Rising stars: Three women entrepreneurs share their paths to pharmacy success

October 10, 2014

By 2020, approximately 62% of all active pharmacists will be women. Here we follow three paths to rewarding and creative careers.

For decades men have outnumbered women in pharmacy, but the tides are shifting, and not only are women in the profession growing in numbers; they're leading the way.

In 1970, according to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), women accounted for only 13% of the pharmacy workforce; however, the latest data from the 2009 National Pharmacist Workforce Survey prepared by the Midwest Pharmacy Workforce Research Consortium show that by 2009 that number had increased to 46.4%.

It's a trend that is expected only to grow. HHS has estimated that by 2020, a majority - approximately 62% - of active pharmacists will be women.

As the numbers of women practicing pharmacy increase, so do the numbers of women assuming leadership roles in the industry, whether through owning their own stores, assuming corporate roles, or advocating for change in Washington.

The 2009 National Pharmacist Workforce Survey found that the number of women pharmacists who were in owner or partner positions had grown from 2.3% in 2000 to 8.1% in 2009.

Compensation is also growing. The latest research shows that the median woman working full-time as a pharmacist now earns 92 cents for every dollar a man earns.

 

Greater opportunity

According to Eden Sulzer, director of the Cardinal Health Women in Pharmacy initiative, as more male pharmacy owners reach retirement age, there is greater opportunity for women to become pharmacy owners.

"There is still a need - and I think a growing need - for people to be able to go into a community pharmacy and get that custom and personal level of care, especially for those who are dealing with chronic conditions," she said. "We decided that, hey, this is a moment in time when we need to jump into this and try some things, and see what we can do to help these women overcome some barriers and some myths around business ownership, and give them some tools to succeed."

 The Cardinal Health Women in Pharmacy initiative was created to help inspire, facilitate, and support women in all stages of their career by providing education, mentoring, networking opportunities, and more to those women interested in advancing their careers.

"These women - and the women I get to spend my time with who own pharmacies in their communities - really become community leaders, and in urban and rural areas, the community pharmacy is often like the community center," she said. "They have great influence, they are touching people's lives, they are really filling in the gap in the level of care that we are getting."

While new opportunities for leadership and professional education continue to grow for women in pharmacy, some women are already making their mark in the industry, including three women who have found unique avenues through which to bring about positive change in their communities and the profession.  

 

Staci Hubert, PharmD

Staci HubertStaci Hubert found her pharmacy mentor before she even earned her high school diploma. Now the Ashland, Neb., pharmacy owner not only advocates for her profession; she is also helping other women in the industry reach their own goals.

Her first exposure to community pharmacy came in high school, when she landed a part-time job at  Stangel Pharmacy in her small town of Onawa, Iowa. It was clear to Hubert how integral the pharmacist, Jim Stangel, was to the residents’ overall healthcare.

"He was really an incredible business owner," she said. "I probably lucked out to begin with by having such a good pharmacist to work with, one who encouraged me to go to pharmacy school."

In college, Hubert explored various forms of pharmacy practice, including chain pharmacy, hospital pharmacy, and even nuclear pharmacy, but when one of the pharmacists she worked with at the hospital asked whether she'd be interested in returning to the community pharmacy setting to work in an independent pharmacy with a view toward ownership, she couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Within two years she had become a part-owner, gradually taking on a larger and larger portion of the business.

"I basically worked into ownership," she said.

Today, she owns Ashland Pharmacy with a partner, and she opened her own closed-door compounding pharmacy down the street in 2002. Unlike Ashland Pharmacy, the compounding pharmacy isn't open to the public. Instead, it serves its customers over the phone and delivers medications by mail, delivery, or patient pickup from the Ashland Pharmacy location.

"I felt more comfortable opening that up on my own since I had been running this community pharmacy," she said.

 

Keys to success

While initially she found the idea of owning her own pharmacy a bit daunting - especially the need to keep up on all the laws and regulations governing independent pharmacies - Hubert said the key to success is hiring the right people to support the business.

"You don't have to have an accounting degree or a personal management degree, but you need to hire good people," she said.

Throughout her career she's worked hard at both Ashland Pharmacy and Silver Street Compounding pharmacy to directly address needs within the community, whether through selling diabetic shoes or compounding bio-identical hormones in cream or capsule form to replace low hormones in patients with imbalances.

She has also devoted time to her community, serving at one point as the president of Ashland's Chamber of Commerce, and to her industry. Hubert currently serves on the Cardinal Health National Retail Advisory Board, and she went to Washington, D.C., this year to speak with lawmakers about the dangers of legislating use of mail-order pharmacies, as well as about the important role small independent pharmacies can play in a community.

"I think pharmacists, a lot of times, just step back and let whatever is happening to them happen. I think we have to be more vocal," she said.

 

Mentoring and leadership

Hubert also volunteers her time, along with other owners of independent pharmacies in the area, to meet with pharmacy students who may be considering ownership themselves.

"It helps to have a support system. We wanted these gals in the pharmacy schools to know that they would have a contact, we would be there for them if they had any questions," she said. 

Through it all, Hubert has also raised a family. She is the devoted mother of three; her youngest is now entering her senior year of high school. Balancing it all wasn't always easy, Hubert said, but it was always possible.

"I raised my kids through here," she said. "If they were sick, we'd pick them up and they'd come and sleep on the pharmacy floor."

Having an ownership role in the pharmacy also allowed her to schedule her time in the pharmacy around school plays and athletic events, something she tries now to do for her staff as well.

