Erin Michael knew from a young age that she wanted to work in pharmacy. She graduated high school at 15 and she and her mother headed to Oregon where Erin was planning to attend pharmacy school but the cost of school forced a change of plans. That summer, a friend of her mother offered her a job. Erin began working in the video area of the store but soon moved to the pharmacy. “I very quickly fell in love with pharmacy,” Michael stated.
While in “pre-pharmacy,” she got a job working at a community pharmacy. During that time California implemented what we now know as “technician registration.” Erin met all the requirements to become a pharmacy technician in 1992.
The pharmacist she worked for knew that she wanted to be a pharmacist and he supported her professional goals, but just before she was leaving to go to pharmacy school, he asked her to stay. He loved the patient care portion of his job, not the business side – Erin loved both. He offered potential ownership if she ran the business side of the pharmacy, so she changed her major and received her Masters in Healthcare Administration and they became business partners. She ran the day to day and he focused on patient care.
In 1995, brought compounding into the business, recognizing the need for customized medications, especially because they worked with hospice, autistic and pediatric patients. The demand was so great for compounded medications; they were able to open two additional pharmacies in subsequent years
Erin recalled the story of a family for whom they had been compounding medication. The patient was a 14 year old, non-verbal autistic boy. One day while at work, the mother of the patient placed an urgent call to Erin. She wanted to share with Erin that her son said, “I love you Mom.” She had not heard a word from her son since he was 15 months old. “To be a part of that, to get the opportunity to do that for a family, that is why I go to work every day.” said Erin Michael.
Erin and her business partner severed the business partnership in 2006 that is when she joined Professional Compounding Centers of America (PCCA). She has now worked with them for 17 years. While she is no longer in community pharmacy, she spends a great deal of time helping independent pharmacies who are looking for a way to truly utilize their clinical skills and who are passionate about making customized medications for their patients.
She is passionate about the work she does in compounding pharmacy. “I don’t know how hospice and pediatrics survive without compounding pharmacists. Parents of autistic children are desperate and there is no one size fits all, each autistic child is different. With hospice, the whole purpose is dying with dignity, which means you do not need to be in pain or suffer in any way. In the final stage of life, patients should be lucid to have quality time with their loved ones as they are transitioning. Finding those individual solutions to making someone’s life better is incredibly satisfying.” Erin said. Erin has dedicated her life to helping patients with unique needs and educating other health care providers and patients on the benefits of utilizing compounding pharmacies. Understanding that they need to know that there are options for their patients.
Erin has been a trailblazer in the field of compounding pharmacy. She attributes much of her success to the relationships she has established, taking every opportunity to network and learn from other pharmacy professionals. She has also been a strong advocate for pharmacy technicians, “the recognition that pharmacy technicians get today is largely due to CPhA and what some of us have done – I am proud to be a part of that, we have a place and a voice in this organization.”
Often seen with a helmet under his arm, his professional career focuses on people in very different phases of their lives.
Clifford Young is a native Californian who was born at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland. His father worked there for almost 40 years as a lab technologist. Later, Young too would work at that same hospital as a pharmacist.
He left Kaiser to work at a psychiatric hospital, unfortunately that facility closed shortly after they lost a large county contract. Looking for his next career opportunity, Young accepted a position at a mail order specialty pharmacy in San Francisco.
Young refers to his entry into consulting for long-term care facilities “by accident, like all seemingly good things that have happened in my career.” Looking for a position that would provide him autonomy and the ability to have a more direct impact on patients, he answered an ad for a consultant for long-term care facilities. “It has been personally and professionally rewarding. You have the ability to have a direct impact on the patient by allowing pharmacists to use their professional judgement on clinical decisions.”
In addition to this work, he serves as Associate Clinical Professor Regional Coordinator, Fresno for the University of the Pacific. In this role, in addition to helping students secure rotations, he serves as a mentor to the students. “These kids need mentoring; supporting them through their schooling helps them professionally after they have graduated.” Young has a passion for helping his students succeed and uses the contacts he has made by being involved in professional associations like CPhA to expose students to careers outside of the traditional practice of pharmacy.
