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CVS Health has now introduced one million young people to pharmacy as a career possibility, and many of them have followed through.
In 2006, CVS Health decided to develop a new program to introduce teens and young adults to the world of pharmacy. The company wanted to offer local youngsters opportunities to learn about retail, hospital, and clinical pharmacy, and then provide them with summer internships working at local retail chains. For one Chicago teen, it led to a job offer and higher education.
Veronica Vergara, a lead pharmacy technician at a CVS pharmacy in Chicago, Ill., was a high school junior in the Chicago Public Schools when she attended an informational meeting with her parents at University of Illinois at Chicago. The summer internship and the opportunity to explore different types of pharmacy practice intrigued her.
CVS Health’s Pathways to Pharmacy program offered 28 to 30 students a real chance to experience the retail pharmacy environment and provided them the support of a pharmacist mentor, a stipend for their participation, and help with transportation and housing, if needed.
“The Pathways to Pharmacy program was my first exposure to the health field. I really hadn’t thought too much about a career when I was a junior in high school. I credit the program for helping me choose pharmacy in the first place,” Vergara said.
After the summer internship, she was offered a part-time position as a general pharmacy service assistant and was later promoted to pharmacy technician and then inventory specialist. Now she is a lead pharmacy technician responsible for helping other CVS pharmacies in her district fine-tune their procedures.
“I go to other CVS locations to analyze the workflow and make sure that we are all on the same page, with customer service being our No. 1 priority,” she said. Vergara is pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago and will consider applying to pharmacy school in the future.
She would recommend this career pathway to other high school students, she said, although choosing a career at such a young age did seem daunting.
“I would recommend this program to others and tell them to give CVS a chance, because as an employer, the company is flexible with school hours,” Vergara said. “I am going to school now, and CVS has been great. Not every employer would provide that flexibility.”
David CaseyThe success of the Pathways to Pharmacy program is a result of the partnerships it has developed over the last nine years with local elementary to post-secondary schools, community organizations, and faith-based organizations, said David Casey, vice president of Workforce Strategies and chief diversity officer, CVS Health. This year marks a milestone for the program, which has now presented pharmacy as a career possibility to one million young people.
“We have the right relationships with community-based organizations to help provide whatever services are needed by the participants, such as housing, transportation, or childcare. Our team of 25 full-time colleagues who know how to develop these relationships and provide that support has been critical to our success,” Casey told Drug Topics.
The Pathways to Pharmacy program is one of the success stories featured by Grads of Life (www.gradsoflife.org), a campaign designed to persuade employers that, given a chance to develop their talents, young people who have not followed the traditional post-secondary education route have much to contribute.
“The Grads of Life campaign is designed to get right at those perception issues and begin to get employers to think differently about where they look for talent,” said Elyse Rosenblum, director of an initiative known as the Employment Pathways Project. “What employers learn very quickly is that these youth are highly motivated, extremely loyal, and hard-working.”
CVS, a leader in this approach, has developed a robust and diverse talent pipeline, Rosenblum noted. “They have engaged young people from an early age for a career in pharmacy, and it turned out to be really a good bet for them.” She added, “CVS operates in communities, and customer service and customer engagement is much higher when the people working at CVS reflect the community that they are operating in,” she said.
Editor's note: Veronica Vergara was the lead technician at a CVS drug store in Chicago at the time of this interview. She has since moved on to another company.