All Things Pharmacy

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A blog series presented by Nancy Fjortoft, Ph.D., Dean, Chicago College of Pharmacy

Nancy FjortoftOur CCP alumni have gone on to pursue many different areas of pharmacy practice since graduating from Midwestern University. Each week in the month of October, one of our alumni will share with you their pharmacy school experiences that helped to prepare them for their careers today.

To learn about other career paths in pharmacy from many additional CCP alumni, please visit the CareerQuest Blackboard site, go to the "Careers/Full-time Jobs" folder, and select "CCP Alumni Career Insights."

2016 Q & A Blogs:

Dr. Paul Setlak, Associate Director - Outcomes Solutions, Astellas Pharma
Kevin Murphy, Pharmacy Supervisor, CVS Health
Dr. Chara Reid-Reed, Pharmacist in Charge - Speciality Pharmacy, DuPage Medical Group
Dr. Sara Giaimo, Regional Medical Science Liaison, Sanofi

2015 Q & A Blogs:
Dr. Charles J. Turck, CEO, Medical Writer, Entrepreneur
Jenney Hendon, Market Health and Wellness Director, Walmart
Dr. Cynthia Kozic, Clinical Supply Program Manager, Takeda Pharmaceuticals
Dr. Saurabh Bagai, Clinical Pharmacist, Pharmacy Solutions (an Abbvie Company)

Paul Setlak, Pharm.D.setlak
Associate Director, Outcomes Solutions
CCP Class of 2006

In this role at Astellas Pharma, what do you do?
In my role in the Outcomes Solutions group, I assess the spectrum of barriers and pressure points that various stakeholders encounter in the healthcare system. Healthcare is no longer episodic. It's a continuum of care. So I speak with various stakeholders and decision makers to understand their unique barriers in seeking good outcomes and clinical engagement for patients, in addition to their own health system they're part of. I identify, or map, who are all the individuals the patient needs to talk to, and vice versa: who are all the stakeholders that need to reach out to patients. When this framework is mapped in the patient continuum, and I assess these identified engagement issues, I determine what are tools and resources we can develop to relieve barriers, or what tools do we already have that they can implement?

Tools and resources can include speaker programs, training initiatives, pathway programs, engagement tools and even apps on smart phones and tablets, etc. Every stakeholder has different needs---there is no such thing as a template healthcare system. I help to create tools and resources in a very strategic role. Individual health networks (IHNs) and individual delivery networks (IDNs) are who I typically work with. My challenge is to develop tools and resources that address needs of a certain geographic region, but which may also be applicable to other locales and on a larger scale.

For instance, there is one problematic issue within the continuum of care I am leading a project now to address, which is a transitions-of-care toolkit. This came about from conversations I had with a number of institutions. The system as it relates to transitions of care right now is very fragmented not only within health systems, but across state lines and regions. All institutions have varying degrees of difficulties with transitions of care and so that's why I am developing a toolkit that can be used nationally, but also tailored to the individual patient, provider, etc.

What do you enjoy most?
There is never a dull moment because there is no typical week or typical day. Within my strategic work there is always something new or something changing. Every customer is completely different. Laws and legislation constantly change, so I need to always understand the latest from a broad perspective, in addition to pharmacy, managed care, clinical engagement, physicians, quality measures, etc.

In addition to earning your PharmD, did you do any post-graduate training?
Yes, I was fortunate to obtain my MBA while at a previous company that had tuition reimbursement as a benefit, similar to what most pharma companies offer. I completed my MBA with a focus on healthcare management at Loyola University here in Chicago. What I got out of it was not just the classroom material, but more so intangibles like networking and fine-tuning project and time management skills. A high percentage of students in my classes were healthcare workers, physicians, pharmacists, all of whom felt they needed business and management acumen. You start in pharmacy, but that's not the end of it. It's just the fundamentals, we still need project management skills, etc. After graduation is when the real education starts in the real world.

Tell us about your interests in extra-curricular activities at CCP.
I was involved in a number of them, but ASHP was my priority because I had a deep interest in direct patient care. ASHP understood how pharmacy and healthcare was changing. Health economics, outcomes research, quality measures, patient engagement, they were one of the first to talk about these, which are now huge topics. They understood at that time how the environment was changing.

Did any elective courses play any key role in your eventual career path?
Yes, I took a few infectious disease (ID) and oncology courses, which I really enjoyed. I have covered all therapeutic areas in all the companies I've worked at, but ID and oncology have been my focus. My elective in Healthcare Management also teased me into thinking hard about completing the MBA.

How would you describe the process by which you arrived at your current pharmacy position? Did you know for a long time that this is what you wanted to do? Or did you have different ideas early on and that changed over time?
I think one of the difficulties with non-traditional pharma careers is that they are less known. The traditional sales model that pharma companies employed with their sales reps and others has dramatically been changing because companies and physicians need people that can talk to them about value in healthcare, quality measures, and patient outcomes and not just primary product information that for example, you can find in a package insert. I started in an entry level role at Abbott during which I networked and came across market access and outcomes solutions colleagues, which aligned with areas that I developed a keen interest in. Finding these areas or a "niche" you can develop a deep interest in is based on exploration and networking. So many of these roles are less understood until you know someone in those roles or work in a company and come across them.

