Winner of SingleCare's Best of the Best: Best Pharmacist, Nguyen joined Drug Topics® to discuss how he's helped patients during adverse conditions and what makes for a successful patient encounter.
Drug Topics®: Please introduce yourself.
Nho Nguyen: Hi, my name is Nho Nguyen. I graduated from the University of Houston College of Pharmacy back in 2003. After graduating, I accepted a position with Kroger as an assistant pharmacy manager. I was placed at a store located on the west side of Houston. After about 2 years, I was promoted to pharmacy manager at the very same store. I've since been at this location now for a little over 19 years. I feel very thankful and blessed to be able to serve this community for as long as I have. It's been a rewarding and challenging experience at the same time, but it's something that I've I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.
Drug Topics®: What drew you to a career in pharmacy?
Nguyen: Honestly, pharmacy was not on my radar heading into college. I started off as a business major. Then I went into premed, and I thought about trying medical school. So, after finishing college, my mind was telling me ‘Go ahead, give medical a try,’ but my heart just wasn't into it. Basically, I was at a crossroad in my life. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Just by chance, I saw an opening for a pharmacy technician position in the local newspaper. At the time, we were still using newspapers to look for jobs. So, I gave it a try. I met a great pharmacist who was operating a small independent pharmacy at the time. I saw how he was able to build relationships with his customers from delivering to nursing homes in a retirement community to offering to give talks about various health topics. I even saw he gave out his personal phone number to many, many patients. I saw him coming up there when the pharmacy was close to fill emergency prescriptions. Even on Sundays, we were closed but I saw him in there, opening up the pharmacy so someone could pick up their prescription. He did whatever it took, whatever it took to build those relationships in order to grow his business. He was not just a pharmacist, but he was their pharmacist. I think just seeing him do that, seeing him build those relationships was something I think really inspired me to become a pharmacist.
Drug Topics®: So, what has been the biggest change that you've seen in pharmacy over your 19-year career?
Nguyen: By far and away, the biggest change I've seen is the expanding role of the pharmacist. When I first started, we were strictly just filling prescriptions. Shortly thereafter, we started expanding to the role of administering vaccinations. After that we started doing cholesterol screenings. We moved on to biometric screenings. As the years went on and now with the changing landscape of the pharmacy reimbursement, moving away from the fee-for-service model to one that's based more on outcomes. We as pharmacists are quickly having to pivot and we find ourselves more focused than ever on medication therapy management, on clinical interventions. To me, that's great. It allows us to practice at the top of our license, but at the same time, it's so challenging. But the amount of prescriptions we're having to fill has pretty much remained the same or in some instances has even grown. The biggest challenge for us is just to somehow find that balance between dispensing the prescription, but at the same time make sure that we get results on the clinical side also.
Drug Topics®: You've been a pharmacist during some tough times, like Hurricane Harvey and the pandemic. What has been your guiding principle for managing such circumstances?
Nguyen: My guiding principle is just always remain calm. Anybody that knows me knows that I'm not a vocal person. I do have the ability to remain calm despite the chaos around me. It's during those times of chaos, like you mentioned during Hurricane Harvey or the pandemic, that people look to you. They look to you to remain calm, and they look to you to make sure that you figure out solutions. For instance, if the lights are out and the streets are flooded, how do we figure out how to get to the store? How do we make sure that we take care of our customers? Or you'll have some of those days where we're giving 30, 40, 50 shots a day. How do you figure out how to fill prescription at the same time? There were moments during COVID-19, when your whole staff unfortunately had to call out and you're pretty much stuck there by yourself. You’ve got to figure out how you navigate that. Those are just some of the situations we've had to deal with over the years. I'd like to say, ‘when disasters hit, instead of running away from danger, unfortunately, we as pharmacists are expected to run towards it.’ So remaining calm is essential. Because if you start to lose it, the people around you start to lose it and it just goes downhill from there. Thankfully, I've been blessed. Over the years, I've had a great pharmacy team. I have an amazing store manager. I have just an amazing pharmacy coordinator and it goes all the way up to the top, to our merchandiser. I don't think she's forgotten what it's like to be in the stores, in the trenches. I know I have the resources available. I know I have the support available, should any situation arise. I know help is just a phone call away most of the time.
Drug Topics®: What makes for a good patient/pharmacist encounter?
Nguyen: A good encounter begins and ends with listening to what the patient has to say. All too often as pharmacists, we're short on time. we're quick to explain to the patient ‘what you need to do, or what you need to take.’ Over the years, I found that if you just take a few extra minutes during that encounter, just to try to remember their name, it makes them feel special. Maybe ask how their day is going, how their kids are doing, how their family is doing, what they like to eat. Those little details go a long way into building trust. If you're able to establish that trust, I think people are more open and more willing to talk to you about their health care needs. With health care information being so accessible via the onternet or the smartphone, we may not get as many health or medical questions. If you're able to establish that trust at the beginning, I think people feel that they have that connection with the pharmacist. When the time comes, or the situation arises, they feel more comfortable talking to or asking a pharmacist what they need to do.
Drug Topics®: Finally, what does it mean to you to be named Pharmacist of the Year?
Nguyen: It means a lot. I'm truly humbled. I'm so thankful to be chosen. I'm so thankful to SingleCare. They’ve taken the time and resources to spotlight the pharmacy profession. At the same time, I know that there are so many of my colleagues here at Kroger and the hundreds and thousands of other community pharmacists out there that are doing what I'm doing each and every day. I truly believe that pharmacists are the unsung heroes of the medical profession. We have so much to offer. When it's all said and done, I hope people will look back and see how the pharmacy profession, as a whole, has gotten this nation through the pandemic. Looking back on it, I'm just blessed to have chosen a career in pharmacy. Just as importantly, I'm working for a great company at Kroger. They give me the resources necessary to help people live healthier lives. At the end of the day, that's what it's all about. Making sure we take care of our patients.