“I have been able to leverage contacts, professional and social which helps my students. Students don’t realize that they have options, that PharmD provides you with options such as working for industry in research and drug development, focusing in the regulatory arena, consulting and any other areas.”
His desire to continue to learn from his peers and increase his network, which ultimately benefits his students, led to his involvement in CPhA rising quickly to become President of the association. “Being involved in CPhA has been incredibly satisfying,” said Young, “the people I have met have enriched my professional practice and benefitted my students by helping lead them down their professional path. It has been very rewarding.”
Dr. Maria Lopez is the owner of Mission Wellness Pharmacy, a community-based specialty pharmacy in San Francisco. When Dr. Lopez took over the practice in 2004, she focused on community HIV and has since expanded the practice to include other specialty disease states such as hepatitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer. Dr. Lopez initially became a pharmacist because she liked math and science, and was intrigued with the language of medicines, how they work and how they improve the health of patients. This curiosity combined with her desire to help the community led her to where she is now.
Dr. Lopez didn’t always plan to be a business owner, and she recognizes the challenges of being a woman in business. “I believe it is important to have pharmacy women business owners, particularly because so many females are coming out of pharmacy schools. In order to have a seat at the table, women pharmacists must be in leadership and heads of companies.” She started out working in pediatric hospital care. After she took a second job working in an independent community pharmacy that focused on HIV, Dr. Lopez knew that she wanted to make a change in her career. “Early on, when I was thinking about becoming a pharmacy owner, I spoke with someone at CPhA who suggested I call John Cronin,” Dr. Lopez says. “He really became a right-hand person to me early on in my business owner career and introduced me to other people at CPhA.” Having an avenue to meet other pharmacy owners to discuss the struggles of entrepreneurship has benefitted Dr. Lopez’s career and the care she and her team are able to provide to the community. “There’s been a lot of wonderful networking relationships I’ve gained through [CPhA]; I would say that that’s certainly helped me. I would recommend for anyone who’s considering a pathway to network and make contact with other people who are more experienced.”
Being an effective advocate for yourself, for the community, and for the profession requires a lot of hard work to build a reputation. “Having that voice and being able to advocate for yourself doesn’t happen just because you have a PharmD, and it doesn’t happen because you have a title, either. It happens because you build that trust within the community, and you build that expertise,” Dr. Lopez says. In 2018, she and her team at Mission Wellness opened a clinic to provide PrEP and PEP (pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis) in a community setting. The clinic operates through a collaborative practice agreement with the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The clinic expanded access to care in the largely Latino neighborhood where the pharmacy is located.
Because of her reputation as an expert, Dr. Lopez was an integral part of the team that worked on SB 159 (Wiener), which allows pharmacists to initiate and furnish PrEP and PEP. She helped secure support from a number of LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, advised on the language of the bill, and testified in front of the legislature. Since the bill became law in 2019, Dr. Lopez has spoken in front of the Board of Pharmacy about implementation and developed a PrEP/PEP training course with CPhA. “It’s been very rewarding to be able to have input in advocacy and to provide information to government organizations or healthcare organizations about what areas need to be addressed or changed to improve outcomes for patients and also the profession of pharmacy,” Dr. Lopez says.
Even though making a career change can be difficult and even scary, having a supportive network and confidence in yourself can be the push you need to make that leap. And, as Dr. Lopez says, “You can have these dreams, but if you don’t act, nothing will happen to them.”
Even as a pharmacy student, Dr. Komoto knew he wanted to own his own pharmacy. In his second year of pharmacy school, he was approached by a pharmacist who wanted to sell his pharmacy to him because he knew that, like his family, Dr. Komoto’s family had been in internment camps. In 1981, Dr. Komoto graduated from pharmacy school and took over a small corner pharmacy with four or five employees. Today, Komoto Healthcare has five locations and more than 200 employees.