When you look back on your time at CCP, what stands out? Or what wisdom did you take with you?
Wisdom of how small healthcare is. How much value faculty and preceptors can give you outside of PowerPoint slide decks, textbooks, handouts, etc. CCP isn't a massive school where you are just a number. You can talk with faculty one-on-one. Take advantage of the small teacher-to-student ratio. There is a multitude of experience in talking with them. That's what will help you find your niche in the pharmacy world.

What advice would you give to pharmacy students?
Keep your minds open to new and interesting opportunities. There is not just one role as a pharmacist. I've explored in a lot of different channels, and there are so many more, plus a multitude of ways that pharmacists are utilized globally.

Be aware of what's happening internationally, and put healthcare in the perspective of the global arena. Now it's not just about taking care of patients. You're also trying to work with the system in place. In the US or out of the US, companies change, laws change. You need to be culturally and legally aware, and how that may impact you as a healthcare professional. Knowledge and awareness will make you a much more integrated healthcare provider.

Kevin Murphy, R.Ph.murphy
Pharmacy Supervisor
Class of 1996

In this role at CVS, what do you do?
In my role as a Pharmacy supervisor I am responsible for all aspects of 20 CVS pharmacies in Chicago's downtown area. Included in this is role are the following:

•  The hiring, training and development of our pharmacists and interns
•  The staffing of our pharmacies
•  Support for my pharmacy teams with regard to our patient care programs
•  Bi-directional HR support between my teams and the corporate human resources department
•  Adherence to compliance and regulatory requirements
•  Responsibility for the financial performance of my pharmacies, including but not limited to budgeting, expense management, inventory control, and growth opportunities
•  Planning, set up, and staffing for new pharmacy locations

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
The aspect of my position that I enjoy most is being an active participant in the professional development of the people with whom I work. There is a great deal of success and fulfillment in helping people achieve their professional goals. When I am able to assist in someone's progress from a technician to an intern, to a newly licensed pharmacist, to an established pharmacist in one of our CVS locations, it provides me with a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.

In addition to pharmacy school, did you do any post-graduate training? And/or do you have any certifications, etc.?
Pharmacy is actually my second career. I also have a B.A. in economics from Grinnell College in Iowa, which I utilized as a stock and bond option trader at the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Board Options Exchange. After two major market crashes, I decided to change careers, and it was my wife that suggested pharmacy. MWU-CCP was just opening, and I enrolled and graduated in 1996 with a B.S. in pharmacy. I am immunization certified, and continue to participate in CVS's immunization program in my current role, immunizing patients in our pharmacies when I am able.

Did any elective courses play any key role in your eventual career path?
I had a rotation at Lakeside V.A. in my final year, and during my final evaluation with the director of pharmacy, I asked him about his thoughts about my options. He told me that he sensed that I really liked the community setting, and that it would probably be a good fit for me, allowing me to use my both economics and my pharmacy degrees. He told me to pursue a setting in which I would be happy.

How would you describe the process by which you arrived at your current pharmacy position? Did you know for a long time that this was what you wanted to do? Or did you have different ideas when you were a student, and those ideas changed as you experienced new directions?
While a student at CCP, I began as an intern with OSCO Drug. I knew that I enjoyed that practice setting, but thought that I might want to pursue long term care after graduation. During my final year, I was fortunate to have a long term care rotation-fortunate in that I realized that it was not a setting that I particularly enjoyed. My personality lends itself to the constant interactions with patients and other health care professionals that I had experienced as an intern for OSCO. Upon graduating I accepted an offer from OSCO and became a floater pharmacist. I floated for about three months, and then I was promoted to a staff pharmacist position, which I held for three weeks. After this, I was promoted to the position of pharmacy manager. I held this title for about five years at which time I was promoted to a pharmacy supervisor position.

When you look back on your time at CCP, what stands out? Or what wisdom did you take with you?
First and foremost what stands out to me when I think of my time at CCP is the foresight, dedication, and commitment possessed by the staff and the administration. CCP was brand new at that time, but yet they were committed to having the best faculty, the best administrators, and the best curriculum for its students. Everyone believed in CCP and everyone worked together to make it successful.

I took with me that I was not only a pharmacist, but I was also a contributing professional in the health delivery system, because that is what MWU taught (and still teaches) all of its students in all of its programs. We are all in our chosen profession, working together for the benefit of our patients.

What advice would you give to current pharmacy students?
My advice to current pharmacy students is to become involved. You may believe that you don't have the time to become involved, but you do. Whichever program, organization, or club in which you choose to participate will provide you with insights and education, will connect you with people within and outside of CCP, and will help you to be a well-rounded, caring, giving pharmacist.

