The Kennedy Pharmacy Innovation Center pushes students to find gaps in the profession and fill them with radical roles.
By Athena Ponushis
Toward the end of her residency, Emily Russell called a pharmacy that she knew was not hiring to speak with the owner. She told him she had identified clinical services and potential revenue she could bring to his pharmacy. She asked if he would like to discuss the matter further. He asked her to please stop by for an interview. She showed up with an eight-page business plan.
“The original pitch for my position came from everything I learned in residency,” Russell said. “I built this business plan of services the pharmacy was already offering that I could enhance, future services I thought I could implement, as well as the return on investment for each one. That was all in my plan. Fortunately, I found the right pharmacy that was willing to take on a determined pharmacist with forward-thinking ideas.”
Dr. Russell, now a clinical pharmacist working at Family Pharmacy in Aiken, S.C., completed her community pharmacy residency through the Kennedy Pharmacy Innovation Center (KPIC) at the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy. The center sees pharmacy as a frontier ripe with possibility and strives to act as a catalyst, connecting faculty, students and mentors to reshape pharmacy education and practice.
“We focus on students, pharmacists and technicians, helping them achieve their professional goals, particularly in the nontraditional route. That’s our aim,” said Dr. Patti Fabel, executive director of KPIC and clinical associate professor at the UofSC College of Pharmacy. “Everyone always says find your passion but it’s really built. We provide the materials and mentorship to help our students start building their passion, and by doing so, we hope to dramatically impact the personal and professional fulfillment of our graduates.”
Fabel and her colleagues took a good look at the college and what it offers, as far as coaching and career planning, and did precisely what they prepare their students to do: look at the pharmacy field and see the holes you can fill. KPIC exposes students to thought leaders and business influencers who show them sensible ways they can pursue their pharmacy dreams and elevate the profession.
A number of student pharmacists have essentially earned a business minor through the business program and more than 500 pharmacy professionals have been trained by KPIC, notably in the area of sterile compounding, since the center opened in 2010. The center exists thanks to the commitment of Bill and Lou Kennedy, co-owners of Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation, who gave an initial $10 million gift and an estate gift of an additional $20 million.
“KPIC is training the next generation of pharmacists, and Bill and I could not be more proud of the progress they continue to make,” Lou Kennedy said. “Thanks to the team of rock stars at the college of pharmacy and KPIC, students are blazing trails and truly making a difference when it comes to research and development, entrepreneurism and improved health outcomes. The best part is that they are just getting started.”
When Russell was thinking about gaps in the profession and roles that she could fill, she envisioned herself working in a community pharmacy setting, interacting with the community while simultaneously working alongside physicians and their mutual patients. She met a few past residents who talked her through what they were doing post-residency. She took advice from all of them and built her business plan. Her original pitch to Family Pharmacy was to set up a medication synchronization program, work with nonadherent patients to improve mediation therapy management, start immunization clinics and initiate physician-pharmacist collaborations. Russell ended her residency in June 2018 and started her new job three weeks later, having convinced the owner to hire her for a nontraditional role.
“Pharmacy school is great and it teaches you so much, you learn about different career paths. But KPIC introduces you to people who are doing this in real life, people who can share insights with students who don’t have the experience yet or don’t know where to go to ask questions,” Russell explained. “If KPIC had not been involved in my residency or had not developed the business side of the residency, I may not have even known where to look for the information that I used to build my current career.”
Through the business program, students gain educational experiences and co-curricular opportunities. They compete in the pharmacy ownership business plan competition, intended to design creative practice models for community pharmacies and ultimately lead to more pharmacy entrepreneurs. The National Community Pharmacists Association sees “community pharmacies as ‘laboratories of innovation’ for the profession.” The top team from the college of pharmacy represents UofSC at the Good Neighbor Pharmacy NCPA Pruitt-Schutte Student Business Plan Competition.
KPIC also hosts an annual pharmacy ownership boot camp, where students and recent graduates engage with industry experts who share insights to help prepare them for independent pharmacy ownership or management. KPIC recently revamped its business program. Fabel and her colleagues identified the critical knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) of a pharmacy entrepreneur, mapped out the Pharm.D. program to see where these KSAs are covered and found places where the center could enhance the curriculum, ensuring that students are not only learning the KSAs but have opportunities to practice them.
It’s this commitment to academic innovation and practice transformation that Fabel believes makes the center visionary. “I feel pharmacy education of the future will be more competency based,” she said. “We will be guiding students, helping them use the information that’s out there. Rather than just providing information, we will be providing opportunities, collaborating with students, mentoring them and supporting them. That’s what I have been trying to do, not only as a faculty member, but as the executive director of the center.”
Through the career enhancement series, coaches help students with their resumes, CVs, elevator pitches and branding. Students see what networking actually means. They see what they can do with their Pharm.D. degrees. At the innovation career summit, which KPIC holds once a year, students are able to meet a variety of pharmacists working in nontraditional roles, whether it be information technology, public health, consulting or regulatory, board-of-pharmacy-type work.