What beginning pharmacists need to know about business

Pharmacists must be involved in all aspects of their business and with the different professional groups available.

There is much more to being a successful pharmacist than handing out prescriptions and consulting with patients. The independent pharmacist is especially a business person, as well as a health care provider, and should be good at the former if he plans to continue doing the latter, at least independently. Most pharmacist training programs are ill-equipped for the business aspects of the industry and the educational system is not fully aligned with the needs of a retail pharmacy owner.

A pharmacist running a business in addition to providing patient care requires a distinctive skill set and up-to-date credentials. Because the training world doesn’t have many solutions for freelancers hoping to eventually become owner-operators, we need to go over some key tips for the business side of a pharmacy career.

part of the scene
Newcomers setting up a business often forget that their pharmacy can only be as successful as local customers allow. When opening a practice, the primary goal is to serve patients as an integral part of the local health care system.

Pharmacists must develop a business plan that fits the character of their neighborhood and a marketing plan that speaks directly to a tangible need in the community. Pharmacists must find a nearby wholesaler, get along with a local bank, and enthusiastically participate in the business community.

is who you know
Pharmacy business is a retail business and retail is a social business so networking is vital. Beyond establishing a good connection with the community as a provider of services, pharmacists must develop links with other operators of medicine and health care, whether with doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists or psychiatrists. Patients need more than just medication, and a pharmacist who can refer, and be referred by, other doctors is in a strong position within the healthcare ecosystem.

Once one’s business is established, personal development never stops and is a great way to keep networking. Pharmacists need to be involved in all the various aspects of their business and with the different professional groups available, whether associated with their school of pharmacy or with healthcare networks. Pharmacists who are women, people of color, LGBTQ+, disabled, or any demographic can find a group of peers to learn from and support each other, building solidarity and improving as professionals.

never stop improving
Many of the skills needed by a pharmacist may not even be part of a school curriculum and must be acquired through experience. For patients, that means learning the skill of keeping them on their medication regimens and feeling comfortable visiting the pharmacy to discuss their concerns. For the business itself, it means understanding spreadsheets, marketing, accounting, and public disclosure.

While running their business, a pharmacist must continue their official education and certification process. It is important to have as many credentials as possible after the name. Especially vital is certification to prescribe as a pharmacist by taking the necessary refresher or development courses to maintain that status.

find a niche
Nothing stops a pharmacist from building a specialist practice and doing so is a great way to make a mark in the community and reach out further to those who require specialist help. There are different levels of licenses and credentials available to pharmacists and each professional may have a passion for a particular subset of the population.

Specialists are always in demand, whether it’s for diabetic care, oncology, pediatrics, any field of medicine. In many of these cases, the salaries of the specialists are higher and the needs of the patients are greater, and sometimes the problems that a dedicated expert can solve are more important. In that case, a good marketer can ensure that the pharmacist is targeting the chosen patient group.

Pharmacists who understand the business side of their career know that they ideally need specialist staff or contractors to handle operational functions. Patient care coordinators can work directly with customers on many different types of calls, while store managers keep the pharmacy looking and running like a professional space, and a marketing company can spread the word about available services in the community.

Possibly the most important employee of all, an accountant helps balance the books and makes sure the business stays solvent. Accountants are also helpful in navigating the tax strategies and procedures necessary to keep a pharmacy prosperous.

This experience is especially helpful for students and early-career pharmacists to launch their business, establish ownership and stakes, and build value. However, in the beginning this is exactly when most pharmacists have no idea that they should be doing this.

get help
Carrying out all the work required to keep a thriving pharmacy can be exhausting and hiring a different specialist for each task is often prohibitively expensive. For some pharmacies, the best option may be to hire an outside company to take the pressure of business operations on the owner.

These partner organizations handle areas such as financing, legal work, contracts and wholesale negotiations, taking much of the heavy lifting off the pharmacist’s plate. They also established 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 starting early with key business skills, networking diligently, and knowing how to hire the right people or companies for the task, novice pharmacists can integrate into their locations and become an indispensable part of the healthcare and business landscape.

About the Author

Dalbir Bains is Founder, Chairman and CEO of FGC Health, a leading provider of consumer health services in Canada, as well as industry-specific business technologies. He previously founded and grew Amenity Health Care into a substantial network of independent pharmacies, which was eventually sold to a private equity firm.

What beginning pharmacists need to know about business

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