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Focusing on Pharmacists

A good personality should be part of a pharmacist’s skill set.


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When choosing the right pharmacist, a supermarket’s hiring manager has no margin for error. A pharmacist usually represents an investment of at least $100,000 in annual salary, and he or she must be a people person because public interaction is paramount.

Young pharmacists have dozens of career options, and though community pharmacy is often the most popular, they can enter academia, clinical pharmacy, do regulatory work, become consultants or follow several other paths. The bottom line is supermarket recruiters are not only looking for a well-educated people person, but someone with a specialty that matches the supermarket pharmacy’s clinical objectives and the demographic profile of the community it serves.

“I spoke to a student who is applying to a pharmacy school who has a background in nutrition,” says Dr. Jennifer Adams, a senior advisor of student affairs for the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy in Alexandria, Va. “She is specifically interested in working in a supermarket pharmacy because many of the supermarket chains work with dietitians and nutritionists. They partner with the supermarket’s pharmacy department to provide cooking classes for diabetic patients or different services that work around the health and wellness aspect of nutrition.”

In this case, the supermarket works with a nearby pain-management clinic. Others may serve a community where many elderly residents live. Perhaps the supermarket is in an area heavily populated by a particular minority group or wants to interact with its customers by offering various clinics. Retailers must know what its store objectives are and recruit someone who brings them to fruition. When a store invests more than $100,000 in a pharmacist, it wants a return on that investment, and the ability of the pharmacist to build relationships and foster customer loyalty is one way to do that.

“I’m seeing a lot of growth in terms of patient-care services within the grocery store setting—wellness activities, diabetes management, wellness talks in relation to diet and medication management,” says Dr. Cherokee Layson-Wolf, an associate dean of student affairs at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore. “Places like Kroger and Wegmans—I like to think of them as having manageable volume, and they also do good staffing so that their pharmacists can do things like immunizations and MTMs (medication therapy management).”

Communication is the key, and classes in patient interaction are often part of the pharmacy curriculum. At the University of Maryland-Baltimore, Layson-Wolf notes that actors are used to create patient scenarios so student pharmacists can practice what they are likely to encounter in real life.

Industry observers say that when people hire pharmacists they should hire them in part for their personality. “It is not their knowledge base, per se, it is their skill levels,” says Dr. Nicholas Popovich, an associate dean in the office of professional development at the University of Illinois-Chicago College of Pharmacy. “Do they have good communication skills? Can they make good decisions? Can they problem-solve for the patient? Are they amenable to working with the patient? Are they friendly? Are they available? Are they patient? All of these are very important character traits. If I were hiring somebody for my supermarket, that’s what I’d be looking for in a prospective candidate.”

Students entering pharmacy school today are almost universally trying to earn doctorate degrees, commonly known as the Pharm. D. Some schools require two years of pre-pharmacy education before the candidate can apply to enter a four-year Pharm. D. program. Others allow students to enter their six-year Pharm. D. programs right away, but the first two years are devoted to undergraduate courses.

Last year, U.S. News and World Report ranked the top 100 pharmacy schools in the U.S., and the University of North Carolina’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy was No. 1.

“I believe that one of the most significant things that sets the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy apart is that we encourage our students to innovate,” says the school’s dean, Dr. Robert Blouin. “As a major research university anchoring one corner of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, there are opportunities here that simply don’t exist anywhere else. The environment supports a culture of discovery, innovation and risk-taking that encourages and empowers our students to be agents driving much needed changes in our health-care system to improve patient care.”

While it is clear the interests, specialties and personalities of the pharmacist should play an integral role in hiring decisions, the college the pharmacist attended plays a role as well. 

“Those recruiting retail pharmacists should strongly consider where that candidate received his or her education,” notes Blouin. “Pharmacists are key members of the healthcare team who add value for both their employer and their patients. 

“Studies have demonstrated time and again the additional benefits a pharmacist can bring to the patients who patronize retail pharmacies through innovative services such helping patients manage chronic conditions like asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes. The relationship between pharmacist and patient means better health for the patient and increased customer loyalty for the pharmacy.”     

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