Grooming the Next Generation of Community Pharmacists

Image of a pharmacist mentoring

Becoming a pharmacy preceptor is a great way to give back — and get back

Mentoring new pharmacists may not be at the top of your already jam-packed to-do list. But the benefits of hiring an intern or becoming a preceptor for a pharmacy school can be persuasive.

Student pharmacists bring fresh perspective and “tremendous energy” to your operation.

What Is a Preceptor?
Preceptors are practicing pharmacists who train student pharmacists for a short period, usually during their fourth year of pharmacy school. To meet their degree requirements, students typically must “rotate” through a variety of pharmacy settings such as hospital pharmacies, chain stores, long-term care pharmacies, and community pharmacies. Rotations often last four weeks, but can be longer depending on the school. During the rotation, preceptors must follow a syllabus and provide feedback on the student’s progress.

Denise Stiles-Yount, owner of Preston Pharmacy in Jacksonville, Florida, has been a preceptor for several University of Florida students. She thinks that the benefits of working with students far outweigh any negatives. “They are fourth-year students, so it’s not like I have to teach them to count pills,” she says.

Bob Graul agrees with that assessment. Prior to becoming national vice president of McKesson’s RxOwnership® program, Graul was an independent pharmacist for many years. During that time, he was a preceptor for several schools. “The students had new ideas and tremendous energy,” he says. “I always found it useful to have that type of person around the store.”

Students provide extra help at your busiest times.

According to the American Pharmacists Association, student pharmacists can contribute to all aspects of the prescription fulfillment process, from basic dispensing functions to patient interaction. They also can provide additional services, such as patient counseling, community wellness classes, health screenings, and other activities, as allowed by applicable laws.

Learning goes both ways.

Student pharmacists can be aware of the latest information about new drugs and side effects. They also have been exposed to many new services and programs in the classroom or on prior rotations.

For example, one of Stiles-Yount’s first students reminded her about the latest dosage recommendations for combining two common drugs. “He ended up pulling a report listing all my customers taking those medications concurrently,” she recalls. “He then called all the doctors and patients, and got most of them put on a lower dose or changed to a different drug combination, which greatly reduced side effects. So it was just a great experience.”

Many customers will appreciate your effort to further students’ education.

Allowing students to interact with customers is typically a good experience. “With rare exceptions, my patients thought it was very ‘cool’ that I was helping students,” says Graul.

Relationships can lead to future permanent employment.

Although turnover at independent pharmacies tends to be low, by being a preceptor, when opportunities do come up you’ll have a qualified pool of former students to approach. Students will already be familiar with your community pharmacy’s high-service culture, and you’ll have had ample opportunity to observe their abilities before hiring them.

“I would feel comfortable hiring about 90% of the students I have worked with,” says Stiles-Yount. “I already know them.”

Preceptor Program at the University of Florida, Funded by McKesson

Several independent pharmacists agree to teach students about business operations

Pharmacy students at University of Florida can now choose to do a community pharmacy rotation program that focuses specifically on retail management. The McKesson-funded pilot program kicked off in 2012 with three independent pharmacies and seven students. Assignments cover operational issues such as inventory control, budgeting, human resources, business plans, quality improvement processes, patient counseling and regulatory compliance.

“The students really love it,” says Director of Experiential Education Kristin Weitzel. For the second year (which started in March 2013), the program added a fourth pharmacy site and accepted 20 new students.

Denise Stiles-Yount, owner of Preston Pharmacy in Jacksonville, Florida, and a member of the initial preceptor group, thinks the program is highly worthwhile. “The students have been taught so well on the clinical side, but they have no clue at all about the business side of pharmacy,” she says. “When I show them what I’m being reimbursed, they are shocked. And they quickly learn why inventory control and how you buy are so important.”

Many students are coming away from the experience with a new appreciation for community pharmacy. “Two of my former students — who never thought community pharmacy would be right for them — are now considering it,” Stiles-Yount says.

And Stiles-Yount says she has received real value from the experience. For example, three of her students produced specialty brochures: one for veterinary compounding, one for orthopedic compounding, and one for bio-identical hormone compounding. Still another developed a list of area physicians that Stiles-Yount could target for those specialties.

“In the beginning, I was hesitant because like everyone, I’m so busy,” she says. “But it’s so important to give back.”

Take Action

If you think you would like to become a preceptor — or at least learn more about it — the first step is to contact pharmacy schools in your area. In general, they are always looking for more preceptors. Some may be especially eager to include more independent pharmacists to provide their students with those opportunities. You can also visit to contact an RxOwnership Advisor to ask about preceptor programs in their regions.

The most important thing is to do your homework about the requirements before you sign up. Read APhA’s guide, The Community Pharmacist Preceptor Education Program, for background information. Then, ask the schools what kind of training they offer for preceptors and look at their contracts to make sure that expectations are clearly defined.

Note: While all information is believed to be reliable at the time of writing, the information provided here is for reference use only and does not constitute the rendering of legal, financial, legislative, commercial, or other professional advice by McKesson. Readers should consult appropriate professionals for advice and assistance prior to making important decisions regarding their business.