Behind the Bench: Inside Kmart's Pharmacy Service
Ms. Farley is a freelance medical writer based in Wakefield, Rhode Island.
In eighth grade, Howard Kramer won $25for writing an essay about a chosen profession: pharmacist.At age 15, Kramer went on to work in pharmacy,working nights and weekends through high school andcollege. After pharmacy school, he worked for an independentand then a chain. In 1974, Kmart opened a storein Virginia that offered a pharmacy service. It was therethat Kramer took a job as pharmacy manager. Within afew months, Kmart opened many more new stores, andKramer became district manager and was later promotedto buyer at Kmart's headquarters in Troy, Michigan. Atthe time, there was no human resources department forthe pharmacy portion of Kmart, and, in 1991, Kramer wasasked to fill that void. With 34years as a pharmacist for Kmartunder his belt, Kramer has a lotof insight for new grads interestedin working for a mass merchandiser.
First and foremost, says Kramer,Kmart encourages its pharmaciststo get to know their patientsand establish a personal relationship."That is a nonnegotiable,"he says. "We have pharmacistswho know their patients by nameand call them, send birthday andget-well cards. That is the kind ofenvironment we like."
A certain tone is set because thepharmacy management team isrun by registered pharmacists, not retailers. In fact, Kmartrelies on 4 advisory boards to help guide decision makingfor its pharmacy service. "These boards are made up ofpeople who are in the trenches and behind the benchesevery day. They take advice from people who know thebusiness and their patients."
Kramer adds, "We are always on the lookout for thetalented people who have the skills to be on these boards.We need to identify the ability and the inclination. It isquite an honor to be selected out of the 2500 pharmacistsin our employ."
The most critical traits for a Kmart pharmacist are theability and desire to communicate, not just with thecustomers, but third-party managers, physicians, districtmanagers, etc. "New hires must have a passion to providegreat communication," says Kramer. "They must finda way to say yes. That is something that differentiatesKmart from the rest—we try to make things happen."
From a corporate sense, Kmart wants to put the patientand customer first. The goal is to provide the best possiblecare by analyzing the patients' needsand finding out how to serve thembest. Kramer says that most patientsare looking for pharmacists they cantrust. Patients should feel comfortablereferring to Kmart pharmacistsas "my pharmacist" the same waythey would refer to their physicianas "my doctor," says Kramer. "Wewant to establish that high level oftrust."
TURNING KMART PHARMACY INTO A CAREER
A career path in Kmart pharmacy,depending on experience, usuallybegins as a staff pharmacist or pharmacymanager. The company thenidentifies high-potential pharmacistsand places them in a floater position where they can learnmore and help the pharmacy district manager (PDM) byacting as the eyes and ears in a traveling, troubleshootingrole. This floating position is preparation for the PDMposition, offering invaluable on-the-job training. Afterworking as a PDM, pharmacists can then advance topharmacy divisional director or the unlimited opportunitiesin Kmart's corporate offices.
With an attractive benefits program, establishing acareer at Kmart is an appealing option. The compensationand the health care plan are competitive; the pharmaciesare closed on 7 major holidays; and there are flexiblework schedules and a generous 401(k) match.
Kramer points out that Kmart operates in 47 states plusthe Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. "That is a lot of opportunityand flexibility. We have a pharmacist who works inone part of the country for part of the year and anotherlocation for the other part of the year. We do our best tosupport pharmacists if they want to change locations."
Pharmacists coming out of pharmacy school today arebrighter and more mature and more engaged than everbefore, says Kramer. "They should know this is a greatprofession with boundless opportunities. All pharmacistshave choices to make upon graduation. Whether or notthey end up at Kmart, we would like them to focus ondriving the profession forward and taking their practiceforward."