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The Dose

University of North Carolina Students Preview Business Competition Entry

by By Michael Rule | Sep 26, 2016

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On October 15th, students from three pharmacy schools will participate in a live competition during the National Community Pharmacists Association's 2016 Annual Convention in New Orleans to win the 2016 Good Neighbor Pharmacy NCPA Pruitt-Schutte Student Business Plan Competition. For the first time, the University of North Carolina (UNC) Eshelman School of Pharmacy is among the three finalists. The team comprised of Felicia Charles, Huy Pham, Stephanie Sun and Michael Verble previewed their entry for NCPA.

In 2004, NCPA held the inaugural pharmacy student business plan competition in which six schools submitted entries. The contest has steadily grown in popularity as 46 schools entered in 2016. Those who attend the live competition will be treated to innovative ideas on how these students plan to thrive in operating their own independent pharmacy and may walk away with some ideas that they can implement in their own businesses.

Our Q&A with the UNC team members follows.

NCPA: What made you consider a career in independent community pharmacy and to ultimately enter this contest?

FELICIA CHARLES (FC): Independent community pharmacy provides the unique opportunity to work closely with patients to help them manage their health care. I like that you develop relationships with patients and can follow them throughout their life to assure that they are doing well. So often in inpatient or outpatient pharmacy, you only get a snapshot of a patient's health and habits and with community pharmacy you are able to get the whole picture when you see patients month after month. We entered this competition in order to test our abilities at running an independent pharmacy and changing the way that patients interact with health care.

HUY PHAM (HP): I've been asked this question many times before, and my favorite answer is "entrepreneurship runs in my blood." I started my very first job at my family business, when I entered the sixth grade, as a typewriter at a rural town in Vietnam. My job was to help illiterate people to draft their documents, including birth certificates, requests to the government, or even civil lawsuits. My favorite part was working side by side with my parents expanding our services, tailoring them to the needs of the community. I would love to transfer my ability and passion to the field of pharmacy. A career in independent community pharmacy will give me another opportunity to serve my community in a most creative, impactful way.

STEPHANIE SUN (SS): I began to consider a career in independent community pharmacy after experiencing what it is like to work in a chain pharmacy. The emphasis for chain pharmacies appears to be more numbers and goal-oriented, rather than patient-oriented, which is where the true emphasis of pharmacy should lie. Observing the consistent pressure for pharmacists to meet objective goals, such as faster filling times and vaccination number goals, and the lesser regard for actual patient feedback about a pharmacist's quality of care was something that frustrated me. Without the requirement for answering to a corporate entity, an independent pharmacy can better connect with the community it is in and spend more time balancing patient care with the pharmacy's financial success.

MICHAEL VERBLE (MV): The relationship that pharmacists build with their patients at independent community pharmacies has always been something that appealed to me. I have worked at two independents and at each one the pharmacists would always greet their patients by name. Independent pharmacies practice pharmacy the way it is meant to be practiced: with a focus on quality of care over quantity.

NCPA: Have you previously attended an NCPA annual meeting? If so, what made you want to come back?

FC: I have not previously attended an NCPA annual meeting.

SS: I have not previously attended an NCPA annual meeting.

HP: I attended the 2015 NCPA annual meeting in Maryland. It was truly an eye-opening experience. What impressed me the most was to see that, when facing adversity, pharmacy owners across the nation chose not to victimize themselves; rather, they looked at various ways to optimize their operation expenses, explore new services, and implement creative marketing campaigns. I definitely look forward to seeing the energy, optimism, and innovative ideas at the 2016 national meeting.

MV: I attended the NCPA meeting last year. Hearing all of the innovative ideas made me excited for everything that independent pharmacies can accomplish now and in the future. I look forward to hearing some more this year!

NCPA: Can you sum up the highlights of your proposed plan to purchase or start an independent community pharmacy?

FC: Our plan to purchase an existing independent community pharmacy aims to work with patients to manage and even prevent chronic disease states such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. We want to work with patients to help them not only with their medication, but with nutrition, exercise, and meditation to assist them in all aspects of their health.

HP: Big box pharmacy has gradually transformed pharmacy practice into a heavily product-driven business, where customer service is minimized and prescription volumes are maximized. Both pharmacists and patients are not happy with this model. Our pharmacy will refocus attention to customer service, so pharmacists and patients can nurture a deeper relationship, resulting in much better care.