Dr. Komoto has always acted in the best interest of his patients. One example is when a patient was unable to afford his insulin, Dr. Komoto called the manufacturer and found out that the patient qualified for an assistance program that allowed him to get his insulin free of charge. The pharmacy lost that prescription, but the patient was healthier because he was able to take appropriate doses of insulin. This led to the creation of the Komoto Family Foundation.
The mission of his Foundation is to promote wellness and health equity in partnership with under-resourced communities, with a focus on improving access to pharmacist-provided healthcare services.
Both the pharmacy and the foundation are focused on meeting patient needs. At the pharmacy, Dr. Komoto was seeing many children with asthma, and they were often scared of the nebulizers they needed to use. So he and his team started decorating the nebulizer masks to look like animals, eventually getting the manufacturer to create a line of animal-themed masks for children. Now children at Komoto Healthcare and across the country are more likely to use their nebulizers because they are no longer scared.
Both on an individual patient level and a community level, he and his teams are committed to meeting the needs of the under-served.
The role of the pharmacist in patient education is what drove Dr. Sally Rafie to become a pharmacist. She loves to educate patients because she knows that patients who understand their health and their medications are empowered to improve their health.
During pharmacy school, Dr. Rafie made a point to seek out new opportunities that interested her, or even create them if they didn’t exist.
Dr. Rafie is a San Diego-based pharmacist with many different roles. She teaches at the University of California San Diego, practices in a community pharmacy, and is the founder of Birth Control Pharmacist, which provides resources to help pharmacists initiate and furnish contraceptives to patients.
She is passionate about reproductive health care and has always been supportive of reproductive rights and wanted to be part of the solution to ensuring easy and equitable access for patients. Although pharmacists in California have been able to initiate and furnish hormonal contraceptives since 2016, it still isn’t common for pharmacists to supply birth control directly in the pharmacy. “A lot of people don’t know they can go to the pharmacy for their birth control. I’m trying to make it as commonplace as people knowing they can go to the pharmacy for their flu shot.”, said Dr. Rafie. This limited awareness is why Dr. Rafie founded birthcontrolpharmacist.com and birthcontrolpharmacies.com, to help pharmacists get started providing contraception and help patients find pharmacists who provide that service.
Dr. Rafie emphasizes to her patients and her colleagues the importance of fostering diverse perspectives within the profession. She said, “I always tell folks, as pharmacists, we’re doing a lot of direct patient care, but we’re also responsible for designing systems that ensure great patient care when we’re not directly involved, as well. Pharmacists can influence health plan policies, health system policies, medication development, so many different things. So having those perspectives in all those different areas is so vital.” Being an advocate for people who don’t always have a seat at the table, whether they’re pharmacy professionals or patients, is part of how Sally defines success for herself.
Dr. Thai began his career in pharmacy working as a delivery driver at a local independent pharmacy. “I walked in and asked for a volunteer job, a delivery job, throwing out trash, whatever they needed. I was very grateful that that pharmacist was very open to the fact that I had an interest in the profession and brought me on in a paid job to deliver medications.” It was there that Dr. Thai fell in love with the community pharmacy setting. Dr. Thai earned his Doctor of Pharmacy in May 2002.
Starting his own business wasn’t easy. Dr. Thai’s friends told him that opening his own pharmacy was too risky, but he knew that this was the path he wanted to follow. “Because that’s where I started, that’s where my heart was. Even though I had the opportunity to explore different areas within the pharmacy world, I ultimately ended up going back to the place that had inspired me to become a pharmacist in the first place.” He opened his first store in a 700 square foot space.
Starting his own business has given Dr. Thai a lot for which to be grateful. As an immigrant, he is thankful to be in a position to have provided jobs for many members of his extended family, including his aunt and uncle who sponsored his family when they immigrated. Some of his cousins are now his business partners.