Also, start working in a pharmacy setting now. Even a few hours per week will provide you with valuable insight and education which will supplement and support your learning at CCP. Also, when graduation approaches (and it will be here before you know it), hopefully you will have made an impression such that those with whom you have been working will want you to join their organization. It may not be your "dream position," but knowing you have a place to start your professional career will ease your mind until you can work your way into your "dream position."

Chara Reid-Reed, Pharm.D. Reid-Reed
Pharmacist in Charge, Specialty Pharmacy
CCP Class of 2004

I work for DuPage Medical Group, which is the largest physician group in Illinois. We have about 600 physicians and mid-levels providers with more than 70 locations across the south and west suburbs. I support about 100 of these providers in the dermatology, gastroenterology, oncology, cardiology, hepatology and rheumatology departments. My main responsibility is to ensure that our patients who are prescribed expensive medications within these departments get started and stay on treatment.

My team works on the prior authorizations for these patients. We have access to the patient's electronic medical record (EMR), and we pull that information to fill out the insurance forms. My team is the go-between for the patient and the insurance. It sounds like a straightforward process, but it is usually not that simple. A lot of the time, the insurance does not want to pay for the provider's choice of medication. So when it gets denied, that is where my work comes in. I have to determine if my recommendation is to change to what the insurance prefers or appeal it. Once I review the patient's EMR, I determine what to do.

Many times my decision is to appeal the insurance company's decision. I complete a literature review and pull relevant information to show the insurance company why we prefer our original choice as opposed to their choice. I also appeal denials when the insurance determines that the patient is not sick enough for treatment. Some appeals are simple and some take me two to three hours to research before I write the letter. I also communicate with the provider about my strategy for the appeal. Sometimes they help by giving me additional insight that strengthens my appeal with the insurance.

Another part of my job is to provide drug information to any of the departments or providers that request it. I write drug formulary comparisons and answer any medication questions. Drug information requests include: drug-drug interaction questions, allergy questions, drug-disease state questions, recommendations for cheaper alternatives, and treatment recommendations.

In addition, I manage the specialty and oncology infusion pharmacy schedules, maintain inventory, counsel patients, assist with high co-pay funding from charitable foundations and drug companies, act as liaison between the oncology drug reps and the oncology department, attend oncology conferences, present at physician department meetings, and precept students.

The process by which I arrived at my current position has been bumpy. I had every intention of staying in retail and retiring with Walgreens. I started as a cashier when I was 16. I became a pharmacy manager about four days after I graduated from CCP. Back then we had the bachelor and PharmD option. I was able to get licensed while going to class for my PharmD. So I jumped directly into management and stayed for 10 years. As the years went on and I had more kids, I was becoming dissatisfied with my role. I needed a change. I was scared to make a change though because Walgreens was all that I had known for more than half of my life. A friend of mine introduced me to an independent pharmacy owner who was looking to hire a new pharmacist. He hired me, and we agreed on a schedule that would suit my family. At that point, I had four kids under the age of six. I remember feeling sick when I gave my two-week notice. I was taking a leap, and I had no idea where I would land. He placed me at a store that did specialty pharmacy. It was my first introduction into the world of specialty. It was interesting, but the bulk of my job was still regular retail. However, that leap of faith, gave me enough experience in specialty to qualify for other positions. Later, I left the independent to take my current position.

When I was in pharmacy school in the early 2000s, "specialty pharmacy" didn't really exist the way it does now. So much has changed. Roughly 90% of the medications that I deal with on a daily basis did not exist when I was in pharmacy school. I have seen a cure for Hepatitis C. We now have our first pan-genotype Hep C treatment that is once-a-day with minimal side effects. That is just huge and extremely exciting. So not much of what I did back then is directly relevant to what I do now, but my CCP education gave me a love of the profession and the curiosity to keep learning. We are in a fast-paced field. It is exciting to keep moving forward and see so many advances.

At CCP, I was involved in student council, APhA, and I did a few research projects with a faculty member. I was interested in the underserved population and did research in that area. My abstract was published, and I did a poster presentation at APhA in Seattle. I also worked at Walgreens before I started pharmacy school, and I was able to do two summer internships for Walgreens in Las Vegas. Of course, that was the most fun of anything else I did in school. Not to mention my then boyfriend, now husband, lived there. I was also asked to write an article for the student APhA magazine.

Looking back a CCP, what stands out the most are the relationships I formed. Yes, I learned a ton of useful information, and I still use the skills I took from Dr. Lee's drug lit class. But what I love the most are the friendships I made. I have life-long friends from CCP that include students and faculty. I have colleagues that I can reach out to when I need advice. I have friends to call when I need to vent or need someone to commiserate with me. I have friends that will give me a reference when I need it. I have former students I precepted, that I still keep in touch with. I love to see where their careers have taken them. It has been all about the relationships that I have formed and our common denominator is CCP.