The health care system has spent the majority of its resources to acutely care for patients. This approach results in an increase in cost and reduction in patient satisfaction. At WeCare Pharmacy, we take a proactive, holistic approach, where we provide patients with science-based services to promote healthy behaviors, such as physical activities, meditation, nutrition, and medication adherence. We hope in the long run, we can both save cost and improve patient satisfaction.

SS: The highlight of our proposed plan to purchase an independent community pharmacy is our plan to renovate the existing pharmacy to include a Holistic Care Center, which will act as the heart of WeCare Pharmacy's flagship service, the Holistic Care Program. This renovation will convert approximately 600 square feet of the current front-end area into a better-utilized space for educational programming, fitness classes, meditation sessions, and other various demonstrations.

The Holistic Care Program embodies our mission to focus on preventative care, providing us the opportunity to deliver mental, physical, nutritional, and health support to participants. The program will involve collaboration between pharmacists, nutritionists, fitness instructors, meditation trainers, and most importantly, our patients. We will encourage our patients to actively participate in planning a comprehensive care plan and in establishing goals for their health and wellbeing, inspiring patients to take ownership of their health.

MV: Our plan centers on holistic care. For many disease states there is a lot more needed to control them than just medication. Exercise and diet can play a huge role in the management of diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia just to name a few. Similarly, adequate physical activity and proper nutrition can help to delay or even prevent the onset of disease. That's why we want to be actively involved in helping our patients make these lifestyle changes. To accomplish this, our pharmacy will host nutrition, meditation, and a variety of fun and challenging exercise classes.

NCPA: What makes the independent community pharmacy that you propose to purchase or open stand out from other retail pharmacies in the area?

FC: Our pharmacy will be different from any other pharmacy in the area because we will offer veterinary compounding, exercise classes, nutrition advice, and meditation guidance in addition to excellent pharmacy care. No other pharmacy in the area offers these types of services or seeks to be as involved in the community as WeCare Pharmacy.

HP: Our approach is to fill in the pharmaceutical care needs in the community. The Holistic Care Center is our largest comparative advantage. We will offer patients holistic, comprehensive care focusing on disease prevention and management. Zumba, meditation, and nutrition classes are offered to patients with reasonable fees. Compounding is another area we want to explore. Within a 5 mile radius from our pharmacy, there are several specialty clinics (dermatology, OB-GYN, veterinary) where special formulations are often needed to personalize patient care. However, there is only one independent pharmacy offering compounding with limited services. We will reach out to the physicians and provide a comprehensive, high quality compounding services so they can treat their patients better.

SS: WeCare Pharmacy, will stand out from other retail pharmacies in the area not only because of the unique services and programs that we offer, but also because of the personable, supportive, and peaceful environment that we will create. Our emphasis for patient care will take on a holistic approach, in line with our Holistic Care Program, where we will strive to actively manage multiple aspects of a patient's care. WeCare Pharmacy will not only take care of a patient's traditional medication needs, but also provide compounding services for all family members (including pets), educational programming, fitness classes, meditation sessions, and disease-targeted meals. Our unique and global approach to pharmacy and to our patients will be what helps us stand out.

MV: No other pharmacy takes such a comprehensive approach to disease management. Our focus on holistic care and disease prevention is an entirely different model from the others in our area.

NCPA: For those who are unfamiliar with the competition, can you describe the time and effort that went into writing your business plan? How many hours a week? What was the most unusual or surprising thing you had to do in preparing? What about your preparations for the live presentation in New Orleans?

FC: We worked on the plan for about 20 hours each week. We prepared a YouTube video in preparation for the presentation so that our marketing strategies could come to life. While preparing for the presentation I was located in a different part of the state, so we would frequently video conference in order to work on the project together.

HP: I have never spent this much time on any project before. We spent about 20 hours/week and many late nights writing our business plan. The most unusual thing I did was spending a couple of hours drawing our first pharmacy floor plan on the sand with my teammates at the beach. For our live presentation preparation, I was surprised to learn that it is very challenging to find a balance between giving out too much and too little information when presenting financial documents.

