Retail pharmacists, store managers can learn from each other

December 11, 2009

The retail pharmacist who runs a pharmacy inside a big-box store can improve departmental operations by understanding the point of view of the retail store manager. Although pharmacist and manager have different focuses and priorities, they can work together to improve delivery of services when they understand each other's needs.

Key Points

Retail pharmacists know how to provide the best care for their patients but often find themselves taxed by prescription volume (spurred in part by low-cost or no-cost generics), inadequate staffing, and heavy administrative demands. These demands often are compounded when the retail pharmacist works with a store manager who may have little knowledge of how to run a pharmacy.

One of the biggest sources of conflict between pharmacists and store managers is a misunderstanding about their respective roles and goals. Store managers may not understand the strict rules governing the pharmacy department and pharmacist practice. They may resent new pharmacy graduates earning high salaries that few other store personnel will ever receive. On the flip side, pharmacists may not understand that they are part of a larger team or appreciate the many years managers have spent developing management skills instead of earning an advanced degree.

Misunderstandings between pharmacy and store managers can stem from how the two view their roles in providing service. Store managers often do not recognize customers as patients. Similarly, when a pharmacist does not recognize each patient as a store customer, conflict can arise.

John Michael O'Brien, PharmD, MPH, assistant professor of clinical and administrative sciences at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, said the kettle is set to boil back in pharmacy school, when pharmacists are taught that patients aren't customers.

"Pharmacists may have learned that financial targets and customer satisfaction are barriers to patient safety and health quality," he said, adding that pharmacists need to recognize that patient care and customer satisfaction aren't mutually exclusive and are both important to the success of the store.

To help his students understand the importance of good relations between pharmacists and store managers, O'Brien requires them to take a pharmacy-management course developed in collaboration with the Food Marketing Institute; the curriculum includes leadership and human-resource skills.

"Our students will learn to resolve management conflicts instead of retreating from them and see how that yields a more rewarding experience for the pharmacist and the patient," said O'Brien. "Our graduates will understand they aren't just working in a store; they're part of a health-and-wellness team."

A Midwestern Walmart store manager who asked not be identified told Drug Topics that the pharmacy is a very profitable entity of his store and a true customer-driver. Any store manager who wants to grow the business needs to develop a good relationship with the pharmacy manager," he said.