Expert: Pharmacists Should Be Using a Holistic Approach for Women’s Health


There is lots of information about matters of women's health online, both true and untrue, but pharmacists remain a credible source for educating women about health matters.

Summer Williams Kerley, vice president of Clinical and Market Access Solutions at Rite Aid Corporation, joined Pharmacy Times at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) Total Store Expo in San Diego to discuss how far the discussion about women’s health has come. Kerly offers insight and advice about how wellness is important for customers, as well as female retailers in pharmacy, and the blooming focus of mental health care in the pharmacy space.

Image Credit: Adobe Stock - nataliaderiabina

Image Credit: Adobe Stock - nataliaderiabina

PT Staff: Why might some consider discourse about female-specific conditions (i.e., Menopause, maternity, gynecologic health) to be taboo?

Summer Williams Kerley: I wouldn’t say it's taboo. I think if you would have asked me this question 5 years ago, 10 years ago, I probably have a different response. But I've seen changes through the years and people are more comfortable to speak about women's health. And there's so much education now available, it makes it a little bit easier. But it's because certain topics may be uncomfortable to someone. So, when it's someone in their 20s or 30s and having to talk about fertility, or as they're aging and then they need to ask questions about menopause, it’s the not being comfortable talking about it. Well, I think with the profession of pharmacy, over 50% of pharmacists are females. And it should make it easier for women to go into pharmacies and speak to their pharmacists about their health conditions.

PT Staff: How does the discourse about female related issues manifest in the market/research setting; how might it impact a patient’s beliefs about these topics?

Summer Williams Kerley: I go back to there's so much information now, whether you get it via the web [or] whether you get it via social media, and that's good that the information is out there because it's really important that, as someone's on their health care journey and as females are aging, they have a reliable source of information to go to. So, I think that (probably) the bigger issue is ensuring that we're out there receiving reliable information because there's just so much out there. And unfortunately, if they get information that's not true, it can either cause them to get the wrong type of treatment or not even get treatment at all. So one of the things that I've really focused on at Rite Aid is ensuring that we're educating our pharmacists and our customers on different focused conditions that impact women. And in doing so making sure they get that reliable information that that is true and credible.

PT Staff: With a 20+ year long career in clinical pharmacy, what social changes have you observed for women and wellness?

Summer Williams Kerley: I'm very excited about the social changes in the sense of yes, it's easy. When someone comes in to talk about diet it's easy to talk about exercise and how that's impacting their health, but I think that the changes that I've seen through the years as being a pharmacist is about having that holistic care. So now it's just important to focus on mental health, ensuring that someone's sleeping well [or] doing things from a social perspective that's making themselves happy. So it's health and wellness that goes back to ensuring that holistic approach for that individual.

PT Staff: How do you see mental health influencing future pharmacy practice?

Summer Williams Kerley: I do. I think there's a big role when it comes to pharmacists and mental health. First and foremost, simple things of just talking to customers about their mental health. Again, it can be an uncomfortable situation, but making the customer comfortable talking about things regarding anxiety, depression, and ensuring that they have the information that they need to either seek additional care. Or is it like self-help, the things that they can do? So, for the person suffering from anxiety, do they know like about meditation, about the phone apps that are available to help with that?

PT Staff: How can scientific/academic communities, even pharmacy entrepreneurs, encourage female inclusivity?

Summer Williams Kerley: I think it's important to realize everyone is different. Everyone's body is different, how their body reacts to things is different. And it's really about ensuring that regardless of where a person is on their health care journey, that it is individualized for them, [which] can be really difficult. But I think that it’s really, from marketing to entrepreneurs that are offering new services and product, think[ing] about the individualized approach versus just more of a 1 size fits all.

It really goes back to that holistic approach, right? One person may be completely understanding food and nutrition, but they may not do well with other self-help type things. Like I said, whether they need meditation, yoga, it's on the flip, it could be completely reverse. So it's really (for pharmacists) talking to their customers and understanding what their needs are.

PT Staff: How would you encourage female pharmacists to care for themselves?

Summer Williams Kerley: Well, it depends on which part of the pharmacy industry they're in. I've worked in retail my entire career. I worked in a pharmacy for 11 years so I know it's really easy to not be eating properly if you're doing a long shift. I know it's easy not to get exercise. Yeah. And I know like there's demands, the daily demands and pressures of it. You're not always thinking about that mental health that mental well-being and really finding an outlet for yourself to ensure that that like you can walk away from these daily pressures.

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