Nguyen joined Drug Topics® to discuss his most memorable customers and share why he always goes above and beyond.
The third annual SingleCare Best of the Best Pharmacy Awards generated thousands of nominations from SingleCare customers across the United States. Drug Topics® sat down with Tony Nguyen, RPh, pharmacy manager at Safeway in Annandale, Virginia, and winner of the 2021 Above and Beyond Award, to tell us about his most memorable customers and why it’s important for him to go above and beyond the call of duty.
Drug Topics®:Good morning, everyone. I'm Lauren Biscaldi, and I'm the managing editor of Drug Topics®. I'm here today with Tony Nguyen, winner of this year's SingleCare Best of the Best Pharmacy Awards. Tony is the recipient of the 2021 Above and Beyond Award.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Tony. Can you introduce yourself to our viewers and tell them a little bit about the work that you do?
Tony Nguyen, RPh: My name is Tony Nguyen. I went to school at The Ohio State University and graduated with a chemistry degree in 1982, and then with a pharmacy degree in 1996.
I started working as a national pharmacist in a hospital for 4 years, then switched over to retail after got married, and been happy ever since. I didn't realize I enjoy working retail; I really love interacting with customers. I currently work at Safeway, I like to help customers with their prescriptions and their prices, with helping pay their co-pays and helping them with any questions, and giving them advice and giving them immunizations. I enjoyed doing all that.
When I joined Safeway, it gave me more opportunities to spend [time] with my customers, which I really enjoy. In other pharmacy retail, they usually have a clerk who takes care of customers but at Safeway, I do a lot in person with my customers. I ring I bring up the prescriptions, and were first to give immunizations; that gives me direct contact with my customers which is wonderful.
Drug Topics®: I imagine it’s that that contact with your customers that led to you winning this year's Above and Beyond Award. Can you talk a little bit about just how it is that you go above and beyond for your customers?
Nguyen: Well, first, it was awesome to win this award. I feel very honored and humbled, and also thankful and grateful that the customers nominated me. There are a lot of great pharmacists out there who are deserving of this award as well, like my wonderful partner—we have 12 years working together. She goes above and beyond for our customers too. I feel blessed that SingleCare has chosen me to be recognized with this award, so thank you so much for that.
Sometimes our customers come and [are worried] about the price [of their medication] or what their insurance is paying for their prescription. So, I always help with their insurance, [like] if their insurance needs prior authorizations and if that doesn't work, I help them get the best options for what they want to do. They can pay a little bit at a time, or get the best discount. I try find ways for them to afford the medication and get their prescription
I like doing immunizations and helping patients with that. A lot of them have a fear of needles. So I like to ease them, make them feel at ease… tell them, you know, it’s not too bad, especially with kids. You know, I offer treats afterwards. Now with the pandemic—now's less likely, but before—a lot of customers, they were afraid to go out, so a lot of pharmacies started offering to mail prescriptions. We do that too, but sometimes customers call in for an emergency saying, “I can't wait 2 days to get my medication.” A lot of our customers are local, [and] I usually drive by their house a lot of the time. So, I offered to deliver them [their prescriptions] in person, and they they're very grateful for that.
We have a lot of seniors as well, and they some of them are homebound—they can't go out, either because of transportation or a heavy handicap. Sometimes I offer to go out and give them shots at home. I did that a few times for my customers. It’s been very wonderful to give back to the community. A lot of my customers, they've been very loyal and appreciative, and they will come by and offer presents like during Christmas time; they didn’t have to do all that.
Drug Topics®: It sounds like it's a very well-deserved award, so thank you for everything that you do for your community.
I imagine there are also some challenges, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you overcome the challenges that you face as a pharmacy manager.
Nguyen: The challenges [are things] like staffing issues. My partner and I, we always worked extra—I'd say over 250 hours-plus weeks doing so many immunizations. That's the most challenging part—there’s a lot of new customers and we have to process the paperwork in the system, which is a lot of work.
The main thing is the staffing issues, but also just trying to get the customers [their] medication. It's gotten a little bit better; but now, with the boosters… we thought it was done after 2 vaccinations, but now there are boosters and that will be a seaonsal thing now. So, it’s going to be a long road ahead and we’re trying to do as much to help our customers and be thankful that they are patient with us.
Yesterday, I was by myself, I had no technician in so I had to go back and forth, and a lot of my customers are very understanding. So, that was great to see. They didn't get [too upset].
Drug Topics®: I think an understanding customer can make all the difference.
Nguyen: I tried to put myself in their shoes and help them out. Sometimes they get frustrated at other pharmacies when they say, “Oh, we can’t do anything for you, you can go somewhere else,” or, “This is your insurance problem, you can take care of it on your own.”
My partner and I, we try to work with them give them options, like giving them discount cards, because some time we know the prices and which we know which discount card gives a better price. So, we try to help our customers know through these challenging times what [their copay will be].
Drug Topics®: Would you be able to talk a little bit about a customer who had a really significant impact on you as a pharmacist?
Nguyen: I have one customer—I've been seeing her for 10 years or so—she’s by herself, she’s single, and she's over 70. She's a wonderful person and [there were a few times where] I wanted to help her out.
