An interview with Nisha Saini Zala, PharmD Owner of Lynwood Community Pharmacy, West Alondra Medical Pharmacy, and Wilmington Pharmacy located throughout Southern California

What inspired you to become an independent pharmacy owner?

Nisha Saini Zala: In general, I wanted to be able to do more within the profession. I wanted to provide meaningful work within communities where I felt that I could make an impact on patient health.

I worked for a large corporate pharmacy for 6 years and did not feel that I was able to make a direct impact. I knew an independent pharmacy would allow me independence in decision making, the ability to operate without corporate restrictions and the ability to connect deeper with my patients. Becoming an independent pharmacy owner has allowed me to practice pharmacy the way I have always dreamt of and I am grateful that it has given me opportunities to connect with my community and patients.

What steps did you take in your career to prepare for business ownership?

NSZ: Before I applied to pharmacy school, I got my Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. Throughout my undergraduate studies, I worked part-time in a multitude of roles – small businesses, non-profits, sales, retail stores, and management roles where I was able to understand the basic operations of business.

In pharmacy school, I focused on networking, learning, and connecting with not only the people around me, but with industry experts who shared their experiences. I learned a lot from people by engaging and asking questions. Any networking opportunity I was given, I took as I recognized the importance of attending conferences and events. These experiences allowed me to expand my network and helped me develop skills towards pharmacy ownership.

What is your experience with mentors, influential leaders or others who inspired you to reach for success?

NSZ: A huge mentor who I owe a lot of my success to is Frank Cable from Leader Pharmacy in Sacramento. When I was applying to pharmacy school, I reached out to 75 pharmacists in my community and only Frank reached back out to me. He allowed me the opportunity to speak with him and work in his pharmacy which enabled me to gain pharmacy experience. He helped guide me during pharmacy school and even after I completed my degree.

I also owe my success to my community, which consists of my family, friends, guidance counselors, mentors like Frank and professors I befriended in pharmacy school who took me under their wings.

My advice is to ask for support from the people around you, they can be your biggest asset along your journey.

Have you noticed any boundaries or challenges for women in pharmacy, and if so, how do you get around those?

NSZ: One notable observation is that there are not many women in executive leadership or
decision-making roles within the pharmacy industry. While women make up a majority of pharmacists, they are not represented in positions that give them decision making rights.

As a woman leader it is important to elevate diverse voices and provide growth opportunities that support my team’s individual and collective goals. I engage my team as a servant leader who focuses on the needs of my team and my patients first. This all ties back to our mission as a company “to empower our patients by providing them with compassionate care and consistent education to improve their overall health.”

What’s one thing you did this year that made the biggest impact in your pharmacy?

NSZ: I am proud that our team is collaborating with LA Care and the California Rights Meds Collaborative (CRMC) to deliver high impact comprehensive medication management.

This collaborative agreement has allowed us to push above and beyond the standard of pharmacy and focus on a more tailored whole patient approach. We get to help manage patients’ therapy and their disease states by working directly with their providers.

It’s opportunities like this that remind me why I became a pharmacist.

How do you stay connected with the community?

NSZ: We are very present in the community, and proactively reach out as a resource the community can utilize. Staying connected is a vital part of our mission; we regularly donate to local hospitals and high schools and we have also hosted health fairs.

We are always looking for ways to give back, whether it’s being a mentor for underrepresented students within the community, conducting medication therapy management sessions in our pharmacy, or alleviating transportation challenges by personally delivering medications to patients homes.

What are your thoughts on connecting with legislative representatives regarding bill H.R. 1770 and S. 2477, Equitable Community Access to Pharmacist Services Act? Did you meet with any legislators in your community regarding the bill?

NSZ: As both a pharmacist and an independent pharmacy owner, I believe being engaged and involved with legislation allows you the opportunity to have your voice heard.

Legislation like H.R. 1770 and S. 2477 helps alleviate gaps in care, especially to the Medicare population. Our pharmacies are located in underserved communities, legislation such as this is critical to ensuring we maintain equitable community access to pharmacy services.

Congresswomen, Nanette Barragán, who represents the 44th congressional district of California (where 1 of our pharmacies reside) visited our pharmacy to learn more about how independent pharmacies support the community. Experiences like this reaffirm that being engaged with legislation has a direct impact on ensuring our communities continue to be advocated for.

Nisha, her husband & business partner Jitesh Zala and Congresswomen Nanette Barragán
Nisha, her husband & business partner Jitesh Zala and Congresswomen Nanette Barragán

What do you enjoy most about being an independent pharmacy owner?

NSZ: An important part of being a pharmacist is the level in which you engage and interact with your patients. I love that I can spend quality time with my patients, and also be a leader who works alongside an incredible team. When I worked in corporate pharmacy, I struggled to balance engagement and leadership.

I also enjoy working with my team to come up with solutions to barriers that patients experience in healthcare. For example, my team and I were able to implement a bedside delivery program at Martin Luther King Community Hospital which allows us to support patients during their transitions of care.

What advice would you give women entrepreneurs entering the pharmacy ownership world?

NSZ: Be proactive in engaging with healthcare professionals and independent pharmacy owners who you can learn from. Additionally, I recommend attending conferences, local chapter meetings, or opportunities that expand your knowledge and network. Continuing to engage and connect with others in the industry can help provide opportunities for us to advance together.

Tell us a little about your personal life (children/family) and techniques to managing your work/life balance.

NSZ: True pharmacy nerds, my husband and I met in pharmacy school, built our businesses together and have been married for 11 years and have two children. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends whether that be traveling, hiking, playing board games, sports, or hanging out at home! My husband and I are both family oriented and our families live in California, so we spend quality time together often.
When I come home from work, I know I am going to have limited time with my kids so I make sure I am fully present and engaged.

Everyone has a life outside of work and I want to make sure that our life isn’t just about our career, it’s about enjoying time with people you love and doing things that make you happy. We hired more pharmacists and this allowed more flexibility in scheduling. It’s important that my team and I have the ability to balance our professional and personal lives, so we work together to help support one another.