Independent, But Not Alone: Finding the “Unity” in Community

Pharmacy Forward

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“The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.” — Sansa Stark, Game of Thrones

Will you be battling industry opposition alone, or will you be standing tall as an integral member of the pharmacy pack?

In the quote above, two sisters reminisce on their father’s wisdom after finally ridding their home of its enemies. Viewers of the show have watched Winterfell be overtaken by one tyrant after another as the house struggles to hold its ground. When the remaining siblings finally reunite and use their combined resources to take back their honor and home, they become the most formidable lineage in the land.

Community pharmacy has the potential to be the strongest, most influential group in healthcare, but it is no stranger to adversity. Between the retailers who are rumored to try their hand at pharmacy and the PBMs (pharmacy benefit managers) that are wreaking havoc on profits with clawbacks and DIR (direct and indirect remuneration) fees, independent owners have their work cut out for them. Now, more than ever, pharmacists need to be united in their efforts to stay ahead.

Simply put, pharmacists need other pharmacists. It is impossible to jump from pharmacy school to practice, then into ownership, and not need a seasoned pharmacist to lean on. When Mississippi pharmacist Bob Lomenick began researching synchronization, he had no idea he would later become a go-to source for pharmacists who wanted to start their own adherence programs. His open-door policy at Tyson Drug isn’t just a product of southern hospitality — it’s the sign of a wise pharmacist willing to share his knowledge. Lomenick is especially passionate about mentorship because it wasn’t a popular concept earlier in his career. When he first became a pharmacist, he noticed that his colleagues all viewed themselves as each other’s competition, a mindset that hinders innovation. Pharmacists like Bob Lomenick thrive at trade shows and in organizations that bring the industry together. He gladly admits to staying up after hours talking trade with other passionate pharmacists when the continuing education sessions end and the exhibit hall closes. With every conversation and every hour of missed sleep, Lomenick knows it’s building up to something greater than himself. “Create a legacy,” he urges, and that starts with mentoring.

Without a mentor, pharmacists may feel like they have been marooned at their store with no one to call on for advice. Doug Hoey, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, calls this the “island mentality.” “It can be a lonely feeling because you’re dealing with problems, sometimes for the first time,” Hoey says. “You don’t have a point of reference. You don’t have a friend you can call up. There are just a lot of situations that take place as an independent pharmacy owner that you can’t look up on the internet.” Organizations like NCPA give pharmacists the opportunity to make connections in a setting that promotes innovation and learning. When it’s not hosting workshops or keeping members informed on industry news, NCPA acts as a megaphone for community pharmacy in regulatory and legislative matters. Immediate Past President DeAnn Mullins has been a member since she was a student, and she is grateful to NCPA for helping her connect with pharmacists all over the country through opportunities like lobbying and the annual Congressional Pharmacy Fly-In. “NCPA has given me a voice,” says Mullins. “It’s helped me facilitate relationships with pharmacists all over the country who I’ve learned from, fought battles with, and forged lifelong friendships with.” It’s the members who truly make NCPA what it is; the association itself serves as the banner that unites and amplifies the voice of the pharmacist.

NCPA has also helped facilitate the growth of Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network (CPESNsm). Just as NCPA is a network of pharmacists across the nation, CPESN USA is an organization of state-based networks for pharmacists to work with each other and other healthcare professionals to provide top-notch services to patients. The state networks within CPESN encourage pharmacists and primary care providers to work together as a healthcare management team. Provider-pharmacist collaboration was the norm until PBMs created a divide that sectioned pharmacy away from the rest of the care managers. CPESN not only encourages collaboration and communication among the entire care team, it also has the potential to change the future of healthcare.

Staying behind the counter and counting pills day after day will doom a pharmacist to stagnation and isolation. On the other hand, unity for the sake of unity is pointless. Community pharmacy demands proactive leaders who will band together with a like-minded mission to see this industry thrive.

With the new year just around the corner, it’s the most appropriate time to make a change. Don’t let 2018 be another year of minimal effort and half-hearted participation. Find (or become) a mentor, join an association, and be part of the pack that not only survives, but prevails.

Caitlin Sattler
PioneerRx | Journalist
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