At the Ready

Pharmacist at the ready.

The recently launched
Pharmacists For Healthier Lives campaign will promote the message that pharmacists are fully qualified, capable and willing to positively impact patients’ health.

By Jane E. Rooney

Pharmacists are on the patient’s side. They are accessible, knowledgeable and highly educated. They are there to ensure the best solutions and they are a critical part of the healthcare team. These are some of the key messages that AACP hopes to spread with the Pharmacists for Healthier Lives campaign, which launched last month. The campaign’s main objectives are to increase awareness and understanding of the pharmacy profession among the general population and to increase positive attitudes toward pharmacy.

“Throughout my entire career, what’s been so obvious is that pharmacists’ actual contributions to patients and the healthcare system are so hard to communicate effectively,” said AACP Executive Vice President and CEO Dr. Lucinda L. Maine. The multiyear campaign grew out of a realization that the story of what pharmacists do wasn’t being conveyed clearly to the American public. “As we were putting together AACP’s 2016 Strategic Plan, what was clear is that we have a pipeline problem. We had already begun to do better targeted messaging to students in middle and high school. We recognized that even in doing that, the general public needed to have a better grasp of what a graduate is capable of doing and where they are doing it. Most people just think of the pharmacy in the corner of a big box store. There is so much more to the story.”

The campaign dovetails with AACP’s Strategic Priority #2: creating a new portrait of pharmacists and pharmacy careers. Specifically, the strategic plan states that “AACP, in collaboration with stakeholders, will raise the profile of pharmacy as an essential healthcare profession. We will achieve recognition for pharmacists as trusted and highly accessible healthcare professionals in both traditional and new settings. And we will increase awareness of the quality and scientific rigor of pharmacy education and training.”

Doctor and pharmacist consulting.
(c) ASHP 2018

AACP worked with the Joint Commission of Pharmacy Practitioners to identify partners, including national pharmacy organizations as well as state associations and large companies. “This is not AACP’s campaign alone,” Maine emphasized. “We are certainly willing to assume the responsibility as a lead contributor financially and as the lead coordinating organization. Five other national pharmacy organizations are working with us. We are trying to be really true to this as pharmacy’s campaign.” The National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations (NASPA) is one of those partners, and they are enthusiastic about what the campaign can accomplish. “I think the enhanced awareness that a campaign like this could bring is going to be critical. I believe that the state pharmacy associations are supportive. Many have said that they want their organizations to be a part of it in as large a way as possible,” said NASPA CEO Becky Snead.

Maine added, “Excitement from our members gets generated in just acknowledging that pharmacy is finally going to have a public-facing campaign and that we’re cultivating corporate partners, and individual pharmacists will have an opportunity to be spokespeople to get the message out to the consumer. We want to address the fact that pharmacists truly are the medication use experts. They care. They’re highly accessible. Pharmacists receive an amazing education. They are an important part of the healthcare team.”

Pharmacists in white coats discussing medication.
(c) ASHP 2018

One segment of the population that the campaign is specifically targeting is women ages 35–55, many of whom have children and are also helping their own parents navigate their older years and chronic illnesses. “These are the people that need to know the most about medication management and the role of the pharmacist and what it can mean to them personally,” Maine pointed out. These women can also be in a position to influence a child’s thinking about his or her education, which ties back to AACP’s Strategic Priority #1: enriching the applicant pipeline. Other audiences Maine hopes the campaign will reach include caregivers ages 45–65 as well as healthcare providers, especially physicians. “We know that if physicians encourage patients to access pharmacists, they are much more likely to find that to be a credible next step to take.”

Finally, the campaign is also aimed at pharmacists themselves. Research conducted prior to the campaign launch found that a sizable portion (33%) of the general public had an extremely favorable perception of pharmacists. Maine noted that pharmacists and student pharmacists were asked what they thought that number would be. Pharmacists weren’t so far off the mark, she said, but student pharmacists were way off, thinking the number was much lower. “We have an opportunity to correct that perception,” Maine said. “Student pharmacists need to correctly appreciate that they are held in high regard.”

