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This article is a part of a series of The Ultimate Guide to Pharmacy Career Opportunities, which has 48 other pharmacy career paths.
Summary - Pharmacists in Independent Community Pharmacies
Does being an entrepreneurial thinker sound good? Or not having to deal with corporate red tape? If that piqued your interest, then community pharmacy would be of interest. When community pharmacy is brought up it is often related to non-chain retail pharmacies. And while this article will focus on retail, this field often crosses with long term care pharmacy ownership as well. Independent pharmacy is a term that much better describes this field. The American Pharmacist Association says that there are typically two roles that a pharmacist can take on in an independent store: owner and staff pharmacist.
- Owner - owning a pharmacy can be a risk, but also provide a great reward. Owners typically take on the role of manager as well. Some common responsibilities of the Pharmacy Owner are implementing your style into the pharmacy and running the daily operations. Entrepreneurial skills are handy if ownership is an interest1.
- Staff Pharmacist - these pharmacist’s often report directly to the owner. One of the Staff Pharmacists will most likely be the Assistant Manager. While duties change from store to store, overseeing technicians, MTM services, and patient services such as vaccinations and counseling are all consistent among the Staff Pharmacist role1.
Responsibilities of an Independent Community Pharmacist
Secondary to pharmaceutical knowledge, the ability to skillfully communicate with a variety of populations can separate a good pharmacist from a great pharmacist. A pharmacist has to communicate their recommendations in a succinct and professional fashion to a prescriber and will have to turn around and translate that same message to a patient who may have a 7th grade reading level. Good communication skills will lead to positive relationships with your patient/prescriber community which will in turn hopefully result in them accepting your recommendations.
Another indicator of success would be the servant leader mindset. Communicators who are also servant leaders will understand that communication also includes listening. A patient will much more likely follow a recommendation if they feel as if they have been heard. A technician will feel more engaged if their leaders use their opportunities to serve others. And a community will respect a pharmacist who is seen caring about its members.
Lastly, an entrepreneurial mind is needed to succeed. Because an independent pharmacy is independent of the bureaucracy of corporate giants, a pharmacist is free to pitch, develop, and implement ideas much more easily than at a corporate pharmacy. However, one would have to be able to see where a need is, figure out how the pharmacy can fulfill the need, market the solution, and execute a plan to fruition.
These stores rely on patient adherence and effective communication maximizes adherence. Independent retail pharmacies often offer enhanced services that corporate retail pharmacies may not offer (or execute as well). These services may include:
- Smoking cessation
- Medication Synchronization
- Adherence Packaging
- Prescription Delivery/Shipping
- Medication Disposal
- Diabetes education
- MTM services
- Veterinary compounding
Dr. Johnathan Hamrick, an independent pharmacist turned academician described his daily routine while working at Poole’s Pharmacy. After opening, he would check the prescription orders that came in overnight. Afterwards the techs would fulfill the prescription orders while he would fulfill orders for compounded prescriptions before it got busy. As the pharmacist he would verify prescriptions, but a lot of times he was inputting and processing prescriptions and talking on the phone. The techs were responsible for filling the prescription orders. While the tech was filling, he would be counseling the patient. Because of the nature of working in a small business, he would need to wear many hats and do just about anything that needed to be done for the store, which is not limited to strictly pharmacist duties.
Requirements of a Independent Community Pharmacist
As with all of pharmacy, having a Bachelor of Pharmacy or a PharmD is required to be a licensed pharmacist. The PharmD has been the entry level degree for pharmacists since 2000, prior to which students had the option of graduating with a Bachelors in Pharmacy. Pharmacists must also be licensed in the state that they are going to practice in. Licensure requirements vary with each state and the state's Board of Pharmacy is the best place to find the requirements.
Salary of an Independent Community Pharmacist
According to https://www.salary.com the average salary of a Retail Pharmacist is $146,445 and the average range can be anywhere from $139,665-$153,2202. Salaries vary based on a number of reasons. These can be company, location, experience, certifications, and numerous others. Retail pharmacists’ salaries are on the upper end of pharmacy salaries. Salaries are trending down for newly licensed pharmacists due to the large influx of new workers.
Pros and Cons of Being an Independent Community Pharmacist
Working in an independent pharmacy is a great opportunity to get directly involved with your communities’ patients. Oftentimes patients are very loyal to their local pharmacy, and experiencing that loyalty is very fulfilling as a community pharmacist. Very rarely will there be massive corporate changes to deal with. Independent pharmacists also love how they are very close with other independent pharmacists. Pharmacy is a small world, and independent pharmacy is even a smaller world, and successful pharmacists can benefit greatly from these close relationships. Independent pharmacies experience different problems to solve every day. Creative and innovative minds excel in this field. No patient is the exact same as the last and if you like finding new ways to solve problems, free from the constraints of corporate structure, then independent community pharmacy is a great option.
As promising as community sounds, it is not without cons. The top of mind threat to all independent community pharmacies is the squeeze in reimbursements that they have experienced from pharmacy benefit managers, better known as PBMs. Decreased reimbursements and retroactive clawbacks of those reimbursements have forced many pharmacies that relied too heavily on traditional dispensing out of business. Independent pharmacies have to be vigilant in managing an efficient business, and be on the lookout for new ways to grow revenue not dependent on insurance reimbursements because the margins are shrinking more and more. An independent pharmacist will always be fighting these major corporations for the opportunity to serve their patients in a sustainable manner. Another major con for newly licensed pharmacists is companies know about the saturation of pharmacists and are taking advantage of it and paying very low starting salaries. Some new hires are reporting getting hired for wages as low as $80k a year in chain companies3. As such it is very competitive to get away from these companies, and only top candidates are getting hired.
Dr. Hamrick’s favorite part about working in independent pharmacy was developing relationships with the patients. Local pharmacy leads to more personable relationships with the patients. Patients would come in expecting the pharmacist to help solve their own problems and it is very rewarding to be that person. The hours at an independent are much better as well. Twelve hour workdays are few and far between and this is an immense pro to working in a small business.
How to Stand Out as a Job Candidate in an Independent Community Pharmacy
Job listings commonly want an applicant to be strong in customer service, multitasking, adapting to changes in demand and workflow, and to be able to make sound judgement in stressful situations.
Gaining experience by interning at an independent community pharmacy while taking classes will set students apart from the competition as well. Working in a pharmacy while going through school also helps reinforce ideas learned in classes and students who do not work will be behind the game for the workforce.
Being actively involved in leadership throughout school is essential as well. Finding an organization to get involved in and taking a leadership role is a must in today's job market. For community pharmacy an organization such as the National Community Pharmacy Association (NCPA) would be of particular interest. Each school's chapter will have leadership roles to take on but taking on a role alone does not show anything. Prospective pharmacists should be able to talk about what they did in their role and how they bettered the organization. Ultimately, fair or not, obtaining a job at an independent community pharmacy can boil down to simply who you know, which is why it is increasingly important to network with other pharmacists in your field of choice and make your goals known. Independent community pharmacies may not always post public job openings for pharmacists and simply just consult their peers in order to find good candidates.
Prepared by: Joe, PharmD Candidate
Special Thanks to Joe, Dr. Johnathan Hamrick, PharmD, Sam An, PharmD, and Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex is the Founder of The Happy PharmD. He loves anime, his family, and video games, but not in that order.