Mass Merchandisers Offer Career Choices

Pharmacy CareersPharmacy Careers Fall 2011

With the changing landscape of health care, community pharmacists have an opportunity to take on a larger role in improving patients' health. Here is what national retail chains are doing to set up.

Mass merchants account for nearly 10% of the total retail prescriptions filled, according the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, outpacing prescription sales growth for the rest of the retail pharmacy industry. These mass merchants are providing patient services that rival the services offered at drug chains and independent pharmacies—and they offer the pharmacy student an alternative career choice.

Convenience and Cost

Chains such as Kmart are responding to the consumer’s interest in both convenience and affordable cost when it comes to health care. These stores allow consumers to purchase most of their household and health care needs in 1 location, while providing the level of professional pharmacy care they would expect to find at a neighborhood pharmacy.

“We give our pharmacists the opportunity and encouragement to counsel patients and customers, and encourage them to take an ‘ownership’ mentality,” said Howard Kramer, RPh, director of pharmacy human resources and government affairs at Sears Holdings, the parent company of Kmart.

Pharmacists know that Kmart expects them to operate the pharmacy as if they were the owners. “We provide our pharmacists with extensive financial information to help them make the best possible decisions in terms of operational activities,” said Kramer. “Our pharmacists are empowered to take care of patients and improve their lives.”

Kramer noted that every prescription filled is an opportunity to improve outcomes—and improved outcomes are frequently a result of patient counseling. “The nature of our practice setting at Kmart gives us multiple opportunities to work with providers and patients to provide the best possible medication therapy management (MTM),” he said. Kmart’s MTM programs focus on medication adherence, with particular attention paid to diabetic and cardiovascular issues. “Our stores frequently hold diabetic and healthy heart events, with free blood pressure monitoring,” said Kramer.

Investment in Technology

To insure that pharmacists are spending their time with their patients, Kmart has made an investment in pharmacy workflow and automation systems that allows for the balance of workloads. “This balance allows pharmacists to process prescriptions during off peak hours,” explained Kramer. “Our automated system allows patients to call in to refill their prescription and informs them when their prescription will be ready.”

Kramer noted that when a company is focused on the patient, a national retailer with largefootprint stores can still feel like a community pharmacy. “Community pharmacy is one of the best practice types to be able to utilize all of those patient counseling skills students learned and practiced while in pharmacy school,” said Kramer.

Practicing in a national mass merchant chain offers a multitude of advantages over other practice settings. Kmart, for example, operates in 45 states as well as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. Other career paths can include pharmacy management teams, district manager, divisional director, or at the corporate level, operations, human resources, or pharmacy administration.

Giving Locally, Thinking Globally

Another mass merchant offering convenience and economic options for patients is Walmart.

This company provides employment opportunities that are as far-reaching as its brand, while giving patients the level of care they would typically find at a smaller pharmacy. As the world’s largest private employer, Walmart has 2.1 million associates and more than 9700 retail locations worldwide. The company has a philosophy of giving back locally and thinking globally; it supports more than 100,000 charitable and community-focused organizations.

But that doesn’t mean the individual doesn’t count. “Our focus is in the details, so we operate our stores and pharmacies 1 customer at a time, 1 prescription at a time, and 1 pharmacy at a time,” said Walmart spokesperson Christi Davis Gallagher.

Susanne Hiland, PharmD, senior director of health and wellness regulatory affairs in the Health and Wellness Division at Walmart, defines characteristicss about the pharmacy profession that should never change as “trust, quality, compassion, accessibility, and expertise” in a recent Careers “Industry Voices.” Within the walls of this mega-giant mass merchant, it is all about “the trust that our patients place in us… cultivated by many things, including the advice you give, the accuracy and quality of the products you provide, and the care and compassion you display,” noted Dr. Hiland.

Walmart launched the $4 prescription program in 2006, and it has saved Americans more than $3.4 billion on their prescriptions. Since the launch, the program has added certain 90-day prescriptions for $10; popular women’s health medications; and free mail delivery for eligible 90-day prescriptions for $10.

“Time and time again, our pharmacists tell us they are proud to work for a company that is making such a dramatic in its customer’s lives by providing access to affordable prescriptions that many customers might otherwise opt not to purchase,” said Gallagher.

In-store medical clinics also offer affordable and accessible heath care for their communities, and pharmacists work closely with their neighbors to provide the best care. Additional career paths may include various areas of the business—health and wellness, operations, merchandising, information systems, or Walmart. com.

Gallagher offers these words of advice to students: “We encourage pharmacy students and interns to make a list of the things that are the most important to them when looking for a career. If quality of life, excellent benefits, a great working environment, growth and leadership opportunities, flexible scheduling, and appreciative patients are at the top of that list, then Walmart is the place for them.”

Ms. Petersen is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.

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