Generations Apart with a Common Thread that Binds
QS/1 is celebrating its 40th anniversary in the pharmacy industry and wanted to take a glimpse into two pharmacists’ perspectives. Despite age and gender gaps, the bond of pharmacy binds Lynn Connelly and Ashley Parker.
A generation separates Connelly and Parker. Connelly is what some might classify as “old school,” a registered pharmacist who graduated from pharmacy school nearly three decades ago. Parker is considered “new school,” a Pharm.D. with the proverbial ink still drying on her degree, after being awarded four years ago.
Growing up, both knew they wanted to be pharmacists. Parker’s path to behind the counter started at an early age. She spent her high school years working at the family-owned pharmacy. Her father, a pharmacist, owned Shop Rite Pharmacy in Swainsboro, GA, a small town just a few miles off Interstate 16 between Savannah and Macon. “I’ve kind of always been around pharmacy,” Parker said. “It was always my career choice.”
She graduated from South University School of Pharmacy in 2013 and started helping her father fill prescriptions. Since graduation, her father has been slowly backing away from the counter and handing over the reigns to her.
Disco was at its peak in 1978 when Connelly graduated from pharmacy school. While he had no doubt he would become a pharmacist, the path he took after beginning to fill prescriptions surprised even him.
“When I got out of school, I thought I would go to work for a chain,” Connelly said. “However, I quickly decided it was better to go ahead and open my own store. So, I jumped right on it.”
Connelly owns Medicine Mart Pharmacy in West Columbia, SC, filling an average of 300 prescriptions each day.
The Pharmacist’s Impact
Most pharmacists don’t go into the profession for the glamour. The job requires a lot of work, long hours and the skill to navigate through governmental bureaucracy and make sense of it all while addressing business and patient needs. When most individuals are asked why they became pharmacists, the most common answer is the desire to help others. Both Parker and Connelly are quick to say they enjoy the satisfaction of making a difference in the lives of people in their communities.
“I thought a career in medicine would be stable,” Connelly said. “But most importantly, there is a sense of accomplishment seeing the results of people getting better.”
For Parker, it was a family tradition. “I watched my dad and just aspired to be like him,” she said. “Working in a small community pharmacy within a small town, there is a level of pride helping those in the community.”
Connelly reflected on the biggest surprise after getting his degree. “The pace at which things operated,” he said with a laugh. “It’s much faster than you envision on the other side of the counter.”
Both pharmacists have a strong belief in the role they, along with other members of the healthcare team, play by impacting those with whom they interact on a daily basis.
A Prescription for Change
Those in the healthcare industry have witnessed a lot of change, and pharmacy is on the forefront. From regulatory changes mandated by the government to a metamorphosis in business practices, like most careers, pharmacists must adapt and be open minded to casting an eye toward the future.
“At one point, we were doing just fine with a typewriter and paper,” Connelly reflected. “We were doing fine without computers, but there is no way we could do what we are doing now without computer technology in the pharmacy. Without a doubt, computers have single-handedly been the biggest change I’ve seen in the business.”
Parker, on the other hand, doesn’t remember when computers weren’t in the pharmacy, but she has seen her share of insurance changes. “Insurance changes impact everyone,” she said. “It impacts the patients because they want to know how much they are paying for their premiums and the out-of-pocket expenses for which they are responsible. And the process can be just as confusing for pharmacists. Even though we are the experts in the patient’s eyes, we have to jump in and understand how the changes will affect them and see how it will impact our pharmacies too.”
Parker said she is proud that patients put faith and trust in her to help them navigate insurance changes each year. She stressed the importance of not only making it clear for her customers, but also determining how any changes will impact her livelihood and those she employs. Sometimes, patients don’t understand pharmacies have to weave through the same changes and make important business decisions based on those changes.
Connelly is a believer that computer technology helps pharmacists successfully deal with changes, whether they are regulatory or insurance related. “With the changes from pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), it can be difficult to serve patients and still keep up with maximum allowable cost (MAC) pricing, excluded networks and much more,” he said.
Connelly said technology has helped tremendously, but there is a downside. “You quickly realize how much it helps the second the power goes out or you lose your internet connection. Your staff begins to scramble around trying to find a way to get the job done. You can’t run your system; you can’t check out patients with point-of-sale; you literally stop filling prescriptions until you can get everything back up and running. Technology has made things so much faster and accurate, but we are so dependent on it that it’s scary.”
Most Frequently Used Features
When Parker began taking over the business, Shop Rite Pharmacy used RxCare Plus®. It did not take long before she decided to convert to NRx®. She knew the features would help expand the services the pharmacy could provide while increasing the staff’s productivity. It was a win-win scenario.
With old and new school mentalities, one might think Parker and Connelly would look at the features of their pharmacy management systems differently. That is far from the case. Like Parker, Connelly’s West Columbia pharmacy also uses NRx. When asked about the one feature they liked and used the most, both barely hesitated when giving their answer – drug information.
“Checking for drug interactions and duplicate therapy is essential,” Connelly said. “The built-in feature is a key part in helping the pharmacist head off a problem before it becomes a problem.”
Parker agreed. “The drug information received through QS/1 is excellent. There is so much information available about the drugs at the touch of a button. There are a ton of websites that can provide information like this, but the information provided through NRx is the one we use every day.”
Another NRx feature Parker said her pharmacy could not live without is the ability to queue refills. “We’ve only been using NRx for about a year. One of the features that has really sped up our ability to fill prescriptions is the ability to enter a group of prescription numbers at one time and begin the refill process. We can process refills at a rapid rate.”
The Importance of Community Pharmacy
Connelly mentioned that he thought he would end up working for a chain pharmacy during his career. Working for a big chain might seem like the road to bigger success, but Connelly admitted it didn’t take him long to realize he was looking at things from the wrong angle.
“With big chain pharmacies, it often becomes about the numbers,” he said. “Community pharmacies have the advantage because we work one-on-one with our patients. Pharmacists are the easiest in the healthcare profession to which patients can gain access. It’s difficult to just walk in and talk directly to a doctor or a nurse without an appointment. How many times a day do patients walk up and get your advice? Community pharmacies can have a huge impact on the people in our towns.”
Parker agreed. “It’s incredible just giving patients the knowledge that we have on the medications and looking at the overall big picture of not just those medicines but how they interact with over-the-counter drugs they may be taking,” she said. “Our expert knowledge makes a difference in their healthcare. They feel a sense of home coming into our pharmacy as opposed to a big chain pharmacy where the staff won’t be able to call them by name as they walk in.”
Learning from the Past
Organizations and industries can benefit greatly from institutional memory. It’s the collective knowledge stored from decades of lessons learned about not only what works, but what hasn’t worked in the past. Pharmacy has benefited from institutional memory that shouldn’t be ignored. Both Parker and Connelly reflected when asked what advice they would give to future generations of pharmacists.
For Parker, it goes back to that caring and personal feeling community pharmacies offer. “Make sure you are in an atmosphere where you feel like you are making a difference,” she said. “…where you can pay attention to the needs of patients and help them in all aspects. The role of the pharmacist is becoming even more important in the changing landscape of healthcare. Make sure you have a full understanding of the medications and the patient’s disease state. It’s also crucial to pay attention to changes in insurance and make sure you are working with doctors’ offices.”
Connelly offered similar advice. “Be sure when you go on rotations that you learn everything you can about every facet of pharmacy,” he added. “Find out what really clicks with you and makes you passionate about pharmacy, not only for yourself but for the profession as a whole.”
Connelly and Parker believe passion is a key ingredient for success. Both have passion and a drive to help others. That is a common thread that binds pharmacists.