The best advice I can give is to work hard, never settle, and be a kind person. Pharmacy is a very small world. You want to be known as a kind, hard worker. Be sure to take your rotations seriously. Go the extra mile. That stands out to your preceptor. Lastly, make friends and be involved. You will meet so many people and future colleagues by being active in student organizations and participating in your community. I wish you all well in your future pharmacy endeavors.

Sara Giamio, Pharm.D.giamio
Regional Medical Science Liaison
CCP Class of 2006

In this role at your company, what do you do?
I have been with Sanofi, a global life sciences company, as a Regional Medical Science Liaison (RML) for just one year and a half. I am part of the diabetes/cardiovascular team. The Field Medical Liaison team I am on supports Sanofi's innovative pipeline and commercial products by delivering fair-balanced, state-of-the-art scientific information, education, and research solutions to healthcare providers, researchers, payers, and patients with the objective of improving healthcare.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I enjoy being on the cutting edge of medicine with the research component of my role. I have opportunities to visit clinical sites in the state of Illinois, and I get a chance to see studies from the ground up. To finally see it being published a year later is exciting. I am part of a greater good for patients with diabetes. I also enjoy the work I do with endocrinologists in terms of educating, answering questions, and being a resource for them.

How would you describe the process by which you arrived at your current position? Did you know for a long time that this was what you wanted to do? Or did you have different ideas when you were a student, and those ideas changed as you experienced new directions?
Knowledge is power. I did not even know about my role until I started asking questions early on in my career. I read several leadership books, interviewing style books, and practiced presenting clinical data. As a student, I was excited about every avenue of pharmacy, and I thought because I had a long history with Walgreens, I would stay there. Life continues to evolve and change and it is important to have a good work/life balance. I was able to take that concept and then go after the job that I wanted.

Tell me about a "defining experience" you had.
My defining moment was when I asked for a leadership opportunity from my manager, and she said there were no opportunities because the company was downsizing. That moment lead me to never settle for the status-quo. I quickly started applying to roles where I knew I would be continually challenged, and there would be continuous growth.

In addition to earning your Pharm.D., did you do any post-graduate training? Or do you have any certifications, etc.?
I have completed a Health Outcomes and Research Certificate program from the University of Washington.

While you were at CCP, what extracurricular activities did you do?
At CCP, I had an opportunity to be in APhA, where I was able to volunteer at the American Diabetes Association (ADA) expo and the MWU health fair. I also completed two summer internships within Walgreens. The first internship was at Walgreens Health Initiatives (WHI), which was their PBM where I was able to create clinical programs for our insured members. I also did an internship where I was able to teach the certification for pharmacy technicians. My favorite internship was at WHI, because I was helping patients at a grander scale. I was able to look at outcomes and think of a way where we, as the PBM, could help the patient with their disease. I also worked at Walgreens throughout my schooling at MWU.

Which was most relevant to what you do now?
Healthcare is multi-faceted and it requires a multi-action approach. When I was with WHI, I was able to gain experience from the payer aspect and then utilize that to understand where the resources come from. I've also had experience working with patients. Because of both of these experiences, I feel like a more well-rounded pharmacist.

When you look back on your time at CCP, what stands out? Or what wisdom did you take with you?
The wisdom I would take is that networking is key whether you are a student or you are currently working within your role. Always be kind and hard-working. My advice would be to never burn any bridges. Pharmacy is a small world. Also, when you have started rotations, really shine at the rotation. Make the rotation site so impressed that they want to offer you a job soon after.

 

Charles J. Turck, Pharm.D.turck
CEO, Medical Writer, and Entrepreneur
CCP Class of 2004

Tell us a little more about your two companies.
I have two companies: ScientiaCME, LLC, which is a continuing healthcare education company. And I have Scientia Perpetuam, LLC, (which translates loosely from the Latin 'ongoing knowledge') a biomedical writing company. At this one, it's only me. Effectively, I do freelance medical writing. I have done so for pharmaceutical companies, clients of them (like those in the marketing sector), and others in the healthcare sector like health informatics and electronic health records companies, drug and medical supply wholesalers, and group purchasing organizations - really anyone with medical writing needs who do not have an in-house medical writing staff or who have needs beyond what the in-house staff are able to accomplish.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I am a perpetual student. I have an entrepreneurial drive, and routine drives me crazy. In my field, I have got to stay on top of therapeutics and drug development in so much as they relate to quarterly earnings reports from pharmaceutical companies. Because that's where they put their money - in marketing, medical writing, and continuing medical education.

What I love about what I do is that it forces me to keep up to date. On both inpatient and outpatient therapies. On therapeutic areas I hadn't learned before. Monoclonal antibodies were just coming into use when I was in pharmacy school, and while I learned about them at CCP thanks to Dr. Karen Nagel-Edwards and a number of oncology lecturers, most that are now approved were nowhere on any practitioner's radar screen back then.

