Getting a firsthand look

1/10/2013

KU students tour state's independent pharmacies.

KU students tour state's independent pharmacies.

BY RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

Working at an independent pharmacy is a lifestyle.

It's something Gene Hotchkiss, senior associate dean of the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy, is passionate about.

So passionate that Hotchkiss and other faculty of the pharmacy school take college students around the state twice a year to visit pharmacies. On Wednesday afternoon, the students visited Plaza Pharmacy, 911 N. Main St., with 10 students.

During their three-day tour, the students toured pharmacies in Wichita, Kinsley, Dodge City, Ness City, Scott City, Garden City, Cimarron, Meade, Medicine Lodge, Anthony and Kingman.

Hotchkiss coordinates this annual trip, along with a second trip during spring break. He said the visitation program, or road trips as the students call them, helps build relationships between pharmacy students and pharmacy owners in Kansas. The hope is that those connections will lead to transitions of ownership and a continuation of vital pharmacy care services to the people of Kansas.

The students also tour commercial and pharmacies and hospitals during other state tour visits.

"We want to give the students an option. Not every student goes the independent route," he said.

Most pharmacy students after graduation will stay in Kansas. About 65 percent of the students will be employed somewhere in the state.

"Independent community pharmacies are a critical health care resource for rural communities," Hotchkiss said. "In many instances, in addition to traditional prescription services, they provide a broad scope of ancillary services including medical supplies, durable medical equipment, and respiratory support supplies, equipment and oxygen."

Ken Audus, dean of the KU School of Pharmacy, said some of those jobs may be in rural areas.

He said pharmacists have job security, but in urban areas, those jobs are starting to tighten up.

"In rural areas, they have lots of job opportunities," he said.

Audus said there are six Kansas counties where no pharmacies exist. Audus didn't have the list of counties but said not all are in the western part of the state, but are in rural areas.

Thirty-four Kansas counties only have one pharmacy, he said.

About 100 students graduate from KU's School of Pharmacy each year. About two-thirds of those students will work at retail pharmacies, Hotchkiss said.

The Kansas tour helps student see their potential lifestyles and situations after graduation.

"It just shows them their options, and their quality of life," he said.

They have been doing the tours since 1998.

On Wednesday, Robin Schenck, pharmacist at Plaza Pharmacy, greeted the students and faculty and gave them a tour of the facility.

She said the pharmacy is a regular retail pharmacy with over-the-counter prescriptions.

Schenck explained the different kinds of customers and the relationships that need to be built with customers.

"The patients you want include diabetics. Their medications are expensive and needed," she said.

The annual trip is sponsored by KU-NCPA, a professional pharmacy student organization that promotes independent pharmacy as a career option for pharmacy students at KU. The KU-NCPA chapter organizes several professional development and community service projects throughout the year.

The group has earned Chapter of the Year honors from the NCPA parent organization four times over the past 10 years, according to a release from the university.

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