D.C. Program Promotes Careers in Pharmacy

By Mark Jr.

Aug. 1, 2006

Not many kids growing up in low-income neighborhoods of Washington daydream about becoming pharmacists. CVS and the District of Columbia are attempting to change that mind-set.

    This summer, the drugstore chain and the local government are sponsoring a program called Pathways to Pharmacy. The first workshop was held in June during the rededication of the CVS Regional Learning Center in Washington. The facility, opened in 2000, is a joint venture between the company and the District that focuses on hiring and training unemployed residents for CVS jobs.

    The drugstore chain needs as much talent as it can find for its pharmacies. CVS estimates that the retail industry will more than double by 2012 and that several high-growth regions in the United States lack pharmacy coverage.

    CVS wants to draw young people to the profession by sponsoring summer jobs for high school students. It is also trying to attract adults.

    The company established a pharmacy technician apprenticeship program in the District in 1998. CVS and the government developed standards that were approved by the U.S. Department of Labor.

    The goal for local leaders was to put people on a lifelong-learning track that would start with the pharmacy tech position and lead to more schooling and eventually a degree and career as a pharmacist.

    Ebony Harris, 22, may be headed in that direction. She joined CVS as a pharmacy technician after going through training at the Washington learning center. A single mother who had worked at a bookstore, she applied for the CVS program after hearing about it through a program for out-of-school adults.

    Harris, who has always wanted to be a pharmacist, is getting an intimate view of the profession’s challenges. She has helped track down drugs when her store lacks supplies. She also has had to sort out insurance problems.

    “Some of the demands are unexpected, but you can deal with them if you take a deep breath,” says Harris, who intends to start taking pharmacy courses. “That’s what CVS is about—keeping the customer satisfied.”

    Increasing the number of people like Harris who pursue pharmacy will require raising awareness and enthusiasm about the field among youngsters. “It’s not a jazzy profession at all, according to them,” says Gregory Irish, director of the District’s Department of Employment Services.

    One way to pique interest is to highlight the field’s salary potential. The Rev. Lionel Edmonds, pastor at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in the District, has used that tack when talking to kids.

    “When I ask, ‘Who wants to make $100,000 a year?’ everyone’s hands go up,” says Edmonds, whose church is working with CVS and the government on the pharmacy program. “Then I tell them, you need to study math and science to be a pharmacist.”

    Irish acknowledges that the District hasn’t reached its goals. But some kids have stepped onto the pharmacy path. “It works for highly motivated young people,” Irish says.

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