tankut says it is amatter of being able to identify what one's interests are."Nowhere else provides this many opportunities underone umbrella."
Beyond the compensation and benefits package thatis comparable to its competitors, CVS offers professionaldevelopment withprograms such as EmergingLeaders, which trainspharmacists at practicesites. CVS also encouragespharmacy students to bepreceptors to teach futurepharmacists.
As for ideal candidates,"We are looking for someonewith the passion totake care of patients andthe passion for service,"says Tankut. "We wantsomeone who is going toplay a key role on thehealth care delivery team,someone who can make adifference."
Top retailer Rite Aid is also looking to recruit the bestand most forward-thinking among the new pharmacists.Michele Belsey, vice president of college and professionalrecruitment at Rite Aid, notes, "If [pharmacists] are interestedin being a community practitioner, then we are theideal match. We are in 31 states, and we are the largest onthe East Coast."
Rite Aid pharmacists are working at a good operatingvolume with a variety of locations, so pharmacists canwork close to home. Belsey points out the competitivepay: "We are neck and neck with our competitors withour benefits package. Our 401(k) plan is the best in thebusiness, and we have the best match. We offer benefitsfor part-time interns through our group health discount.Our benefits are low-cost, and we offer pet insurance,mortgage insurance, and discounts on cars and cellphones. Our benefits package is excellent."
Once on board, a career path can start as a staff pharmacist,working up to pharmacy manager. After workingas a pharmacy manager, opportunities are available inother fill positions or in corporate.Much like CVS, before making the transition to corporateat Rite Aid, it is vital to take care of the store andpatients first. Belsey advises, "You have to develop a tight-knitrelationship with your physicians and emergencydepartments [EDs]. It is about performing in your ownpharmacy. Be a resource for other pharmacists."
She adds, "There are 10,000 graduates from pharmacyschool every year, and they are all very talented. RiteAid is looking for people who will develop programs, bepioneers, and show initiative." She points to the clinicalcenters and services that did not exist 3 years ago butare flourishing now in part due to the forward thinkingof ambitious pharmacists. "These are the people we arelooking to hire."
"We are looking for students who have worked onspecial projects, developed certain programs, and areinvolved in their communities—especially for our premierlocations. We want people who are interested inbuilding bridges and building initiatives. You can be apharmacist and walk in and fill scripts and go home. Or,you can build bridges with physicians, go to EDs andintroduce yourself; go to community centers and talkabout the Rx savings card. Sell the business. Up-and-comers—that is who we are looking for," she continued.
Amanda Bidlencik, Walgreens' manager of pharmacyrelations for recruitment and diversity services, agreesthat what makes a pharmacist successful is dedication tothe profession and the motivation to continually improvepatient care, which means focusing on improving healthoutcomes.
To achieve this, Bidlencik says pharmacists need excellentcommunication skills. This applies to the many Walgreenspharmacists who work on the "front lines" with the patients,answering questions and providing clinical services. Sheadds that a Walgreens pharmacist needs to be a team playerwho enjoys working with other health care providers in ateam setting. Other ways a pharmacist can improve healthoutcomes, she says, are the ability to multitask, possessinggood organizational skills, and being detail-oriented.Personally, notes Bidlencik, successful pharmacists need tohave "high integrity to ensure our patients receive the highestlevel of care in our pharmacies." A positive attitude anddemonstrated leadership skills will be an asset to the candidate,she adds.
For more information, please visit the following Web sites:
Rite Aid: www.riteaid.com
What makes Walgreens an attractive option for pharmacistsis its stability, according to Bidlencik. "Walgreenshas been in the pharmacy business for over 107 years. Weemploy over 24,000 pharmacists nationwide in a varietyof pharmacy settings, including community, home care,long-term care, specialty pharmacy, [pharmacy benefitsmanagement], mail order, management, and clinics.Because Walgreens offers many diverse practice settings,pharmacists have an opportunity to work in any worksetting they desire. In all of these practice settings, ourindustry-leading technology maximizes our pharmacists'time with patients." To assist pharmacists in meeting professionalinterests and goals, Walgreens offers customizedtraining, continuing education, and developmentalopportunities.
What pharmacists can expect from Walgreens are competitivesalaries, incentives, and comprehensive medical,dental, and vision benefits. Bidlencik comments, "Walgreens'financial benefits exceed our competition, in thatwe offer a variety of options, including profit sharing, astock option plan, and an employee stock purchase programthat pharmacists can invest their money in to reachtheir financial goals."
For the most part, recruiters agree on the qualities ofa good pharmacist: passion for the profession, leadershipskills, and, most certainly, good communication skills.Expecting a high level of service plus the enthusiasm tolearn and grow one's skills and one's business is the normfor these top chains, and it is what has made them successful.What these companies have to offer in return—compensation, benefits, locations, work schedules—willdiffer slightly and in important ways for each job-seekingpharmacist. It is important to learn which company is thebest match.