An interview with Samantha Buck, PharmD. Owner of Embrace Pharmacy located in Grand Forks, North Dakota

What attracted you to working in the pharmaceutical industry?

Samantha Buck: My whole family is in healthcare, and I knew I always wanted to do something in healthcare. We have pretty much every scope of healthcare that you can have. We have nurses and my uncle is a pharmacist. So, I did a lot of job shadowing. As I gained experience through shadowing, I found that what really attracted me most to the field was the relationship with the patients and the science behind pharmacy.

Can you share a little bit about your pharmacy education, and your career path to the point where you are today?

SB: I graduated high school in Fargo, North Dakota. Then I went to North Dakota State University for all my pre-pharmacy and pharmacy education. While I was in school, I worked at an independent pharmacy in Fargo, where I met some of the best pharmacists and a pharmacy owner who was really amazing. He showed you what a pharmacy could be and what a pharmacy should look like. I also did rotations all over the state as well as in Nebraska. During that time, I met a few other independent pharmacy owners that really embodied what pharmacy should be, which served as inspiration for me.

After graduating, I started working as the manager at Thrifty White Pharmacy in Grafton, North Dakota. It was a great start for my career and taught me a lot. I worked as a manager at Thrifty White for three-and-a-half years. I then moved on to CVS in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where I worked as a staff pharmacist for two years and then became a manager there as well and stayed in that role for another two years. And eventually I reached a point where I just knew I needed more. I knew I needed to give my patients more and I knew I needed to give myself more opportunities than just being a staff pharmacist. So, my husband and I focused on pharmacy ownership, and now we’re three years into owning our own pharmacy and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

What characteristics proved to be the most helpful for you in developing your career?

SB: I have a really great memory. My brain remembers everything. I know it sounds a little crazy, but when I see a person come into my store, even if they’ve only come one time, I can easily remember their name and put the name to their face the next time they come in. It’s like instant facial recognition! People find it really cool or really scary. I know most people don’t have this ability, but I would say that taking the time and effort to remember your patients will help you go a long way as a pharmacist. Something as simple as remembering their name makes patients feel valued and cared for, and establishing connections like this is important.

That said, while having this ability is nice, it’s not what makes me a good pharmacist. But it helps. I think one of the most important qualities that pharmacists must have is the thirst for knowledge. I love to learn. I love when people ask me a challenging question and I can research it and call them, and we can talk through it. I like thinking outside of the box; not just relying on what you learned in pharmacy school, because that’s the base — it’s about going further and wanting to continuously be better at what you do.

What steps did you take in your career to prepare for a leadership position or business ownership?

SB: I grew up with strong leaders. So, wanting to own my own business always came naturally. My experience at Target, where I did their books, and my experience as a manager in two different pharmacies have really helped prepare me to be in charge of a staff and how to maintain records and paperwork. My husband and I always knew that we wanted to own a pharmacy, but it never seemed to pan out. We couldn’t decide if we wanted to start one or if we wanted to buy one. So, we never really knew how to get started even though it was our eventual goal. And then over time we continued to look into our options until things just seemed to fall into place where we knew what was supposed to happen next. The paperwork, working with the board of pharmacy, finding the space, and just getting everyone together fell so nicely into place that you couldn’t say no to it. We knew then that it was the perfect opportunity to jump in with both feet.

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

SB: Dave Olig — he is who I started under and he owns a few pharmacy locations in Fargo. He is just unbelievably genuine. He truly cares for his patients. He has the best ability to pick pharmacists that match what he wants pharmacy to be and align with his vision for pharmacy. Working with him and his staff was amazing, and he is someone I have always looked up to.

Another source of inspiration for me is a fellow pharmacist, Charlotte Young. She owned an independent pharmacy in Napoleon, North Dakota. I did one of my rotations with her. She treated me like family. And just seeing the way she interacted with patients and the type of connections she formed with patients was inspiring.

Both of these people have really influenced me and my career. It was inspiring to watch how they worked, how their visions were reflected in their business operations and approach, and how their genuine care for their patients impacted those around them.

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

SB: To those who are on the fringe of deciding if ownership is the right move for them, I’d tell them that yes, it is terrifying, but it is the best thing I’ve ever done. It takes a lot of work, collaboration, and reaching out to your community, but it is completely worth the risk if you have the persistence to do it right.

Have you noticed any boundaries or challenges for women in pharmacy? If so, how did you get around those?

SB: You know, just a couple of weeks ago, I had a male patient walk in and as I was helping him he asked me if I owned the store, and I told him, “Yes, I do,” to which he responded, “You mean your husband does.” You’re always going to encounter people like this. In a way he isn’t wrong, as my husband is my partner and we own it together, but that doesn’t make me any less of an owner than him. I’ve always encountered people who wouldn’t speak to me because I am a woman and would only speak to my male staff members. It’s frustrating and it hurts, but you have to understand that those views and those boundaries are on them. What I found to be helpful is just reminding myself to overcome my obstacles. It takes remembering that the world is shifting, where these situations are becoming less and less common, that helps you prove yourself. And once you do that, it’s the best feeling in the world.

What would you like to see pharmacy schools teach about owning your own pharmacy?

SB: I think the biggest thing I’d like to see changed is for pharmacy schools and programs to let students know that being a pharmacy owner is a possibility. You know in North Dakota we’re a little different because there aren’t many chain pharmacies, but when I talk to people from surrounding states and tell them I own a pharmacy, they usually say, “I didn’t even know you could do that.” We do have smaller chains of independently owned pharmacies here, but it isn’t common knowledge that this is a potential career path for pharmacists. I think schools need to bring awareness that the possibility exists. Becoming a pharmacy owner takes a lot of hard work and a lot of funding. I had many sleepless nights trying to open my pharmacies. And that’s because there are a lot of unknowns. So, if schools were to provide information about the basics of pharmacy ownership, I think it would be helpful — I’m talking about a few pre-required business courses or something. It would make students feel like they have the base level of knowledge they need to pursue an ownership path. In fact, it would probably benefit more pharmacists than it would be a burden, because the majority of pharmacists are a PiC or a pharmacy manager or owner. At some point in time in your career, you are going to be managing people. You’re going to be doing the reports and the paperwork somewhere along the line, so having some familiarization with these tasks would be helpful.

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

SB: My store is like my baby. I love that I can treat people the way I feel that they should be treated. I love being able to make the time to know my patients on a personal level and to be able to help them in any way that I can.

Can you share a little bit about your personal life (such as where you live, family life, things you like to do for fun, etc.)?

SB: My husband and I have three wonderful children and we live in North Dakota. I would say that one of our favorite things to do is go camping. We would probable do it every weekend if we could! My husband camped a lot growing up and I didn’t, but once he got me to try it, I realized it was an experience like no other. It’s quiet and unplugged — which is exactly what we need.