So yes, I have to be the master of my game not merely to thrive, succeed, and exceed, but also merely to survive and make a living. And let's face it: I like to put food on my plate and do the same for my dog. Actually, he comes first. Here's a picture of what he looks like when he sees me packing my suitcase for travel. He knows it means I'm going to be gone for a while. He's my buddy.

In addition to earning your Pharm.D., did you do any post-graduate training?
I did do some post-graduate training. I don't always admit to it publicly, but I've completed three residencies over the years, which I like to joke either makes me very smart or very dumb. And as with so many other things in life, the answer is probably that both are true. I certainly did not do all of them back-to-back, and they are reflective of changing interests over the course of my career path. I began in drug information; later I went back and became more clinically oriented, doing a PGY-1 and following it with a PGY-2 in critical care pharmacotherapy.

I avoid being pigeonholed like the plague. I worry that it's the rabbit hole to obsolescence, especially in this day and age, when we, as a country and a generation, have seen such volatile economic upheaval and are left wondering to what extent, when, or if it's ever going to settle down. So I chose the broadest and, I thought, the most interesting of the specialties I could find: critical care. Broad in that it encompasses the largest number of different specialties - infectious diseases, cardiac, renal, neuro, internal med, endocrinology - even a dab of oncology's periphery here and there - and interesting in that it's fast paced. Just try to go back to adjusting someone's levothyroxine dose by 25-microgram increments in the office every couple of weeks, after you've titrated norepi with vasopressin to someone's MAP every few minutes and had to grab for the dobutamine because SvO2 was paltry in spite of your best efforts, and the patient's clearly well-hydrated and appropriately covered by broad spectrum antibiotics.

While you were at CCP, what extra-curricular activities did you do?
From the beginning of my senior year in high school, I worked as a pharmacy technician in retail pharmacy, and that was a constant throughout pharmacy school on select weekends and evenings. In retrospect, I probably ran myself ragged and should have done that less, and I know that some pharmacy students still do. More on that later!

Truth be told, one of my favorite activities at CCP was roaming around the halls of the departments of Pharmacy Practice and Pharmaceutical Sciences, poking my head into offices (where the doors were open), striking up conversations, and getting to know the faculty. On the face of it, from the description alone, I'll bluntly call out what it may sound like: brown-nosing. And whether or not it was depends entirely on what my intention was.

So, picture this: I'm a PS-1. I live in the dorms. I don't know anyone. I'm a fast eater and sometimes have an hour or two to kill between classes during the lunch break. I have a wandering mind, and it will be another decade and a half before I am recognized as having an attention deficit (which, is quite a monumental struggle when one's line of work depends on writing and speaking!). So I got to know many of the faculty and, as crazy as this is going to sound, had a number of great conversations about mutual interests. Killed some time, got a few laughs out of it, and, in a couple cases, actually formed some lifelong friendships that continued to professional collaborations. And no, the point was not to inflate my grade. I've long since forgotten what my grades were. I passed. I graduated. If you're interested in post-grad work, then grades matter, but only to a point. Get your mind off it once in a while. Have a hobby. Or a vice. Or something. Anything!

When you look back on your time at CCP, what wisdom did you take with you?
On running oneself ragged: while I can't presume to know everyone's circumstances, all I have to say is, just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. If you're working 40 hours to take out less in loans when you're going to be making double in a year, make sure you're doing it with a loan calculator in hand, comparing the pros and cons. Especially if you're alternating between recurrent strep throat and shingles infections to make it happen. If you fancy yourself a bon vivant and have to subsidize the increasingly taxing drag that comes with your high-rolling habits at Champps or Ballydoyle, consider saving a bit and watching for a deal during one of the slightly less common travel times that the quarterly academic year affords you.

Unless you are not feeling up to it on a given night or day because you are sick, exhausted, hypoglycemic, or otherwise feeling off, always be networking. Create the opportunity to network, which is to say, put yourself in places where you are likely to meet people. If you have traveled to the Midyear Clinical Meeting, DO NOT mope around in your hotel room, watching TV. Get off your duff and stand around the convention center - in the exhibition room or wherever the people are. Go to the symposium. Strike up conversations. The best time to network is while you are in school or doing post-graduate training.

What advice would you give to current pharmacy students?
Aside from the above, you're entering the profession at a time of new challenges - ones that can be difficult to hear and discuss. Never one to beat around the bush or avoid awkward discussions ... I'll address 'em!

Times are tough, both in the country and in the profession. When I graduated, the academics had been saying for years that there had been a shortage of pharmacists. It had been that way for several years. It was not uncommon to see $30,000 sign-on bonuses for staff pharmacists at major retail pharmacies. Perhaps not at every store, and perhaps not at even the desirable locations or chains. But the bonuses were there. Or other perks like "loans" that you did not have to pay back as long as you stayed with the company.

