This Women Pharmacist Day, as we celebrate women in pharmacy and their many contributions to healthcare, we profile Kisha Christian, PharmD, owner of Neighborhood Pharmacy in Frederiksted, St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Christian is the latest recipient of Cardinal Health’s annual Community Leadership Award, recognized for her outstanding contributions to her community.
Christian wanted to become a pharmacist even as a young child, she said. “One of my relatives owned a pharmacy on the island, and he and I had lots of conversations about pharmacy. Becoming a pharmacist is all I ever wanted to do.” She studied at the University of Georgia; after she earned her doctorate, she worked in chain pharmacies in Georgia for several years. However, she soon realized she wanted to have the opportunity to build relationships with patients, and decided to venture out on her own. “I felt it was time to run a pharmacy, and I wanted to do that in the community where I grew up.”
She moved back to Frederiksted in 2011, with a business plan, three young daughters, an impending divorce, and, she said, less than stellar credit. “After I was denied loans by several banks, I turned to the local Economic Development Authority, which agreed to help based on the strength of my business plan.” She found a small space for her pharmacy and began an extensive remodel. “Getting started was so difficult,” Christian said. “More than once, I just sat on the floor and cried. But I would do it all over again.” She opened her doors to customers for the first time in 2015.
Today, she has grown Neighborhood Pharmacy to include a staff of 32 who dispense medications and provide medication therapy management (MTM) and offer durable medical equipment (DME), including wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen equipment and infusion pumps; a large selection of over-the-counter products; and handmade items sourced from local artists. In the store and out in the community, the team hosts vaccine clinics and health education workshops. The independent pharmacy offers free medication delivery to patients anywhere on the island, drive-through order and pick-up services, free blood pressure screenings, and a diabetes self-management program.
Putting community first
From her first days as a business owner, Christian has been committed to giving back to the community. Most of her patients are eligible to receive free or discounted drugs under the 340B Federal Drug Pricing Program, she explained. “My parents instilled in me a strong sense of community and responsibility. They taught me the importance of making others feel equal and heard. So I want to help level the playing field by connecting our patients to the resources they need. All of our team wants to make our community better for everyone.”
She and her team collaborate with many community organizations and government agencies to serve those in need. At the start of every school year, they give away backpacks and school supplies to hundreds of students. They partner with local nonprofits, preparing and serving meals to the homeless every month. They participate in an annual race that raises money for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. They buy toys for children during the holidays. And, every year, Christian gives each person on her team $50 – $100, asking them to use the money to perform random acts of kindness in the community.
In 2017, after hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the islands in quick succession, part of the pharmacy was damaged. “But once we saw how widespread the destruction was everywhere else, we knew we had to get back on our feet quickly so that we could help,” Christian said. Neighborhood Pharmacy was the first pharmacy on the island to reopen after the hurricanes; for two weeks it was the only pharmacy open. The team ordered medications and other critical supplies from Cardinal Health facilities in Puerto Rico, then chartered a plane to pick them up.
When COVID-19 vaccines became available in 2021, Christian and her staff held vaccine clinics throughout the community – in retail shops, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, churches, and residences for seniors. Neighborhood Pharmacy is still the only pharmacy that offers COVID-19 vaccines on the island.
The Neighborhood Pharmacy team hosts a weekly radio program called “Medical Mondays” on ViVid Streaming, an online radio station, covering a broad variety of health topics, and maintains an active social media presence, posting frequent health and wellness tips.
Because the team is equally committed to work and to community service, their days are long, Christian said. “That makes it especially important for us to take care of each other. We have monthly team-building events, offer classes on budgeting, financial health and home ownership, and treat everyone to the occasional massage.”
She also supports her team’s professional development; since 2015, four of her employees have become certified pharmacy technicians, with three more scheduled to take the certification exam before the end of this year. Christian and her pharmacists mentor staff and help them study as they prepare for the exams.
Christian and her team also are regular visitors to local schools, where they talk to students about entrepreneurship and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and careers. “I especially love talking with girls and young women,” Christian said. “Girls so often hear messages about what they can and can’t do. I always say to them, ‘don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. If you really want to do it, you can make it happen.’ As a minority, as a woman and as a first-generation entrepreneur, I want to do what I can to help other women, particularly women of color, to realize their dreams.”
That is why, when Cardinal Health donated $10,000 in Christian’s name to her alma mater in recognition of her Community Leadership Award, she added a $15,000 donation of her own and started a pharmacy scholarship fund. Each year, the fund will help support a minority pharmacy student who also exhibits a passion for community service.