Supermarkets: Meeting Challenges Beyond the Counter

Pharmacy CareersPharmacy Careers Fall 2014

At the supermarket, pharmacists are not limited to behind-the-counter posts. They can instead find a wealth of opportunities outside of their normal practice areas—and it is clear that patients are responding.

A J.D. Power 2014 US pharmacy study found supermarket pharmacies received better marks on customer satisfaction than chains or mass-market merchandisers, receiving 843 points on a 1000-point scale. Supermarkets that dominated the survey’s customer satisfaction rankings for the segment include Giant, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Kroger, Publix, and Wegmans.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, supermarkets employed 8% of pharmacists in 2012, behind only hospitals, which employed 23% of pharmacists, and pharmacies and drug stores, which employed 43% of pharmacists. Its May 2013 report on Occupational Employment and Wages reported an hourly average wage of $53.99 an hour and an annual average wage of $112, 310.

Going Beyond the Counter

At Stop and Shop pharmacies, pharmacists are encouraged to host diabetes care events within the store and to partner with in-house nutritionists, as well as conduct off-site clinics and speak at local senior citizens centers and local schools, Gregg Jones, director of marketing and clinical programs at Ahold USA Pharmacy, said.

“Besides standard pharmacy care, supermarket pharmacists must have an in-depth knowledge of over-the-counter medications carried in store and understand basic nutrition principles,” Jones said. “Supermarket pharmacists can often call upon the nutrition expertise available from in-store nutritionists and how it can be used to improve the overall health of our patients.”

Additional opportunities include corporate management, compliance, procurement, category management, pharmacy systems, and pharmacy supervision, Jones added.

At Price Chopper Supermarkets, going beyond the counter is particularly important for any health and wellness initiatives, Kathy Bryant, RPh, MS, vice president of pharmacy at Price Chopper Supermarkets, said.

“In the supermarket setting, patients typically visit us 2 to 3 times a week, which expands the opportunities for pharmacist interactions,” Bryant said. “Supermarket pharmacists interact with patients in a variety of ways, including counseling on medication, providing OTC recommendations, answering nutrition questions, and providing immunization recommendations.

“We also identify other departments in the store that can be good collaborative partners, such as seafood or product for our Health Heart promotion,” Bryant added.

Pharmacists also can branch into positions in pharmacy administration or pharmacy operations at Price Chopper, although each company has opportunities in different areas, Bryant noted. Price Chopper’s opportunities include becoming a pharmacy specialist, clinical coordinator, category manger, business development coordinator, and pharmacy analytics coordinator.

“For an operations position, leadership experience is encouraged,” Bryant said. “[For] positions such as pharmacy manager, having an MBA or Masters in Pharmacy Administration could be helpful. For a clinical coordinator position, student pharmacists are encouraged to pursue residency opportunities.”

Turning Challenges into Business Opportunities

The unique setting in which supermarket pharmacists practice offers a host of challenges. Viewing the challenges through the lens of a larger business model, coupled with non-traditional strategies, can be key to overcoming them.

“Supermarket pharmacists are just one department in a large business,” Jones said. “Educating store employees and customers on your medication expertise and understanding how our team can add to the overall shopping experience requires non-traditional approaches to pharmacy practice.”

Jones recommends focusing on a single area and flawlessly executing initiatives in that area. That can lead to new practice opportunities within the supermarket, he said.

Being a bit of a salesman can help as well.

“Salesmanship and taking ownership of your pharmacy department raises your expertise in a large setting,” Jones said.

The changing nature of health care, particularly as it applies to pharmacy, can be a challenge as well, Bryant said. Up-to-date knowledge and the ability to recognize collaborative opportunities that benefit patients can help the supermarket pharmacist meet these challenges.

“Some of the biggest challenges include staying informed about new medication and new clinical opportunities,” Bryant said. “With the expanding scope of pharmacy services, we are being sought out by other community health care providers to assist with achieving star ratings. Pharmacists can stay up to date by reviewing pharmacy resources and participating in local or national pharmacy groups.”

Extending MTM Services

Price Chopper Supermarket’s pharmacists actively identify the patients who could benefit from its medication therapy management (MTM) and immunization services. The pharmacists offer both targeted and comprehensive MTM services and contact patients either when they are in the pharmacy or over the telephone, Bryant said.

Pharmacists also offer comprehensive medication review services in Price Chopper’s private consultation rooms, she added.

At Stop and Shop pharmacies, MTM practices give pharmacists an opportunity to document the services they already provide, Jones said. The comprehensive medication review services offered by Stop and Shop pharmacists allow them to showcase their knowledge while ensuring their patients are taking medications correctly and avoiding duplicate therapy.

Secrets to Supermarket Success

Communication skills play a large part in the supermarket pharmacist’s success, Jones said. Supermarket pharmacists blend their pharmacy and medication expertise with the unique questions posed by their patients.

“Requesting a clinical rotation in a supermarket would be the best approach for honing needed skills,” Jones said. “Supermarket employees and customers need to develop a trusting relationship with their pharmacist and then understand the amount of medication-specific education that our supermarket pharmacists possess.”

As with many branches of pharmacy, embracing and advocating change is another secret to success, Bryant and Jones agree.

“We feel that this is important because the landscape of pharmacy is changing and evolving rapidly, and the pharmacist that is ready to evolve will be successful,” Bryant said. “Students who are proactive and involved will rise above their peers.”

“Students need to have an open mind and constantly challenge the current status quo of practicing pharmacy in the retail setting,” Jones said. “Offering to assist in new projects can often raise the reputation of the student as someone who should be considered for additional responsibilities.”

The most important component to career success involves cultivating a particular practice area that is professionally gratifying, Jones added.

“Creating a niche that you enjoy doing is often the largest factor in job satisfaction,” Jones said. “Putting 100% effort behind every assigned task, and providing feedback that improves the profession of pharmacy is quickly recognized.”

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