Now, there may still factually be a shortage, but if there is, it's an averaged one, as there are significantly underserved areas, such as rural ones that are less desirable to live in and even some urban areas. Popular urban and suburban areas have a higher supply of pharmacists. Some of it has to do with the economic downturn of 2008 and the fact that some pharmacists who might have normally retired, put it off and stayed in the workforce longer; in part, they had to do so if their retirement savings were tied up in Wall Street, which had spiraled. That was but one of many factors.

The point is, no matter what people say about whether there's currently a pharmacist shortage, where most of want to live, (like, say, much of the Chicago area for many of you reading this column) there is not a pharmacist shortage. We are a commodity, and short of having done something to distinguish yourself as unique, the marketplace is competitive. The balance of power has shifted toward employers. And is neither right nor wrong, good nor evil. It is a simple statement of fact. And while I agree that it does make the workplace somewhat more stressful ... the workplace was always stressful (before, it was because you couldn't get enough help!).

I bring all of this up because we pharmacists, as a lot, are typically a group of what used to be called "left-brained" thinkers - apt to feel more adept and comfortable with logic and numbers than art and abstraction. That's a strength on the job, but it can be a weakness for (some, not all) us as people, because we sometimes run the risk of getting locked into rigid modes of thinking. So let me give you an example, share the reason for my concerns ... and then give you my parting advice.

If you're like most students - and me - then between pre-pharm and pharmacy school, you've taken out a loan somewhere along the way. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that the median pharmacist's salary is $118,470/year. And, honestly, most of us hate the thought of being in debt, so we very much look forward not only to paying our loans back, but doing so aggressively - above the minimum payment.

The BLS also says 61% of pharmacists go into community practice and 23% go into hospital. My concern is this: it doesn't matter which setting they go into - with the higher supply of pharmacists, my feeling is that, over recent years, I have seen employers become slightly more careless with respect to their treatment of employees. Just an observation. But one that would be entirely unsurprising in a setting where there is a large supply of replaceable people. Certainly don't take my word for it. Ask around and see what people think. That's the bad news. And it's not where I'm going to leave you, so keep reading.

Understand that there is pressure everywhere, in every sector. I know of new grads in law and nursing who can't find jobs for months. I read about suicides among interns and junior executives on Wall Street fueled by mixes of alcohol and elicited substances they take to keep up with their jobs' grueling hours, only to be met with firms' mandatory hour caps in response. And, at the heart of it, is a profit-based model that answers exclusively to a mix executives, boards, and share- and stakeholders that has begun to extend beyond the way in which business is organized and conducted and now applies even hospitals, academia, and government. Some of the focus is good and well-intentioned: the improvement of efficiency and reduction of waste. But we also see it applied to the extreme in pharmacy, like in the case of key performance indicators (KPIs). Measureable metrics are great, but the moment they become solely the end - as they are often treated by middle managers whose bonuses are sometimes tied to some measures whose significance has not clear to them or anyone else - rather than the means ... then that's a problem.

While I certainly do not think that the present system is healthy for many, my goal is not to castigate it, and I certainly cannot change it here. The question was, what is my advice to you, and I could not give you that advice without outlining this backdrop.

My advice is this:

When it comes to work, do NOT focus on the BLS' median salary or let it define you. That may require thinking outside the box and NOT working 40 hours a week. Maybe it's 32. Maybe less. Just because "everyone's" doing the 40-hour, median salary thing does not mean it's right for you. Newsflash: this is not our parents' world: the end of World War II, the 50s, the 60s, where pensions existed and there was a pact between employers and employees. The new reality is that it's each entity and person for him- and herself. So there are some things you should never compromise. Ever. They are: your duty to protect your patients, your personal dignity, your obligations to your loved ones. Especially a supervisor putting pressure on you to cut corners, possibly break the rules, who has no idea that, by being born ten years later, his bonus is peanuts compared to his predecessors'.

I know a pair of happily married pharmacists, a couple years younger than I, who live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 8a - 4:30p. (Different workplaces.) The wife went back to school part-time and is an aspiring writer. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they cook breakfast, lounge in pajamas, and have video game tournaments. And, for all I know, pillow fights.

And you know what I think?

They've got it made.

 

Jenney HendonHendon
Market Health and Wellness Director
CCP Class of 2001

In this role at Walmart, what do you do?
I oversee operations for pharmacy and vision centers within Walmart. Some of the items I oversee include hiring and developing talent, delivering financials, compliance, clinical services at the store level, and customer experience. I really enjoy developing talent, helping teams address their challenges, and watching teams grow.

How would you describe the process by which you arrived at your current pharmacy position?
I have always known that I wanted to be a leader and want to help others succeed. I naturally like to oversee and be challenged, so getting into a position where I am able to help others succeed, develop their own leadership styles, and in turn develop others, gives me a lot of satisfaction.

