Kenneth Strandberg, MBA, RPh
North Dakota State University (NDSU) began offering a required Pharmacy Management course with a substantial entrepreneurial element four years ago. This course covers the standard pharmacy management materials such as basic financial concepts, marketing, personnel management, and professional conduct. However, an entrepreneurial project is 50 percent of the course grade.
Prof. Kenneth Strandberg, RPh, MBA, adjunct professor of pharmacy practice, teaches the Pharmacy Management course. In addition to teaching at NDSU, Strandberg is adjunct assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine, Pharmacy Technician Program Director at the North Dakota State College of Science, and the pharmacy department supervisor at the Fargo Veterans Administration Hospital and Clinics. Strandberg developed the entrepreneurial component of the management class and implemented it, but he said it was the alumni who lobbied for its inclusion in the curriculum. "Alumni have always reminded us of the need for business-based worked coursework, and this addresses that in a deeper, more significant way than mere lecture material," he said.
The entrepreneurial component of the class is a team project in which each student is placed in a group of four and they find, choose, or create a non-dispensing activity or project that could have the potential to actually be implemented in a community or hospital pharmacy setting.
The students read management expert Peter Drucker's book Principles of Innovation, which outlines deliberate procedural steps for identifying innovative entrepreneurial projects within an industry.
They then create a complete business plan using classroom materials, resources on the Internet, and interviews and discussions with other faculty (i.e., the business school, the statistics department, and the state demographic people) as well as community sources (hospital pharmacy directors and clinical coordinators, retail pharmacy owners/managers/district managers, SCORE, the Small Business Administration, bankers, realtors, media sources, etc).
Each group presents its complete plan to the class using PowerPoint, handouts of things such as advertising materials, legal forms, recordkeeping materials, and their own live narrative. The goal is to give the students the experience of presenting their ideas to a bank's loan committee or a retail owner/manager or the hospital pharmacy director or other decision maker.
"Over the years," said Strandberg, "we have had many truly remarkable ideas and projects ranging from starting a new retail pharmacy (with location input from the state demographer and the city planning office) to providing discharge counseling services on contract to local hospitals to creating multi-language documents to aid immigrant people in their choices and uses of OTC products (a project involving grant money the students obtained from a local foundation and the cooperation of translators and several dozen local pharmacists). While most projects are things that have been done before, such as planning a flu-shot clinic or providing diabetes training and monitoring, many are also new ideas such as contracting to provide a pain-control clinic at a local MD's group practice or developing several 'mini-counseling' topics that a retail pharmacist could provide in a few minutes and that a patient would be willing to pay out-of-pocket for (topics range from recurrent ear infections to headache control to PMS control)."
Strandberg added that creating a complete, viable business plan for a retail venture or a hospital takes a great deal of research and time and most of the students have never had to consider the financial and logistical aspects of carrying out an idea to fruition. The students often conclude their plan isn't viable, but this is a valuable lesson to learn.
"I consistently hear from students a few years later who have either proposed their class project to their superiors at their post-graduate workplaces or asked me for copies of projects they recall from class. We are expanding our curriculum's offering in this area by making the Entrepreneurism and Innovation portion an elective "Management II" course, part of which will be done in collaboration with our Business School as part of our new PharmD/MBA program," said Strandberg.
Regarding a possible reluctance among the schools of pharmacy to offer entrepreneurial training, Strandberg was the only person to tell us he believes there is a bias against retail pharmacy in the pharmacy schools. Although only one professor out of twelve said this, it is a fairly common feeling among many independent pharmacy owners. "Our college realizes that most graduates are operating in the retail setting and we address this in various ways, such as with our new 'concept pharmacy' dispensing lab and coursework as well as with our Management I and II courses," said Strandberg. "We use adjunct faculty for this, allowing us to fit people to the task. I feel there is a bias in academia against retail practice, but at NDSU realize the preponderance of retail activity in the profession and the fact that retail pharmacists can have a huge impact on people's health care. Our administration and faculty realize that no other trained healthcare provider has the public contact that retail pharmacists enjoy. This presents us with an unparalleled opportunity to impact the public's health. Entrepreneurism and innovation address both the finances and professional healthcare accomplishments of pharmacists."
Like most of the respondents, Strandberg said he felt the high starting salaries for new practitioners might discourage students from considering ownership. However, students learn about ownership at NDSU because the university promotes it. The university is closely involved with the NDPhA and NCPA in promoting independent pharmacy, and the student NCPA group is very active, with monthly seminars on retail pharmacy and related business topics. NDSU co-sponsors a "North Dakota Opportunities" evening seminar, which is well attended by students and primarily driven by independent owners.
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