"We can make it work on short staff, so we kind of have a family environment here," she said.

 

Miranda Rochol

Miranda RocholMiranda Rochol never imagined that she’d end up in pharmacy. The Wisconsin resident knew from the time she was in high school that she wanted to be a neonatal nurse practitioner.

But after injuring her back while she was in nursing school, Rochol was forced to consider other options.

"I started working as a pharmacy technician because I knew I wanted to do healthcare and I didn't know what else to do," she said.

It might not have been the career she imagined as a teenager, but it became a passion. Rochol, who later went back to earn a degree in healthcare administration, soon found herself creating training programs for pharmacy technicians, developing and implementing strategies for Walgreens’ electronic prescription program, and helping launch the retail giant’s accountable care organizations.

 

Up through the ranks

Although Rochol started as a pharmacy technician, she was able to move quickly through corporate ranks, thanks to networking and what she describes as her aggressive and persistent nature.

"I also strongly believe that I want to continue to better myself and improve myself, and I love learning new things," she said. "I don't shy away from a challenge, and in fact, I think I tend to shine when there is a challenge."

Less than a year after accepting a job within one of Walgreens’ retail stores, she was promoted to the district office, where she developed a training program for her technicians that caught the eye of the corporate home office.

She soon accepted a position within the corporate office's new electronic prescribing department.

"When I started inside that department, we had 100,000 scripts a month, and when I left, we had 10 million scripts a month. It was pretty amazing to see that growth," she said. 

She also spent time helping the company launch its ACOs before leaving Walgreens to accept her current position as vice president of product and strategy for Healthcare Data Solutions, a company that specializes in supplying provider organization data to the chain pharmacy, dental, pharma, and healthcare markets.

 

Unique experience

Her unique experience within the pharmacy industry has helped her in her position today. For instance, her time as a pharmacy technician has helped her understand how critical it is for products to fit into the pharmacy's existing workflow.

"We know our pharmacy product almost has to be so seamless that it's less than half a millisecond, because if our products are going to take one second, that's too long. I would not have directly known that if I had never worked in pharmacy," she said.

Rochol attributes part of her success in the industry to the many wonderful mentors she's had along the way.

"I've learned so much from them," she said.

While most of her mentors were males, Rochol said, she hopes her story illustrates the leadership potential of women in the industry as well.

"I think that there are more opportunities today than there were even 10 years ago for women inside pharmacy, but I strongly believe there's still an opportunity for growth in that area," she said.

 

Jenna Gresens, RPh

Pharmacy is continually evolving, and Jenna Gresens has fully embraced the process.

The independent pharmacy owner readily incorporates new technology, regularly sets new goals for her pharmacy, Edgerton Pharmacy in Edgerton, Wis., and continues to find ways to improve patient care and attract new customers.

"We like to always have another goal to keep us challenged and motivated and engaged, and keep us visioning," she said.

The first goal for Gresens and her husband, Eric, who is also a pharmacist, was to own their own pharmacy. That goal, Gresens readily admits, was initially more of a passion for her husband.

"He was the one who really had the independent spirit to want to do this," she said.

After they purchased their store in 2003, Gresens' husband ran the pharmacy while Gresens continued to work as a hospital pharmacist. But soon her husband needed more help at the store, and Gresens left her hospital job to join him.

She soon found that she too liked the benefits of independent ownership. And they were also able to start their own family.

"I am kind of a jack-of-all-trades. I prefer to do a little bit of everything rather than do one thing and get really, really into it. Community pharmacy fits well with my work style, because I am able to do a little bit of everything - and sometimes it's a lot of everything," she said.

 

Cooperative endeavors

In 2009, the couple joined forces with the owners of several other independent pharmacies to create the RockMed LTC Pharmacy.

The group of pharmacies wanted a way to combine the business each was doing with assisted living facilities and long-term-care facilities.

"We thought if we were able to combine that business into one spot, it would lead to greater efficiencies, so we tried that and it started growing. At that location we are now serving more patients, caring for more patients, than we are doing at any of the other facilities," she said.

Her husband now runs the RockMed LTC Pharmacy while Gresens spends her days leading the team at the Edgerton Pharmacy.

It's the perfect fit for Gresens, who has been able to exercise her artistic side through development of the store's attached gift shop. Over the 12 years since the couple purchased the pharmacy, it has become a regional destination.

The pharmacy building is 14,000 square feet. The previous owner had filled the space by creating a general store of sorts, selling everything from toasters to automotive parts. After doing some research, Gresens found that customers weren't really buying the products, so she decided to refine their selection and focus on gift items.

"We have a lot of greeting cards and candles, fashion, jewelry. We are big on the seasonal décor. And I think we're finally getting to the point where we are able to really refine our selection," she said.

When she isn't at the store or taking care of her children, Gresens can often be found onstage; she serves as a co-founder of the Rock River Repertory Theatre Company.

"It's important to get involved in something you are passionate about. Women in pharmacy don't have to be passionate only about pharmacy. I think just being out there and being present helps build bridges with the community," she said.

For her, business ownership has allowed her to strike a balance - although sometimes an imperfect one - between being a mother and being a pharmacist.

"I would not be able to be the mother that I am, or the business person that I am, if I didn't own my own business and have a little bit of flexibility and autonomy to do what I feel is the best thing to do in the moment," she said.

Jill Sederstrom is a freelance writer based in Kansas City.