Community Pharmacist Spotlight 

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Theresa Tolle

Pharmacist: Dawn Butterfield, RPh.

Pharmacy: West Cocoa Pharmacy and Compounding

City, State: Cocoa, Florida

How many years have you been practicing as a pharmacist? 25+

What led you to a career in independent pharmacy?
I love retail pharmacy; interacting with the customers and helping patients and their families. I believe that chain pharmacy has truly tried to "corporatize" pharmacy. In seeing this, I looked to other options for helping patients as I felt like I would not be the kind of pharmacist I wanted to be while practicing in that setting. I've always been very entrepreneurial and became very interested in compounding. It's been just two years now since our start-up, but owning a pharmacy has opened up all kinds of different, exciting, and challenging opportunities.

What makes your pharmacy standout from the competition?
Our pharmacy has a true "boutique" feel and has been described by patients as feeling "warm and homey." For the most part, the pharmacist is the first person that the patient encounters. We deliver to the patient's home or workplace and make all aspects of pharmacy easy for our patients and caregivers. We offer compliance packaging for medications & supplements and have a variety of items in our front end that you can't get at big-box retailers. Compounding medications is a focus for us and we have quite a few veterinary patients. We also compound our own over-the-counter cosmoceuticals.

How did you ensure your staff was ready to offer the services you wished to provide?
Our staff now consists of one fantastic technician, my partner (who does all of our deliveries) and a part time intern. We spend a lot of time on training and fine tuning our processes to ensure we are providing the best customer service possible. Continued learning is a focus for us and at work we can be found listening to Doctor Radio, Ted Talks or Continuing Education. Having knowledgeable, competent, and friendly staff is essential to our success and customers appreciate interacting with competent staff who truly care.

What are your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenges at the moment are "preferred" networks and being paid from PBMs for less than what we paid for a medication. Friends in other industries are shocked when I explain to them that this is happening, and I have to say I'm quite upset that things have progressed to this point. I'm hopeful that these issues will run their course and the PBMs will start to acknowledge and appreciate (and then compensate) the total job that the independent pharmacist does for their patients. We are in a good position with the frequency by which we see patients (on average 13 times a year) to be able to positively impact the overall health of our patients, much more than people realize; but it is up to us to take time to re-educate the public and decision makers about what we do and how we provide value to the healthcare system. We've been our own worst enemy, but we can certainly change this!

Describe a recent, rewarding experience with a patient:
A very frantic mother called sounding very desperate about her son's condition. He needs Riboflavin, but doesn't like the taste and when he doesn't receive it, his condition worsens. The challenge was that she couldn't get him to take it. "Is there anything I can do?" she asked. I told her that we would possibly be able to compound it and try different flavors that he does like. We researched the best flavors to complement Riboflavin and made sure that the very bitter taste was masked and final product was palatable. As soon as the boy knew we were going to try the medication on him, he shook his head and started to cry. I told him how yummy the flavor was and showed him that I liked it as I put a little drop on my finger. I asked him to smell it and just give a little taste. I joked with him a little and got him to smile. He was surprised when the small taste wasn't that bad. So we thought we'd press our luck and give him a full dose to see if that would work. He took the dose and said, "It's okay." His mother was shocked and elated. We thought he may grow tired of the taste, but 2 months later she called for a refill and couldn't have said more nice things about how much their lives have gotten better and how his condition has improved. On challenging days, you think of families like this and you feel good about the decision to be a pharmacist

How has NCPA helped your business?
I remember when NCPA was NARD. They were always the best organization, in my opinion, that continuously moved pharmacy forward. Even though I worked for chains in the past I always had respect for what NCPA was doing for pharmacy. When we were developing a business plan for our current pharmacy, I contacted NCPA and got the manual on opening a pharmacy. It was GREAT information, as was the latest digest information. Recently, we had the occasion to have a visit by Gabe Trahan (Front End Overhaul) and he gave me plenty of helpful hints in how to maximize our over-the-counter section. We plan to work more with Gabe in the future and I am so impressed with his vast knowledge of our specific industry and his experience in retail merchandising.