Entrepreneurial pharmacy program combines health care and business education

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PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF THE PACIFIC
The University of the Pacific’s entrepreneurial program expects to have 65-70 pharmacy students enrolled by May.

STOCKTON – Pharmacists who graduate from the University of the Pacific’s Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy can expect a good income, decent job prospects and the knowledge that they’re playing an important role in the ever-changing health care landscape.

But what if they also want to be their own boss? Pacific can help with that, too. It’s now turning out pharmacists who are business-savvy.

Pacific has one of the few schools that offers entrepreneurial pharmacy certification. Known formally as the AmerisourceBergen/Good Neighbor Pharmacy Entrepreneurial Pharmacy Practice Program, it became an option at Pacific in 2011. The first students are getting ready to graduate.

“Not all pharmacists that graduate from UOP want to work in a hospital or chain,” said David Collum, who chairs the program. “Students were asking about it. West of the Rockies there was very little opportunity to pick up any academic work.”

Courses in the entrepreneurial program are offered in the spring. Students work with representatives from banking and insurance companies where they get real-world information.

“Other schools really don’t get that because they only have a class about management,” said 22-year-old Irene Andrada, a second-year pharmacy student who is in the entrepreneurial program. “But they don’t really know about the little things that do make a big difference like getting your loan and also having an insurance policy and also with any of the problems that do arise in the community pharmacy or how to differentiate yourself from another independent pharmacy.”

Andrada has been meeting with owners of existing independent pharmacies to see if she can set up a junior partnership rather than building her own business from the ground up.

“Many students have loans and debts to pay off,” Collum said. “It’s more likely they will step into a pharmacy where the owner is getting ready to retire.”

Independent pharmacies allow pharmacists to provide health care to communities according to their specific needs. Lenders are willing to put up the money if ideas are well developed.

Collum cited one student who, as part of her class project, put together a plan for a pharmacy in her hometown that was tailored culturally for that community. She presented it to a senior loan officer from Live Oak Bank who said, “That’s a startup plan I would finance.”

Wayne Chen, 26, of San Francisco is also a second-year pharmacy student. He said he was drawn to the program because running an independent pharmacy would allow him to be on the cutting edge of health care reform and changes in technology while serving his community.

“Right now my current plan is to hopefully get a residency to get some clinical experience, but then bring that clinical experience into the front lines of community pharmacy,” Chen said. “I’ve been to health fairs where some people are afraid to see doctors, for whatever reason, but when they come to these health fairs, they really do trust the pharmacist. It usually is less expensive — more accessible, really.”

Opportunities have opened for pharmacists with the passage of Senate Bill 493. The new law allows licensed pharmacists to participate more directly in health care. For example, pharmacists can administer medication; provide consultation, training, and education about drug therapy, disease management and prevention; and order and interpret tests to monitor and manage the efficacy and toxicity of drug therapies, in coordination with a doctor.

“I hope to implement some of the things that the bill allows us to do into an independent pharmacy,” Andrada said. “I think that really connects health care from just seeing your doctor. You can see your pharmacist for those in-between visits to continue your care and give you better outcomes.”

Even with the growth of drug store chains, independent pharmacies have been able to maintain their place in communities. Collum said that in 2001, there were about 23,000 independent pharmacies in the United States. In 2012, that number was still the same.

Collum and his students credit professionals who are Pacific alumni with helping the program succeed.

“It’s a combination of individuals who were successful after they left the university and the industry coming together saying, ‘we can do this and it’s going to improve health outcomes across the state,’” Collum said.

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