Pharmacist Valerie Russo has served as a pharmacy manager for a retail pharmacy and an oncology practice. As a pharmacy leader at McKesson, Russo draws on her business experience and clinical knowledge to help oncology practices optimize pharmacy performance and deliver better patient care. In this Q&A, she shares how her career path gave her the tools to help specialty practices drive pharmacy success.

1. What made you decide to become a pharmacist?

I wanted to apply my neuroscience and behavioral biology degrees to real-life scenarios where patients were navigating chronic disease states. I wanted to positively impact the patient experience with meaningful interactions, be part of an overall healthcare team, and maintain a work/life balance. Through pharmacy, I gained a marketable skillset and became recognized as a medication expert and was able to help patients improve their health outcomes.

2. Can you describe your background in pharmacy and how you arrived at the point you are at in your career today?

I started in a retail chain, working my way up to pharmacy manager. After five years, I realized that most of my patient interactions were transactional and I wanted to be more of a clinical decision maker, so I transitioned to a community oncology practice. As pharmacy manager at the practice, I had the opportunity to specialize and make recommendations to impact patients' treatment plans. I had the business acumen to run a retail pharmacy, but I wanted to utilize my clinical skills to keep patients on therapy. It was this desire to utilize a business owner's mentality while being an integral part of the clinical team that led to my current role at McKesson.

3. How did you handle the transition from pharmacist in a retail chain to pharmacist in a specialty practice?

The most difficult part of the transition was learning the interworking's of a medical office and understanding the interdisciplinary approach to holistically treating a patient. I had to learn what was important to each stakeholder and how to state a case or have a conversation with everyone who touches a patient.

4. How have other women pharmacists influenced your career path?

Women in pharmacy actively seek to mentor and encourage other women to think outside of a standard retail dispensing path. Throughout my rotations, many preceptors were women, which allowed me to see the diversity in pharmacy roles and opportunities to excel. I had the good fortune to be mentored by several women who have challenged me to learn and grow in order to be rewarded by the profession I chose.

5. Describe your role and what value it brings to specialty practices?

Drawing on both my business experience and clinical knowledge, I consult with physician practices that operate in-house dispensaries and pharmacies to implement productivity tools and streamline operational efficiencies. I evaluate the practice's performance against national benchmarks and focus on areas of opportunity. This may include script capture, generating revenue or engaging physicians around sticking to the formulary, managing for clinical and financial success.

6. How has working in specialty pharmacies affected the impact you have on improving the patient experience and health outcomes?

Cancer patients are truly a unique segment of patients who look to you for encouragement, recommendations, and invite you to become a part of their journey. There is a heightened level of trust in which you are able to give a higher level of care. Medically integrated pharmacies are able to provide services in a more timely, direct and individualized way. Patients know that we'll search all opportunities to provide a level of service that outperforms any other setting or outside pharmacy.

7. What myth about pharmacists in specialty practices you would like to debunk?

There is a myth that in office pharmacy can't provide the same level of resources that a big box can. Since the pharmacy is an integrated part of the specialty care team, pharmacy staff know the patient, the treatment plan, and the ins and outs of the complex condition that is being treated. They have access to same patient-assistance funding and foundations and have unequaled relationships with that patient, which enables them to provide great care.

8. How has your experience working with pharmacies in specialty practices supported career advancement opportunities?

It has given me a seat at the table with advisory boards and biopharmaceutical companies to provide input about product launches and what pharmacies need to support patients on oral chemotherapy. It has given me the ability to specialize in oncology and get more involved in patient's treatment plans. Understanding how operational efficiency not only drives business success but supports optimal clinical outcomes has also afforded advancement opportunities.

9. What advice do you have for other aspiring women pharmacists who are considering the specialty practice setting?

Never be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone to learn something new. Embrace opportunities to showcase your knowledge and be the expert for medication recommendations and driving patient outcomes. The patient comes first, never be afraid to advocate for the patient.

Learn more about implementing or optimizing integrated pharmacy services.

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McKesson editorial staff is committed to sharing innovative approaches and insights so our customers can get the most out of their business solutions and identify areas for operational improvement and revenue growth.

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