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Boot Camp inspires students to pursue pharmacy ownership

Owning a pharmacy doesn’t have to be just a dream, participants learned at this fall’s Community Pharmacy Ownership Boot Camp at the University of South Carolina Alumni Center.

The boot camp, created by the College of Pharmacy’s Kennedy Pharmacy Innovation Center and the National Community Pharmacists Association, offered a full day of learning sessions geared towards helping pharmacy students prepare for pharmacy ownership. This year, 89 participants attended, including students from 31 schools and colleges of pharmacy across the country, as well as community pharmacy residents and recent pharmacy graduates. 

“We had a fantastic turnout, and the participants really engaged with the speakers about making pharmacy ownership a reality,” said Bryan Ziegler, KPIC’s executive director, who designed the boot camp.

The program, in its fourth year, has expanded from a learning opportunity solely for students from the Columbia and Charleston campuses of the South Carolina College of Pharmacy to a statewide-offered program to a national program. Because of the partnership with NCPA and support from Cardinal Health, 27 students earned scholarships to attend the program for free.

Boot camp session topics included business plan writing, financial analysis of pharmacy businesses, ownership models, pharmacy ownership financing options, personal finance, how to locate pharmacy purchase opportunities and evolving niche market opportunities.

Learning about niche practice areas, such as chronic disease management, was one of the participants’ favorite sessions. “(I learned) we can think outside the box, help people and still make a living,” said Christopher Hajou, a fourth-year Pharm.D. student at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy.

Participants also enjoyed an in-depth presentation about pharmacy pricing and financing from Jimmy Neil of Live Oak Bank, who explained how banks analyze lending decisions.

Kristen Arnall, a third-year Pharm.D. student at the SCCP, said she didn’t consider ownership until she entered a clinical practice rotation in an independent pharmacy in her hometown of Kernersville, N.C. Hearing firsthand from Live Oak Bank and Cardinal Health representatives about how they can support ownership opportunities made her goal seem tangible.

“(Now) it sounds like something impossible is within reach,” she said. “Hearing how many pharmacies have been opened and successful opened my eyes that this is something I can definitely work for in my future.”

After helping her brother to open his own pharmacy earlier this year, Ana Simonyan, a third-year Pharm.D. student at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, said she knew that she, too, wanted to become a pharmacy owner. But attending the boot camp ignited a passion for ownership.

“I’m a lot more excited about the idea of ownership,” she said. “I felt really encouraged and empowered. Things like this really refresh you and make you excited about being a pharmacist.”

Beyond the classroom sessions, Simonyan said networking with the speakers and other participants made the event a valuable and fun learning opportunity.

Ashley Wengrove, a third-year Pharm.D. student at the University of Colorado Denver School of Pharmacy, said the boot camp helped her fully grasp concepts that she’s heard of, such as junior partnerships, and reinforced her desire to pursue ownership because it would allow her to make practice decisions independently.

“Right now, I work in a large hospital in an outpatient unit,” she said. “I see problems and inefficiencies and know they won’t change because of policies and procedures. (With ownership), I know you can change quickly and serve your (patient) population how they need to be served.”

And several participants said the personal finance session made them pause to consider how their financial decisions could impact their future ability to finance their dream. Among other memorable tips, presenter Jim Davis, assistant dean for finance at the Charleston campus of the SCCP, advised that the students shouldn’t buy a new car after they graduate.

For Hajou, his mind hasn’t stopped racing since the boot camp ended. “It’s made me think about every aspect of my life and what I need to change to make my dream come true.”