Former Walgreens exec honored for contributions to pharmacy

April 10, 2016

APhA's honorary president of the year talks about his proudest achievements and his vision for the future of the profession

Phillip P. Burgess, RPh, MBA, a former Walgreens pharmacist and executive, was recently nominated as the American Pharmacists Association’s honorary president for 2017-2018. Following his 40-year tenure with Walgreens, Burgess has held a number of leadership positions in pharmacy, including president of the Community Pharmacy Foundation and member of the Executive Committee of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. For many years he also has been a member of Drug Topics’ editorial advisory board.

Drug Topics recently spoke with Burgess about his accomplishments and his outlook for the future of the profession.

DT: Is there any specific mentor who helped you develop leadership skills during your career?

Phil BurgessBurgess: My mentor was my father, a pharmacist with a small group of stores in Memphis. He was a man of incredibly high integrity.

I had never really intended to be a pharmacist and follow in his footsteps. I wanted to be an attorney. However, my father said, "Well, first you’re going to pharmacy school, and then you can decide what you want to do in life."  Later on, I also pursued an MBA.

My father was always proud of my achievements at Walgreens, although he thought I would come back to Memphis and work in one of his four independent stores. However, Walgreens had put me into a very fast management track. I found Walgreens to be an incredibly ethical company of high integrity. 

DT: Since leaving Walgreens in 2009, you have kept very busy. What are some of your latest endeavors?

Burgess: In addition to my consulting business, I get the greatest pleasure as president of the Community Pharmacy Foundation, because we’re able to fund grants that help to demonstrate the value that community pharmacists can have in improving patient care.

Among the most exciting things happening today are payment for pharmacists' cognitive services and the push for provider status. The Community Pharmacy Foundation has helped to demonstrate the value that pharmacists can bring, which is pivotal to achieving provider status. Pharmacists really can improve patient care while at the same time lowering costs. 

See also: A pharmacy pioneer of the 20th century bounds into the 21st

DT: Could you talk about the use of technology to improve patient care?

Burgess: For a long time, the state boards of pharmacy were very focused on face-to-face communication between the pharmacist and the patient. As we look to the future, we need to re-evaluate this position and let patients tell us how they want to receive their care. For example, if patients want to get their prescriptions through mail order, we should accommodate them.

Telemedicine and telepharmacy are also transforming patient care. If you’re located in a rural community and the only practitioner you can get to is a general practitioner, you can still receive quality care for a complex disease state such as multiple sclerosis or HIV/AIDS from a specialist who may be 2,000 miles away.

The need for increased medication compliance means that we need to make it easier for patients to gain access to medications, even if that means an electronic prescription pick-up system for patients who work second or third shift.  If there’s technology for patients to listen to a prerecorded message from the pharmacist when patients access their medications, that’s not going to take the place of the pharmacist counseling them, but it certainly can be an adjunct to be used. This technology we have to embrace.

 

DT: What other changes are on the horizon for pharmacists and patient care?

Burgess: I’m very hopeful that in the future we’re going to have comprehensive electronic health records for every patient and that all the various healthcare professionals involved in patient care will have access. In some cases, that will require some regulatory changes. 

DT: Please describe your involvement on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS during the Clinton administration.

Burgess: That was probably one of the most rewarding positions I ever held. When President Clinton created this advisory council, I was working at Walgreens, trying to deal with the HIV/AIDS crisis. Walgreens had purchased the Castro Pharmacy in the heart of San Francisco and the center of the AIDS epidemic. There was a lot of community antagonism towards "big, bad corporate" taking over this independent pharmacy.

Then the drug AZT [azidothymidine] became available. It was the first drug to be useful in helping to treat AIDS, but incredibly expensive. I worked with our corporate vice president to get approval for Walgreens to sell AZT at cost and not make a profit off this drug.

Walgreens stood at the cutting edge of this public health initiative. I became well known within the AIDS community in San Francisco, and I was instrumental in Walgreens’ decision to put pharmacies directly into AIDS clinics in Chicago and Houston. As President Clinton was forming this HIV/AIDS Advisory Council, people knew me, and I was fortunate enough to be selected to be on that advisory board. It was very rewarding; I felt I had some real impact with regard to helping AIDS patients.

DT: Do you have any advice for new pharmacy graduates? And what can you tell them about advocating for the pharmacy profession?

Burgess: I think that it’s key for pharmacists to see themselves as change-makers. The exciting thing about being at this year’s APhA annual meeting was to see these young graduates, who are head and shoulders above anything I’ve ever seen. They are brighter, sharper, and more articulate.

However, once they start the practice of pharmacy and become involved in their careers, they drop out of APhA and their state associations to focus on paying back their college loans. I urge them to continue to participate in their local pharmacy associations and to be active in the political arena.

If pharmacists ever get provider status, it will be because we are out there selling the message, not just to legislatures, but to the public. Every pharmacist should champion that initiative.

I urge them to continue to be involved and to see that their role as pharmacists goes beyond just working behind the counter. They need look at the big picture, long-term, in order for the profession to continue to improve.

See also: An advocate for changes urges pharmacists to speak out