An interview with Dr. Shahida Amar-Choudhry, PharmD, Long Island University, 2001. Owner of Palms Pharmacy located in Tampa, Florida.
What attracted you to working in the pharmaceutical industry?
Shahida Amar-Choudhry: Everything was patient care. That has always been the focus for me. It’s all about the patients. I’ve been a pharmacist for 19 years now, and I love it. I love helping patients from start to finish. When a patient gets newly diagnosed with diabetes, they’re scared. Doctors just give them paper and they come to me. I enjoy helping the patient from start to finish making sure they know that this isn’t a death sentence.
Can you share a little bit about your pharmacy education, and how you worked to the point that you are at in your career today?
SAC: I started pharmacy school at the age of 16 and got my bachelor’s degree in pharmacy, which was a five-year program, and then I went back and got my PharmD, which was a two-year program, and I ended up graduating in 2001 from Long Island University. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. As soon as I got out of college, we moved to San Francisco, working with Walgreens. After that, I moved to Safeway, which I loved, because with supermarket pharmacies you get to really know the patients and have those one-on-ones with them. Then, I moved out to Florida, working for MedCo as a pharmacy manager, managing 240 pharmacists but with no patient interaction. I only worked with other pharmacists and pharmacists are very sassy folks. I went to Publix and worked there for 10 years and had two kids during that time. I was a stay-at-home mom for two years and then I opened my own pharmacy. I had a patient one time who told me that I needed to open my own pharmacy. My kids were 1 and 3 at this time and I thought, you’re crazy. He ended up telling me who he was — he was someone higher-up at McKesson and I was intrigued because as a pharmacist you don’t know what these people do. He said to me, “When you’re ready I will assist you’ and I thought OK, but I was skeptical. He followed up and told me, ‘We have this RxOwnership workshop that I really think you should go to.” And I went, and I realized it was something that I could do, and I ended up opening up a year later.
What characteristics proved to be the most helpful for you in developing your career?
SAC: I would say compassion. Compassion has helped me a lot. When I say I care about my patients, I care. I know everything about them and as my mother has always told me, ‘Don’t vest so much into your patients because you get so emotionally attached.’ When my patients passed away, I was there at their funeral. A lot of pharmacists aren’t like that; I guess I’m just a different breed. Caring for patients is such an amazing feeling, it is just something you have to experience. You’re making a difference in someone else’s life and they’re making a difference in your life as well. It’s a blessing, it really is.
What steps did you take in your career to prepare for a leadership position or business ownership?
SAC: I did a lot of research. Being a pharmacist, you have no idea how to be a business owner. I should teach a class on this because no pharmacist knows how to open a pharmacy. I just read a lot of self-help books, business books, MBA books, accounting books — I just read everything. I attended as many conferences as I could. Anything business-related, I was there, and I still go to all types of business conference and I ask questions. I always ask questions.
What is your experience with mentors, influential leaders or others who inspired you to reach for success?
SAC: Jim Springer with RxOwnership still is there for me with any question I have. He has been a great mentor. Hashim with the Hayat Pharmacy chain in Wisconsin, he is a phenomenal mentor. I met him at a RxOwnership Workshop when he was teaching a class. Every time I go to a RxOwnership Workshop I feel like I learn something new and the last time I went I had a lot of folks come up to me from all over the U.S. and ask me questions. That was pretty cool.
What advice can you give to women entrepreneurs entering the pharmacy world?
SAC: Take that leap of faith and believe in yourself. It took me a year and a half to two years to even take that leap of faith. Just believe in yourself because nobody else will, and once you believe in yourself, everybody else will stand behind you. I want to personally thank my technician, Naivis Valdes, who left Publix and took that leap of faith with me. I wouldn’t be able to do anything without her; she is my right hand. It puts a lot of pressure on me when people join my staff because I have to make sure I am meeting their expectations, but it is such an honor for me. It’s funny because we have more women than we do men on our staff, which is somewhat unusual.
Have you noticed any boundaries or challenges for women in pharmacy? If so, how did you get around those?
SAC: Every day. All the dinners that I attend, I tend to be the only woman. It is very disappointing, but I hold my own. I don’t think of myself as a minority. Yes, we have children and families, but our careers are still very, very important. For me, a huge barrier is balancing between family and work. The mommy guilt factor always gets me. I have a great support system, and my husband has been a lifesaver. He has been the mobile one, picking up the kids and dropping them off.
What would you like to see pharmacy schools teach about owning your own pharmacy?
SAC: I have told many people that I should teach that class because I love RxOwnership, but they scare folks. I have been on both sides of it, but again, taking that leap of faith is what it comes back to. A lot of the fear comes from the financial aspect, thinking I have to go borrow all this money, and the banks scare you. I would love to be on the other side of that and tell them it’s okay, and it’s not scary, you need this. It would be so helpful having someone there to teach you the tax and accounting aspects, and all of that. Beforehand, we had no idea about all of that.
What do you enjoy most about being an independent pharmacy owner?
SAC: Freedom! I have more time with my family. The physicians around us come to us asking us questions, having that one-on-one relationship. I get that respect from the physicians, which is something I didn’t get working somewhere like Publix or Walgreens. It gives me freedom with the patients. It’s fantastic that the doctors trust me to go over labs with my patients.
Can you share a little bit about your personal life (e.g., where you live, family life, things you like to do for fun, etc.)?
SAC: I’ve been married for almost 20 years, we have a son, Eisa, 11 and a daughter, Sarina 10. They are the light of my life. They motivate and make a better person daily. They definitely keep me on my toes.
We enjoy travelling and exploring new cities. I still enjoy reading 3 books at a time, listening to music (DJ snake, Steve Aoki) and laughing all the time.