Pharmacists should be involved in all aspects of their business and in various professional groups.
There is more to being an effective pharmacist than dispensing prescriptions and consulting with patients. The independent pharmacist is essentially a business person, as well as a health care provider, and should be good at the former, at least if you plan to continue the latter independently. Most pharmacist training programs are not equipped for the business side of the industry and the education system is not fully aligned with the needs of the retail pharmacy owner.
In addition to caring for patients, a pharmacist who runs a business requires specialized skills and up-to-date credentials. Since the training world doesn’t have many solutions for independents looking to eventually become owner-operators, we need to go over some key tips for the business side of the pharmacy business.
Newcomers to business often forget that their pharmacy can only be as successful as local customers. When opening a practice, the primary goal is to serve patients as an anchor in the local health care system.
Pharmacists must develop a business plan and marketing plan that fits the nature of their environment and speaks to the real needs of the community. Pharmacists should find a nearby wholesaler, establish a good relationship with a local bank, and actively participate in the business community.
Who do you know?
The pharmacy business is a retail business and the retail business is a social business, so networking is very important. In addition to building good relationships with the community as service providers, pharmacists must also build relationships with other operators in medicine and health care, such as physicians, physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, or psychiatrists. Patients need more than medicine, and being able to recommend other professionals – and be recommended by them – has a strong position in the health care ecosystem.
Self-improvement doesn’t stop once one’s business is established, and it’s a great way to keep networking. Pharmacists should be involved in all their business activities related to their college of pharmacy or health care networks and with the various professional groups available. Pharmacists can find a group where women, people of color, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, or any demographic can learn and support each other while building partnerships and improving as professionals.
Never stop improving
Many of the skills a pharmacist needs cannot be part of a school curriculum and must be acquired through experience. For patients, this means learning the ability to adhere to medication instructions and learning to be comfortable visiting the pharmacy to discuss problems. For the business itself, that means understanding spreadsheets, marketing, accounting and public outreach.
A pharmacist must maintain their official education and certification while practicing their profession. It is important to get every possible testimonial after the name. Certification as a pharmacist is essential by taking any necessary refresher or development courses to maintain this status.
Find a Niche
There is nothing stopping a pharmacist from building a unique experience and doing so is a great way to make a mark in one’s community and reach out to those who need specialized help. Different licensing and certifications are available to pharmacists and each professional may have a passion for a specific segment of the population.
There is always a need for specialists in diabetes, oncology, pediatrics – any field of medicine. In many such cases, the specialist’s salary is high and the patient’s needs are many, and sometimes the problems that a specialist can solve are more significant. If so, a good marketing professional can ensure that the pharmacist is targeting the patient pool of their choice.
Pharmacists who understand the business side of their job know that, ideally, they need specialized professionals or contractors to perform operational tasks. Patient care coordinators may work directly with customers on a variety of call types, store managers may help the pharmacy itself look and function as a professional place, and a marketing organization may distribute services through the community.
Arguably the most important employee of all, an accountant helps to balance the books and ensure that the business remains liquid. Accountants are also useful in navigating the tax strategies and processes needed to keep pharmacies profitable.
This knowledge is especially useful for early stage students and pharmacists to start their business, establish ownership and share, and build value. At the very beginning, most pharmacists have no idea that they have to do this.
Carrying out all the necessary tasks to maintain a pharmacy’s growth can be tedious and hiring a specialist for each task is often too expensive. For some pharmacies, the best option may be to hire an outside company to take over part of the business from the owner.
These affiliates handle areas such as finance, legal work, contracts and wholesale negotiations, taking a lot of work off the pharmacist’s plate. They have also developed the technology necessary for a busy pharmacy to thrive in our digital age.
Running a pharmacy is no easy task, even in the challenging world of small business. By getting an early start on key business skills, networking diligently, and knowing how to hire the right people or company for each role, beginning pharmacists can integrate themselves into their environment and become an integral part of the business and healthcare landscape.
About the author
Dalbir Bains is the founder, president and CEO of FGC Health, a Canadian provider of consumer health services and a leader in industry-specific business technologies. He previously built Amenti Healthcare into a network of independent pharmacies, which was eventually sold to a private equity firm.