Tell us about a defining experience you had, or an "a-ha!" moment, which told you that pharmacy was the career path for you.
I had been a pharmacy technician since I was 16, and I was about to graduate from Northern Illinois University with my elementary education degree. I was looking for teaching positions. As I was looking, I was trying to figure out how I was going to remain working as a technician in a pharmacy. That's when I realized I needed to apply for pharmacy school. I always loved community pharmacy, and I could not bear the thought that I might not have time to continue my part time job. That was my "a-ha!" moment.

Describe how you managed pharmacy school.
I worked part time and helped take care of my family including my young step kids at the time. They were a challenge, but they were a lot of fun too. Looking back, I think learning to balance school, kids, and work taught me a lot about priorities and how to balance all that had to get done in one day, which is very similar to my position now. I have to prioritize because some days I just can't achieve all that I want.

Did any elective courses play any key role in your eventual career path?
I really enjoyed Medical Spanish, and it did help me in my first years of practice.

When you look back on your time at CCP, what stands out? Or what wisdom did you take with you?
The teachers and staff were incredible at Midwestern!!! I think one of the most important things I learned is recognizing that in school and thru your career, you will meet a lot of talented individuals. You recognize traits in some people that you want to assimilate, while others may have traits that you will choose not to emulate. Both are equally important, and each individual has something to share. I learn from so many people, and I learned back at Midwestern that relationships matter, whether at work, school, or day-to-day life.

What advice would you give to current pharmacy students?
My advice is to listen. I think too many times in practice or as leaders, we feel a need to have a response. But I think it is far more important to simply listen to what people are asking or telling you. As a leader, at times I will have someone who is not happy, and it is hard to listen and hear what they have to say, especially if it feels personal. But there are occasions when those types of situations are the ones we can grow from the most. I have seen members of the medical community feel the need to respond or formulate an answer even before the patient finishes with their story. It is important to be prepared with an answer, but far more important to listen to give the right answer.

 

Cynthia Kozic, Pharm.D.kozic
Clinical Supply Program Manager
CCP Class of 2001

In this role at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, what do you do?
At Takeda, I work on Phase I-IV studies. I work on a diverse team made up of chemists, clinical science specialists, clinical operations, regulatory, pharmacovigilance, and quality colleagues. I am involved in writing portions of study protocols for the programs that are assigned to me. Based on the study design of the protocol, I decide along with the chemists how the study drug will be packaged (bottle size and bottle count) based on preliminary stability information. Based on information provided in the protocol, such as number of sites, countries, subjects, dosing regimen, and length of study, I forecast how much of the study drug will need to be manufactured in Japan. All this information will help me determine the overall number of packages needed to support the study from beginning to end.

I am then responsible for working and submitting labels that will be placed on the study drug, working with vendors to have labels translated into the appropriate languages, working with our regulatory department for specific information required to be on the label per country regulations and ensure the study drug is packaged according to appropriate specifications. Once the finished goods are ready, I work with vendors to have them transported to clinical sites around the world. I ensure sites are always stocked with enough study drug. At the end of the study, I am responsible for getting all leftover drug and ancillary supplies that were supplied by Takeda back to the vendor to be accounted, reconciled, and ultimately destroyed.

How would you describe the process by which you arrived at your current pharmacy position? Did you know for a long time that this was what you wanted to do? Or did you have different ideas when you were a student, and those ideas changed as you experienced new directions? 
I had been with a retail pharmacy for 17 years; for ten of those years I was a pharmacy manager. I felt I had stopped growing professionally. There had been several changes made within the corporate environment, and the field positions had changed. Less and less time was spent with the patient. I came to a point where I wanted a career change. I could do retail pharmacy in my sleep. I reflected on how I could transition into another field like industry.

I had always been interested in industry, but I really had no experience in that area. And I also realized I had a very limited network of people to contact. This is so incredibly important! Over the years, I have stayed in touch with Dr. Mary Lee, who was Dean of CCP when I attended. I reached out to her one day, and she was kind enough to give me the names of three people she knew personally in industry. I was very nervous, but I made cold calls to these individuals who, to my surprise, were more than happy to talk to me and give me advice. One of the gentlemen that I spoke with eventually became my boss, and he's also an alumnus of CCP. He emailed me months after I initially called him and told me he had a position open.  He said if I was interested, I should look at the job description and apply. As they say, the rest is history.

While you were at CCP, what kinds of opportunities did you pursue outside of the classroom?
I worked part time at a retail pharmacy, and later I worked as an intern for that retailer. I did a summer internship at Fujisawa, which is now part of Astellas. My favorite was the retail work that I did during school, because I was able to apply my knowledge as I was learning it. In addition, I had plans to become a retail pharmacist when I was finished with my Pharm.D.

What advice would you give to current pharmacy students?
Enjoy the craziness of your years at CCP!! It goes so fast. My husband told me once that I would miss pharmacy school when I finished. I said, "No, I won't, I can't wait to be finished and be out in the real world practicing pharmacy." Well, I have to say he was right!! (Shhh...Don't tell him!! J)  I truly do miss school and all the camaraderie that took place, the college life, friends, professors, studying, etc. Call me crazy, but I liked learning and the exorbitant amount of tests. I loved my professors and my group that I was placed into. I stay in touch with all of them. Work really, really hard, but enjoy your time at Midwestern.