SS: As four 3rd year pharmacy students, it would be a lie to say that it was not difficult to balance our hectic schedules and heavy workload while devoting time to our business plan. As we worked we became increasingly excited and passionate about an idea that we truly thought was not only distinctive, but also realistic with the potential for actual implementation and success. We spent approximately 20 hours/week working on the plan, finding any spare time that we could, whether it was time between classes, at lunch, or in the evening. The most surprising aspect of preparing for this business plan was the importance of visiting the actual location of the pharmacy we planned to purchase. Our team took a 2 hour road trip to two pharmacies that we were considering to learn more about each pharmacy's layout, location, workflow, surrounding medical/veterinarian offices, and the habits of its residents. We did not realize how valuable and important this trip would be until we realized that the pharmacy that we had ranked as #2 turned out to be a better option upon in-person observation. We realized that the traffic patterns, location, and available space had more potential for the implementation of our vision. This experience made the business plan more realistic for us and further ignited our excitement as we saw our ideas being discussed and visualized in a real setting.

MV: I have never worked harder on any one project in my life. I would say on average we spent about 20 hours per week working and many late nights. One of the most unusual things we had to do was talk to the owner of the pharmacy and convince him that we were only asking questions for the purposes of this competition and were not hired by the other independent pharmacy in town to get inside information on his business. Preparing for the live presentation was equally time consuming, but it is an experience that I know will help me to grow as a public speaker and a person.

NCPA: What else would you like to tell people about the competition?

FC: We are very excited to compete in the finals of this competition. This is our first year having a small NCPA student chapter that consists of this group and 1 other student. We are excited to have progressed this far in the competition and are excited to see the results of all of our hard work.

HP: Regardless of what is your career path, this competition is one of the best experiences you will ever have in your pharmacy school, so take advantage of it. You will learn how to communicate with mentors and advisors, to set a timeline for a year-long project, to brainstorm, develop, and pitch your ideas, to work with your teammates, to diffuse tension, to compromise, and to exert assertion. The experience is just too valuable to pass by.

SS: This competition has been one of the highlights of my time in pharmacy school. It has been a challenging experience, but also an incredibly rewarding and exciting experience. Our team has enjoyed taking ownership of a project that we're passionate about, and seeing it grow into something that we believe can be successfully implemented.

MV: This process has taught me so much. I encourage anybody who is considering independent pharmacy ownership to compete.

NCPA: What advice would you give students who may be interested in entering the business plan competition?

FC: For future students that may be interested in entering the competition: It is important to have a schedule to keep the group on track to complete the many portions of the business plan. It is also useful delegate different tasks to members of the group and review together; that seemed to be the most time efficient tactic that we utilized.

HP: One thing I can say right off the bat is that this project will take more time than you can ever imagine, so make room on your schedule and plan for extra time. Once you think you have enough time and interest to commit to this project, then go look for good teammates. Do not limit your choice on your classmates, but talk to students in upper and lower classes as well. Make sure that they have keen interest in business and pharmacy. Make sure that they are up to the challenge and eager to solve problems. Do not take a shortcut on this process since it will save you a lot of time down the road.

SS: My best advice for students who may be interested in entering the business plan competition would be to find teammates with whom you share a similar vision and passion. We are very fortunate to have a solid and compatible team, with each member providing diverse ideas, viewpoints, and backgrounds.

MV: Be prepared to work harder than you ever have before. It will be a long process, but it's worth it.

NCPA: Anything you'd like to add regarding your pharmacy school or NCPA student chapter?

FC: This is our first year having a small NCPA student chapter. We are excited to have progressed this far in the competition and are excited to see the results of all of our hard work.

HP: Currently our NCPA chapter is very small. I am excited about presenting our plan at the national convention because I think it will definitely increase interest among students at the school.

SS: We would like to thank Dr. Stephen Eckel, and our advisor, Dr. Patrick Brown, and Dr. Jami Mann for their great support. We would also like to thank them for connecting us with Rob Bizzell, president and founder of Realo Discount Drugs, a successful group of independent pharmacies in Eastern North Carolina. Mr. Bizzell has provided us with invaluable input over the course of this project.

MV: We would just like to thank everybody who has helped us along the way as we've worked on this plan: Dr. Stephen Eckel, Dr. Patrick Brown, Mr. Rob Bizzell, Dr. Jami Mann, Mr. David Smithwick, Mr. Speed Hallman, and of course the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

Each of the three finalists will receive an award based on where they place:

  • First Place-$3,000 to the NCPA student chapter and $3,000 contributed to the school in the dean's name to promote independent pharmacy.

  • Second Place-2,000 to the NCPA student chapter and $2,000 contributed to the school in the dean's name to promote independent pharmacy.

  • Third Place-$1,000 to the NCPA student chapter and $1,000 contributed to the school in the dean's name to promote independent pharmacy.

As an added bonus, the winning team will receive a mention in an upcoming issue of America's Pharmacist.