We feel it is important for patients and caregivers to be aware of the role of pharmacists in improving the use of medications, especially the important work they do in hospitals, health systems and clinics. Improving awareness can also influence payers and other decision makers, expanding their understanding of the value that pharmacists can bring in improving the use of medications.

Douglas Sheckelhoff
Pharmacists in conversation.
(c) ASHP 2018

Crafting Messages to Change Perceptions

AACP engaged the RP3 Agency, a strategic communications firm, early in 2018 to undertake quantitative and qualitative research to determine attitudes about pharmacy and pharmacists, and to pinpoint the campaign’s focus, messaging and media strategy. In April, RP3 conducted 886 online surveys, reaching the general public, pharmacists and student pharmacists. The agency also did on-campus interviews at Howard University and the University of Maryland, including 16 in-depth interviews with students. Respondents included pharmacists who had been in the profession less than 15 years as well as those who had more than 15 years of experience, including some who had a Pharm.D. and others who became pharmacists before that degree was required.

“The general public has a high opinion of pharmacists but they did not have a broad view of everything pharmacists do,” noted Dan Sweet, RP3’s director of public relations. “They thought highly of the profession but there is some work to be done in terms of raising their awareness of what pharmacists do.” Two key findings from RP3’s research indicate that there are low levels of knowledge as well as misconceptions about what pharmacists do, and they have low visibility because their work is often behind the scenes. “We can have pharmacists’ voices heard on more issues, such as the opioid crisis, drug pricing and drug shortages,” Sweet added. “We also want the public to understand that pharmacists play an integral role on their healthcare teams.”

Based on the interview and survey findings, as well as 25 hours of secondary research, RP3 developed key messages around the desired profile of a pharmacist: someone who is accessible, knowledgeable, highly educated and a critical part of the healthcare team, as well as passionately helpful, friendly, respected and on the patient’s side. This boils down to the campaign’s core message: Pharmacists are fully qualified, capable and willing to positively impact patients’ health. For Bob Coleman, CEO of the Georgia Pharmacy Association, another campaign partner, this fulfills a great need in the industry to give consumers a much better understanding of the services provided and the role that pharmacists play in the healthcare delivery system. “When I asked people how they define their relationship with their pharmacist, 99 percent said ‘customer.’ No one said ‘patient,’” Coleman said. “This campaign is what’s needed. When I asked the board to fund this, I said this is the beginning step to get the customer to realize that he or she is actually a patient.” The association plans to contribute $100,000 to the campaign over two years.

Another targeted demographic is 18–24 year olds, many of whom are making healthcare choices on their own for the first time. “The accessibility issue for them is a key message,” Sweet explained. “We want them thinking of their pharmacist as part of their healthcare team and trusted members they can approach to speak with about wellness issues.” Raising awareness among other healthcare professionals is also a goal; this will help pharmacists be seen as knowledgeable experts regarding policy and guidelines. “It’s crucial that pharmacists play a bigger role at the table.”


We do know that relative to some other careers, the typical high school student doesn’t think about pharmacy. We’ve got to get them thinking about pharmacy. We want to ensure that qualified students will consider pharmacy as a rewarding profession.

Dr. Lucinda L. Maine

Giving Voice to Pharmacists’ Value

The campaign seeks to show pharmacists in various healthcare settings (hospitals, community pharmacies, labs, doctors’ offices, academia); portray pharmacists as a critical part of the healthcare patients receive; and increase awareness of what pharmacists do beyond dispensing medications. Creative strategies are still emerging; ideas include highlighting pharmacists’ personal stories, creating walk-up clinics to highlight pharmacists’ accessibility and developing an app that provides real-time advice from pharmacists. The aim is to take pharmacists out from behind the counter and show the value they bring to healthcare and that they are “more than a white coat.” One way these messages will be disseminated is through AACP’s brand ambassadors, “individual members who are wiling to share their stories and expertise through earned media and social media to raise that profile,” Sweet said. “The voices and experiences of those brand ambassadors are crucial to provide real-life, real-world examples.”