She does her shopping once a month—everything one time—because she doesn’t have the money for a car to drive or pay for a cab. Before, I would take her home; sometimes she’d stay at Safeway, shop at Safeway, and then wait for me for to drive her home, deliver her groceries home, and all that. Sometimes when she wouldn’t have money to pay for her prescription, I’d offer to pay some for her. And now, once a month it's like a routine; instead of her wasting $20 on a cab ride, I tell her to spend the $20 on groceries or whatever she needs. She appreciates that.
She calls me Iron Man—Tony the Iron Man—like from the Marvel Universe. That was fun. She remembers my birthday; every birthday now she would send me a card, sometimes a cake… We have this great relationship together.
A few years ago, she lost her cat, who was her only companion and I felt really sad for her. By chance, my sister had a stray cat and litter of 5 kittens; I kept one and I gave her one, and she was so happy. I feel so happy that I could do something for her. She’s by herself and I just want to help her out as much as I can. I like that.
Drug Topics®: It sounds like you're doing everything that you can, and I'm that sure she’ll never forget you. Thank you for sharing that, I think that's inspiring to all of our viewers and definitely something to aspire to as a person.
Nguyen: Other customers, they’ll call me—they can’t make it because of the pandemic, they don’t want to pick up their medications because of their fear of being infected or being exposed. So, I also deliver medication to them.
Even my neighbors, they didn’t want to go out. I offered to give them shots, their shingles shots, the COVID-19 shot, even flu shots. If they asked me, I have no reason why [I can’t]—I want to help as much as I can. I know they’d only ask if they were really desperate [and] I'm glad that I can do it to help them feel more ease, and to see their smile and their joy. It makes me feel good to be there for them, you know
Drug Topics®: Again, on behalf of patients everywhere, I'm going to go ahead and thank you, because I think—I'm sure it matters a lot to [your patients] to know that they have someone looking out for them like that.
So with that, are there any final thoughts that you would like to share with our viewers or any words of wisdom that you'd like to impart?
Nguyen: So like yesterday [in the roundtable interview] I said, it's important, especially in retail pharmacies, you want to try to create a personal connection with all your customers. I try to either greet them by their names, create a small conversation with them.
I have a customer who came in with a prescription for diabetes for first time diagnosis, and I tried to ease their fears, I told them, I’ve been diabetic for 20 years myself. I tried to help them with their medication therapy, I tried to show them what to do so that they weren’t panicking about being diabetic.
I try to recommend shingles vaccines; I have customers coming in who got shingles and so I try to tell my other customers, “Try not to wait too long because you never know when it’s going to happen.” I try to give them advice on their medications, give them options and make them feel like they’re in control. I like to put myself in their shoes, sometimes…they come in and they feel hopeless. They’ll come to me saying, “The other pharmacy, they didn’t tell me I had the option to do this.” And I’ll say, “There are many options, there are 3 or 4 options you can do. You need to take your medicine, we can go with a week’s worth and I can find a good discount card for you, and then try to work with your insurance after that, or call your doctor to change to something else after that.”
I try to make them be more in control of their health and their situation.
Drug Topics®: I think that's a really great takeaway, to put yourself in the customers shoes. I'm sure that just given the staffing issues that pharmacists across the country are facing, it can be hard to [not] lose sight of that.
Nguyen: There’s one story—I always have a customer coming in, they think I’m their doctor, and they want me to diagnose their problem. They try to show me—they take their shirt off, or pull their pants off, and I go, “No, don’t do that—don’t show it to me, I’m not a doctor. If you tell me the symptom, I can help you with the symptom, or if you tell me what it is, I can help you with that, but I can’t really diagnose what this is.” I try to advise them [that] if it lasts more than a week, or if it’s not getting better, go see a doctor, because that’s what they’re trained to do. I’m trained to help with the symptoms of it, but the symptoms can be very common to many ailments. I try to make them understand they have to see a doctor if it’s lasting more than a week. It’s funny that they try to show me their body parts and as, “What’s this, what’s that?”
Drug Topics®: I feel like pharmacists are just so accessible to people, we kind of forget—if they’re comfortable with you, I could see why they would come up and be like, “You know, I have this rash,” or whatever… that’s funny. I didn’t think that was a problem you’d have.
Nguyen: I have a lot of customers, when I give immunizations—a lot of them, even new customers, will come in and I’ll give them shots. After spending time with them, they like me so much they come every year for their shots. They tell me they changed their prescription to become a loyal customer.
I have kids myself, so I ask them about their kids, what college they go to, what high school. I see if they’re a fan of the Redskins or the Packers, I’ll talk about that. I have a lot of military people [come in]; I have a brother-in-law who just retired from the army, so I’ll share that with them. I’ve met some famous people, I have a 4-star general from the Marines who’s over 90 years old, he’d come every year to get his shots. It’s also gratifying for me to meet all of these customers who have interesting backgrounds.
Drug Topics®: That's incredible. Well, it sounds like this was really, really well-deserved award, so, congratulations again. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to talk with us and share these stories, I think they'll really resonate with all of our viewers, and congratulations.
Nguyen: Thank you.