Strong Future for Female Pharmacy Owners

July 26, 2018

How the disconnect between pharmacy schools and indepedent pharmacy ownership is being solved.

There is a gender disconnect between pharmacy school and independent pharmacy owners. More than half of pharmacy students in 2017 were women, 52.6%, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. Yet only a handful of independent pharmacy owners are female.

“We have more women graduating from pharmacy school than we do men,” says Jennifer Zilka, group vice president of Good Neighbor Pharmacy’s Field Programs and Services. “Yet when you step into the community pharmacy market, less than 30 percent of owners are females. So, how do we pave the way for those future female business owners to learn about the benefits of owning a community pharmacy?”

Zilka moderated a panel discussion on “Women in Pharmacy” at ThoughtSpot 2018, Good Neighbor Pharmacy’s annual trade show. Three pharmacy owners, an AmerisourceBergen executive and a small chain pharmacy director talked about what success looks like for women in pharmacy.

But a pharmacy student brought them up short with a reality check.

“It’s not really a thing to see a female as a pharmacy owner,” says Jessica Satterfield, a second year student at the University of Iowa. “Just getting information out there that the possibility exists would help. If you say you want to be a community pharmacist, the response is always ‘which chain?’”

The pharmacy owners on the panel didn’t buy their stores by accident.

Deirdre Myers, PharmD, pharmacist and pharmaceutics laboratory instructor at Ohio Northern University had her father as an example. He owned a pharmacy. She eventually married an independent pharmacy owner and is part owner of Harry’s Pharmacy in Carey, OH.

“Pharmacy isn’t just a job,” Myers says “When I worked in hospital pharmacy, I saw patients for a day or two and never knew the impact my recommendations had. As an independent, I see patients long term. I know what my recommendations mean for my patients. I know them, their families, their expectations. We’re living proof that you can be a pharmacist, an owner, and a mother.”

Melynda Munden, PharmD, owner of Hemmingsen Drug Store in Marshall, MI, discovered independent pharmacy by working in one.

“Pharmacy school just doesn’t prepare you for the business side of being an independent owner,” she says.

Heidi Snyder, PharmD, bought Drug World Pharmacies, which serve three local communities north of New York City, from her father, who founded the group in 1975.

“My dad brought me up to believe I could do anything,” she explains, “even owning a pharmacy.”

Not recognizing the possibility of pharmacy ownership is the obvious barrier to female ownership. Gender includes a bigger issue.

“When I talk with students about pharmacy ownership, the elephant in the room is motherhood,” Myers says. The reality is that with the right support system, you can do both. You are the best person to create that support system for yourself and for other women.”

Balancing work and life wasn’t a question for Snyder. She took time off every school day to meet her two children when they got off the bus.

“My staff knew that between a quarter to three and ten after, no prescriptions were going to get completed,” she explains. “That’s simply the way it was.”

Work-life balance can be solved just as cleanly in other settings. Erin Horvath, senior vice president of Distribution Services at AmerisourceBergen, brought her husband and children into the discussion. When the job changed to require more travel, she called a family meeting.

Her oldest said the travel would work as long as she could put him on the bus to school every Friday. The youngest said travel was fine as long as every trip brought home a treat.

“Engage your family in it,” Horvath advises. “You can negotiate a solution that keeps everybody happy.”

Negotiation can work in the chain world as well. Kerri Okamura, PharmD, director of Pharmacy Operations for KTA Super Stores, a Hawaii-based grocery chain, uses flexible scheduling to attract and keep talented staff.

“I am surrounded by a great team, all of them young women with young families,” she says. “If they need time to see a child’s performance or something else, I encourage them to schedule around that. Being a woman in pharmacy is only an imposition if you let it be.”

Current pharmacy owners should keep women in mind when they decide to sell. “If you’re an owner in your 50s or 60s, why not look at a woman to buy? You just doubled your potential market,” said Myers.