CVS launches mentor program to attract new pharmacists and keep older workers

May 12, 2008

CVS Pharmacy has a mentoring program designed to attract new pharmacists to the chain and to keep mature workers.

Jerry Welenc is 71-years-of-age. He has been a pharmacist for 50 years. While he has logged enough years to hang up his white coat, the thought never crosses his mind. What's keeping Welenc in the workforce?

Importance of giving back

Steve Wing, CVS Caremark's director of workforce initiatives, told Drug Topics, "There are two large tsunamis that are going to hit the workforce here. The first tsunami is that within the next two years, the mass of baby boomers is going to hit retirement age. The second tsunami is that there are fewer and fewer young people in the inner cities, and the rural markets are in big trouble. We looked at how we can keep mature workers and how we can encourage younger people to come to work in the pharmaceutical arena."

CVS has already shown its commitment to creating workforce development partnerships, as evidenced by its collaboration with America's Promise's "Pathways to Pharmacy" program for inner-city and rural kids. On the heels of that partnership, the chain conducted a survey of pharmacists in Chicago who were over age 50. According to the study, conducted by the University of Vermont, the senior pharmacists said, 'Don't call us retired.' They also indicated that they were interested in mentoring students.

The mentoring program selects 30 high school sophomores and juniors to participate in an eight-week program. They spend time in a CVS pharmacy and at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy. The mentor comes to the university and spends time with the students and also stays in touch with these students during the school year.

"We are now into our second year of mentoring and have had great success from the youth and pharmacy side," said Wing, adding, "the mentors are trained to listen to and encourage students. So far, we've seen that having mentors has helped kids see that pharmacy is something they want to do. The mentors have a career and a lifetime of knowledge they can share with these kids. The mentors enjoy doing it and they see that they are helping a young person go into something they love."

Rollout plans

CVS plans to roll out its mentoring program to Tampa, Fla., and Atlanta this year. "After we get those up and going, we will roll it out to California and then nationally," said Wing. CVS is also interested in going to elementary and middle schools to introduce younger students to pharmacy as a career and is working with an all-black male high school to encourage these students as well. CVS believes mentors can also encourage pharmacy employees who have the potential to become pharmacists, technicians, and lead techs.

Pointing out that two African-American students he mentored are now pharmacy students in Michigan and that a Hispanic female student is studying prepharmacy at the University of Illinois, Welenc said, "They thought this was a good opportunity to have a summer job and make some money and learn about something. It's important that when they come to the pharmacy, the kids have a positive experience. The most important way you mentor is when you get them into the pharmacy, you give them an example. When they are in this environment, they meet with people who are professionals. They find out these people are no different than they are. They can say, 'I can really do this.'"

"I had mentors when I was a kid. You have to give back," Welenc concluded.