The campaign’s paid media strategy in year one will focus almost exclusively on social media. “There will be a big push on Facebook in October and November through ads and audience targeting to drive interest in the campaign to see what messages are working,” Sweet continued, noting that Facebook offers a potential reach of 2.5 million targeted audience members. “For the first month or two, we’ll mostly be in the testing phase. As we move into the beginning of next year, we’ll focus on more targeted advertising.” An earned media push in the early weeks will get spokespeople in front of audiences (for example, through op-eds, letters and other editorial content on issues such as drug costs and the opioid crisis). AACP and its partners will seek out speaking engagements that provide opportunities to share the campaign’s messages. Partners will also be given a toolkit with materials, including a campaign video, to help raise awareness and spread the word about what pharmacists do.

Year one funding for the research, creative development and earned and paid media is $500,000, which represents AACP’s initial contribution. Partner organizations that have contributed funds include NASPA, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy and the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. “We were one of the first partners that said yes, we’re in,” said NASPA’s Snead. “The messaging that is created through this campaign can be used by all our state associations to make that drumbeat even louder through all their social media and distribution channels. We know it’s not going to be one and done. It’s a long journey and that’s how you really get the message to resonate with all the audiences you are trying to effect. We are in it for the long haul. We are contributing financially and through participation and development of the campaign, and we’re anxiously awaiting the point when we can disseminate the material and enhance the campaign over the upcoming years. It’s needed because pharmacists are the best-kept secret in healthcare.”

Pharmacist checking patients blood pressure.

ASHP Senior Vice President Douglas Sheckelhoff said that in addition to providing financial support, ASHP is supporting the profession-wide effort to educate the public by sharing information on how pharmacists in various health-system settings can be represented. “We feel it is important for patients and caregivers to be aware of the role of pharmacists in improving the use of medications, especially the important work they do in hospitals, health systems and clinics,” he said. “Improving awareness can also influence payers and other decision makers, expanding their understanding of the value that pharmacists can bring in improving the use of medications.”

AACP’s Maine said the campaign is also cultivating corporate partners. “One we’re working with has a digital reach to 50 million people. Another group has signed on as a channel partner that has a digital reach to 30 million people. There are a lot of different ways for organizations to participate,” she added. “Given that this is almost exclusively a digital campaign, our partners are really critical.”

The big push on social media will continue until spring, when a second phase will begin once RP3 evaluates what messaging is working and measures social media click-through rates and how audiences are engaging with the campaign. RP3 will also measure success against the baseline metrics from the opinion influence study. The media objectives are to raise the profile of pharmacy as an essential healthcare profession; to increase recognition of pharmacists as trusted and highly accessible professionals; to increase awareness of the extensive education that pharmacists receive; and to ultimately help enrich the applicant pipeline for pharmacy schools.

“We hope it does have a positive impact on the application pool,” Maine said. “We do know that relative to some other careers, the typical high school student doesn’t think about pharmacy. We’ve got to get them thinking about pharmacy. We want to ensure that qualified students will consider pharmacy as a rewarding profession.”

Maine sees a need for a more proactive level of service from pharmacists. “This will be more than a 12-month campaign because it takes longer than that to change public perception,” she acknowledged. “We hope that by communicating that pharmacists play a valuable role in the community, we’ll begin to shift consumer expectations in a way that helps accelerate the transformation from transactional to patient care and identifying and solving drug-related problems.”

Jane E. Rooney is managing editor of Academic Pharmacy Now.


Learn More

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AACP is asking patients and practitioners to use the hashtag #indispensable to share stories about pharmacists who have made a difference in their lives. If you would like to share your perspective about how pharmacists make a difference in patients’ lives, contact

Pharmacists for Healthier Lives Campaign