Probably the biggest piece of advice that I can give to current pharmacy students is to find out all the options that are available to you before making a decision on your career path. Information is KEY. Also realize that once you decide on a career path, you don't have to stay in that field forever. You can move into a different area of pharmacy like I did, but always remember the importance of networking!



Saurabh Bagai, Pharm.D.S Bagai
Clinical Pharmacist, Pharmacy Operations
CCP Class of 2012

Tell us a little about Pharmacy Solutions.
This company started as a reimbursement hub for Abbott specialty products (now Abbvie) in 2010. In addition, we are technically a pharmacy, so we are regulated and licensed in to dispense to all 50 states and Puerto Rico. We provide patient care services for Abbvie specialty products regardless of where the patient fills his or her prescription.

In your role, what do you do?
I started at Pharmacy Solutions shortly after graduating from CCP in 2012, and my role has progressed since then as the company has evolved and grown. When I started, I was a staff pharmacist in more of a dispensing role, but the volume of prescriptions increased along with the pharmacy staff. So they added on a service for free product replacements for patients who have challenges with their HUMIRA pen or syringe.  We incorporated the Humira patient assistance program into our practice site for patients who don't have coverage and can't afford their medication.  As a result of these initiatives, our volume expanded significantly, because we also started working with patients over the phone to help them use the pen or syringe effectively.  

Now I work more with patients to counsel them on injecting the medication properly and avoiding mishaps. And my role as a clinical pharmacist role will be expanding. We're going to be incorporating more clinical services and putting metrics in place, so we can know when to reach out to doctors' offices to make recommendations if patients begin to have problems or not improve on the medication.  My role also includes testing the pharmacy software when updates are provided by our vender, managing the pharmacists schedule and am a backup for our current PIC.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I really enjoy the people I work with. And the work I do is very patient-centric, it's great to see patients improve and do better on the medication.  We have a monthly newsletter for the pharmacy which includes sections about our impact on our patients and their care. These stories help drive us during those difficult stressful days.

What's challenging in your role?
Sometimes it's challenging counseling patients over the phone. That was a big adjustment for me. While I was at CCP, I worked at Walgreens as a pharm tech, so I was used to talking with customers face to face. Now I work with patients over the phone, the experience is completely different. On the phone, it can be difficult to gage a patient's understanding of the information provided. Is what I'm saying going in one ear and out the other? I miss being able to read body language and other non-verbals because they help me gear my approach to the patient. To overcome this, Pharmacy Solutions trains us on a regular basis to draw cues based on how patients verbally respond. The length of their pauses, different phrases they may use and what they can mean, so we can assess how they are really digesting our information. This training is very valuable, as they provide strategies to help us improve the way we counsel patients. That being said, I still miss the direct interaction.

In addition to earning your Pharm.D., did you do any post-graduate training? Do you have any certifications, etc.?
Every year I feel like I need to learn something new, so last spring I decided to go back to school for a dual MPH-MBA degree at Benedictine University. My decision was based on where I want my career to go. My goal is a management role within the next few years because I want to grow a team and have a larger impact on the direction of the pharmacy. I received my Pharmacy Regulatory Specialization (PRS) Certification this past summer which covers various areas of pharmacy law and other regulatory issues. The Specialty Pharmacy Certification Board was created in the past few years; it provides and supports specialty pharmacy certification. I plan to take this exam in the spring, when it becomes available. 

Did any courses play a key role in your eventual career path?
The Pharmacy Law course has really helped me! In my position, I need to be licensed in multiple states. Currently, I'm licensed in 14 states. If I've learned anything, I've learned that pharmacy law can be gray, especially regarding laws that apply to this state vs. laws that apply to states that we're shipping to.

How would you describe the process by which you arrived at your current pharmacy position?
During my time at CCP I was working at Walgreens, so I thought I wanted to go into retail. I had a job as a pharmacy manager secured at a Walgreens in Michigan soon after I graduated. But I was really hoping to be able to stay in Illinois. While studying for my MPJE and NAPLEX, I continued to apply to positions in the Chicago area.  I blindly interviewed for this position, realized that I knew about the company and that I knew people who worked for this company. So I contacted them, and they put in a good word for me. I was offered the position on a contract basis to begin, then three months later, I was offered a full-time position, and I've been here ever since.  In summary, luck and networking.

What advice would you give to current pharmacy students?
Pharmacy is a really small world!  Treat your rotations as a 6 week interview.  You never know when you may be working with a former preceptor or fellow classmate down the road.  Don't be afraid of change. Be agile and go with the flow. Sometimes you cannot change the situations that come your way. If you can be flexible, then pharmacy is a great career!

 

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