The pharmacy profession has become increasingly dominated by women over the past decade. Since 2012, women have accounted for more than half of the U.S. pharmacy workforce, according to Zippia, an online recruitment services company. Women pharmacists occupy nearly 60% of management positions, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP). Data from AACP also shows that this trend is expected to continue – women represented two-thirds of all students enrolling in pharmacy school in the fall of 2022.
Yet, despite the ground women have gained in the pharmacy field, they are still underrepresented in pharmacy ownership. Women own only 25% of independent pharmacies, according to the AACP’s National Pharmacy Workforce Study. As the role of the pharmacist continues to expand and patient demand for clinical services increases, Cardinal Health is working to empower the next generation of women pharmacy owners.
On this Women in Pharmacy Day, we are highlighting a selection of the many pharmacists we have supported through our efforts to inspire future women pharmacy owners, empower women stepping into pharmacy leadership, and champion the women pharmacy leaders guiding the next generation.
Empowering women pharmacy owners in Puerto Rico
Five years ago, Cardinal Health Puerto Rico established a Women in Pharmacy chapter to support and develop the next generation of women pharmacy owners.
"The Puerto Rico Women in Pharmacy chapter works to foster connections and provide resources to women pharmacy school graduates,” said Carla Fernandez, SVP/GM of Cardinal Health Puerto Rico. “Each year, we host several events designed to inspire and motivate future pharmacists to embark on the ownership journey. We established an annual forum for members and each year, we manage to impact and influence more people.”
Chapter programming focuses on education, networking and best-practice sharing. The organization also connects women pharmacy school graduates with a supportive network of peers to guide them on the path to ownership.
While the School of Pharmacy Puerto Rico reports that 66% of pharmacy school graduates in Puerto Rico are women, purchasing group data shows that women represent only 45% of independent pharmacy owners. Retail independent pharmacies are prevalent in Puerto Rico, with nearly 850 locations generating more than 14,000 jobs, according to a report from the Puerto Rico Community Pharmacies Association – indicating plenty of opportunity to increase the number of women who own pharmacies.
"At Cardinal Health, we want to develop a new generation of women business owners to manage healthcare on our island," said Michelle Montalvo, VP of Pharmaceutical Sales & Marketing, Puerto Rico, who serves as the sponsor for the Puerto Rico Women in Pharmacy chapter.
In August 2023, the chapter hosted a highly successful event during the College of Pharmacy of Puerto Rico’s annual convention, with more than 250 attendees. Thirty-three of the attendees expressed interest in purchasing a community pharmacy within the next three years.
Lifting up “rookies” and offering support
Each year, Medicine Shoppe International, Inc., a Cardinal Health company, presents the Rookie of the Year award to new franchisees who have joined the system within the past 18-24 months and have demonstrated a commitment to becoming a healthcare destination for families and communities. This year’s recipient, Jennifer Seltzer, PharmD, made the transition from Pharmacist-in-Charge at The Medicine Shoppe® Pharmacy in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, to owner in 2022.
“I decided that I wanted to transition to become an owner at least 10 years ago. I had been working toward it mentally for years,” said Seltzer. “I am not a risk taker, so it took encouragement from my husband and my girls (ages 10 and 12), who help out at the pharmacy where they can. They were completely on board with having a part of something we could really call our own and something that would support the community.”
When it came time for the transition to ownership, Seltzer said that having the support of her Cardinal Health Franchise Business Consultant, Rich Townsend, as well as support from Cardinal Health™ Pharmacy Transition Services made the process easier. Through Cardinal Health, Seltzer also gained access to networking opportunities that helped her form meaningful mentorships with other pharmacy owners.
“The Cardinal Health team helped answer all my questions and facilitate the big things that needed to happen to make the transition,” she said. “They were able to connect me with the key people I needed to have conversations with.”
Seltzer’s advice to other women seeking to become pharmacy owners is to recognize the opportunities and guidance available to them.
“I would encourage them to move towards ownership and know that we live in a time where there are a ton of resources out there. With support from the Cardinal Health transition team and others in the company, there will be people there to help you. I hope someday there are more women pharmacy owners because we’re very good at what we do,” Seltzer said.
After the first year and a half of ownership, Seltzer continues to add more and more services, including compounding, compliance packaging, durable medical equipment, COVID-19 vaccines and testing, and prescription delivery. She sees herself continuing to expand the services she offers well into the future.
“I’m always looking for the next thing that will help independent pharmacy. Some of the most successful pharmacists I know – men and women – that’s how they operate as well. Twenty years from now, I’ll still be here sitting at my desk, looking for the next thing in independent pharmacy,” she said.
Providing opportunities for the next generation
Recognizing the achievements of today’s women pharmacy leaders can help to inspire the next generation. Research published by the Review of General Psychology shows that having a woman as a role model can help expand the perception of what is possible, inspire women to be more ambitious, and demonstrate the mindset and behaviors that can help women advance.
Brandi Ollerman, PharmD, owner of The Medicine Shoppe® Pharmacy in Dickinson, North Dakota, serves as a role model for those entering the pharmacy field in her community, and has developed a successful training program to help young students – men and women.
“I am a mom, a wife, pharmacist and pharmacy owner,” said Ollerman. “Leading by example, my hope is that I will encourage and inspire other young women interested in pharmacy to take the leap into this rewarding career and maybe even become pharmacy owners themselves someday.”
When approached about having local students come to her pharmacy to learn about the industry, Ollerman saw an opportunity to both support the next generation of pharmacists and address her need for pharmacy technicians.
After students shadowed her staff at the pharmacy, Ollerman took the opportunity a step further by reaching out to local schools offering Pharmacy Technician certifications. She partnered with an interested teacher to establish a pharmacy technician education program. Ollerman sought out necessary authorization from the State Board of Pharmacy and worked with local schools to ensure students could receive class credit. Rallying together her community, schools and local leaders, Ollerman has established pharmacy technician training partnerships with area high schools, trade schools and state programs. This year, the program has expanded to two additional pharmacies, adding two more students at locations in Southwestern North Dakota.
“The program helped to address previous staffing challenges at The Medicine Shoppe® Pharmacy and gives students experience working in the pharmacy. It provides an alternative to the traditional four-year degree and gives the students a stepping stone into pharmacy school or an opportunity to have a fulfilling career as a pharmacy technician,” Ollerman said. “We love to share our love of pharmacy, and whether they stay and work as a technician or continue their education to become a pharmacist, it is a win-win for us.”
In May 2022, one of the first students to come through the program earned her pharmacy technician certification. The student has enrolled in pharmacy school and still comes back to help out when she is visiting on school breaks. Another pharmacy student received her certificate in May 2023.
“Working beside our staff, sharing decision making and including them in day-to-day activities allows students to have an inside view of pharmacy, as well as the work-family balancing act – the good, the great and the chaos,” said Ollerman. “They see the relationships created with patients and staff and they can start creating their own experiences and building those relationships.”
Across the U.S., women pharmacists and healthcare leaders are working together to provide education, networking, support, and opportunities that open pathways to ownership and future careers in pharmacy. Cardinal Health is proud to recognize the outstanding work these women are doing – on Women in Pharmacy Day, and every other day of the year.