More Than Prescriptions: What Beginning Pharmacists Need to Know About Business

Pharmacists should get involved in all the various aspects of their business and with the different professional groups available.

There’s much more to being a successful pharmacist than handing out prescriptions and consulting with patients. The independent pharmacist especially is a businessperson, as well as a health care provider, and should be good at the former if they plan to keep doing the latter—at least independently. Most pharmacist training programs are ill-equipped for the business aspects of the industry and the education system isn’t totally aligned with the needs of a retail pharmacy owner.

A pharmacist running a business on top of providing care to patients requires a distinctive skillset and up-to-date credentials. Because the training world doesn’t have many solutions for independents who hope to eventually become owner-operators, we should go over some key advice for the business side of the pharmacy career.

Part of the Scene
Newcomers establishing a business often forget that their pharmacy can only be as successful as the local customers allow. When opening a practice, the primary goal is to serve patients as a fixture of the local health care system.

Pharmacists must develop a business plan that suits the character of their neighborhood, and a marketing plan that speaks directly to a tangible community need. Pharmacists must find a nearby wholesaler, get on good terms with a local bank, and participate enthusiastically in the business community.

It’s Who You Know
The pharmacy business is a retail business and retail is a social business, so networking is vital. Beyond establishing a good connection to the community as a service provider, pharmacists must develop links with other operators in medicine and health care, whether with physicians, physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, or psychiatrists. Patients need more than just medicine, and a pharmacist who can recommend other practitioners—and be recommended by them—is in a strong position within the health care ecosystem.

After one’s business is established, self-development never stops and is a great way to keep networking. Pharmacists should get involved in all the various aspects of their business and with the different professional groups available, whether associated with their college of pharmacy or the health care networks. Pharmacists who are women, people of color, LGBTQ+, disabled, or any demographic can find a peer group to learn from and support each other, building solidarity and improving as professionals.

Never Stop Improving
Many of the skills a pharmacist needs cannot even be part of a school curriculum and must be gained through experience. For patients, that means learning the knack of keeping them adherent to medication regimens and comfortable visiting the pharmacy to discuss concerns. For the business itself, it means understanding spreadsheets, marketing, bookkeeping, and public outreach.

While managing their business, a pharmacist should continue their official education and certification process. It is important to have all of the credentials possible after one’s name. Especially vital is the certification to prescribe as a pharmacist by taking any necessary refresher or development courses to maintain that status.

Find a Niche
Nothing is stopping a pharmacist from building a specialized practice and doing so is a great way to make a mark in one’s community and reach beyond to those who require specialty help. Different levels of licensing and credentials are available to pharmacists and each practitioner may have a passion for one particular subset of the population.

There’s always demand for specialists, whether for diabetic care, oncology, pediatrics—any field of medicine. In many such cases, specialist wages are higher and patient needs are greater, and sometimes the problems a dedicated expert can solve are more significant. In that case, a good marketing professional can ensure the pharmacist is targeting their chosen patient pool.

Delegate
Pharmacists who understand the business aspect of their career know that ideally, they need specialized staff or contractors to handle operating functions. Patient care coordinators can work directly with customers on many different call types, while store managers keep the pharmacy itself looking and functioning like a professional space, and a marketing firm can spread word of available services through the community.

Arguably the most important employee of all, an accountant helps to balance the books and make sure the business stays solvent. Accountants are also useful for navigating the tax strategies and procedures required to keep a pharmacy prosperous.

This expertise is especially useful for students and pharmacists in the early stages of their career to launch their business, establish ownership and stakes, and build value. Yet early on is exactly when most pharmacists have no idea they should be doing this.

Get Help
Performing all the necessary work to keep a pharmacy thriving can be exhausting and hiring a different specialist for every task is often prohibitively expensive. For some pharmacies, the best option may be to hire an outside company to take part of the pressure of business operations off the owner.

These partner organizations handle areas such as financing, legal work, contracts, and wholesale negotiations, removing much of the busywork off the pharmacist’s plate. They also set up the technology necessary for a busy pharmacy to thrive in our digital age.

Running a pharmacy is no easy feat, even for the challenging world of small business. By getting an early start on key business skills, diligently networking, and knowing how to hire the right people or company for each task, fledgling pharmacists can integrate themselves in their locations and become an indispensable part of the business and health care landscape.

About the Author

Dalbir Bains is founder, president and CEO of FGC Health, a leading provider of consumer health services in Canada as well as industry-specific business technologies. He previously founded and developed Amenity Health Care into a substantial network of independent pharmacies, which was ultimately sold to a private equity firm.