An interview with Sarah Sumner, RPh
Owner of Barnes Arcata Family Drug, located in Arcata, CA.
What attracted you to working in the pharmaceutical industry?
Sarah Sumner: My father originally owned the pharmacy that I currently work in, so I was always around the pharmacy after school growing up or making deliveries with my mom. As I got older, I wasn’t sure what career path I wanted to take, so I went to school for French, but then found my way back to pharmacy and attended pharmacy school. It was a natural progression to go back to the pharmacy and continue the family business, and I’ve loved every minute.
Can you share a little bit about your pharmacy education, and how you got to the place in your career that you are today?
SS: I was already working as a pharmacy technician when I decided to go to pharmacy school. I met a pharmacist who had gone to Colorado University, and he inspired me to apply there. Although I applied to a few other pharmacy schools, I found that one to be the best fit. I also hadn’t been anywhere else in the country and wanted to experience other pharmacy settings, so going there was the best way for me to expand my knowledge and experience.
What skills proved to be the most helpful for you in developing your career?
SS: I think one of my most effective skills is being able to collaborate with other people. Whether it’s my out-front staff, technician staff or other pharmacists, it’s important to surround myself with good people and work closely with them to make the pharmacy run successfully. The magic of independent pharmacy is the level of individual service it can provide to its patients, and if you have a good team behind you, it can make the pharmacy overall more effective at providing great service to your patients.
What steps did you take in your career to prepare for a leadership position or business ownership?
SS: It’s difficult because in pharmacy school, the emphasis on what you learn is clinical, so I didn’t really think about the business side until I had a professor who emphasized the importance of having money to start and run a pharmacy. However, I was very fortunate to have my dad, who initially started the pharmacy I work in now, teach me about the different responsibilities for running the business side of the pharmacy. I also have a couple of business-savvy pharmacy technicians to help me with certain aspects since managing the business side is a lot for one person, especially given the changing landscape in the pharmaceutical industry. Understanding your pharmacy’s patient population is necessary, however, for shaping your overall business model.
What is your experience with mentors, influential leaders or others who inspired you to reach for success?
SS: I had some great preceptors in pharmacy school who encouraged me to expand on my experience working with my father. Although I had always planned to go back to my family’s pharmacy, they were very open about sharing their experiences in different pharmacy settings and how they got to where they are now. So, it was very helpful hearing what they liked/disliked about different options to help me decide where I ultimately wanted to end up. I also have a couple of great pharmacy technician friends who I can constantly bounce ideas back and forth with, which is really great.
What advice can you give to women entrepreneurs entering the pharmacy world?
SS: I think it’s important to create goals for yourself of things you want to accomplish and work toward, because then it helps you identify what steps you need to take to be successful. It’s important to take risks to discover what will be the best model for you, because it really depends on the population of patients you will be serving. After graduating pharmacy school and working at my pharmacy, I could direct the pharmacy to create new offerings that fit the needs of the population we were serving. I would also tell any aspiring woman pharmacy entrepreneur that there will always be risks in this industry, but sometimes you have to be flexible and take some risks to be successful.
Have you noticed any boundaries or challenges for women in pharmacy? If so, how did you get around those?
SS: What I’ve seen and experienced is not so much a gender-specific challenge in pharmacy; it’s really all of pharmacy in general facing similar challenges. Having a family and trying to navigate the different obstacles faced with working as a pharmacy owner is a challenge, but if you have a good group of people that you’re working with, you can be flexible and maintain success.
What would you like to see pharmacy schools teach about owning your own pharmacy?
SS: I think offering business courses in pharmacy school would have been beneficial to me as a pharmacy owner now, but I also would have liked to learn more about formulary. In both community and hospital pharmacy, it’s important to get an understanding of that concept early to understand how and why formularies are created. That was one gap for me that I wish I had a better understanding of coming out of pharmacy school.
What do you enjoy most about being an independent pharmacy owner?
SS: I love my customers. I like being able to get to know them and help them with whatever their need may be. Sometimes it’s the simplest thing like coaching my patient on how to properly use their inhaler, and they’ll come back the next week so thankful for how much better it’s working. Those little things that help make a person’s life better make me the happiest, because something so small for me to do can make a big impact for my patients. I think that’s where the focus of pharmacy should always be, just making our patients’ lives better and taking the time to educate them on even the smallest of things, so that they can stay happy and healthy.
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.)?
SS: I love to travel, which can be somewhat difficult since I live in a rural area, but I love to go see new places. There are so many unique things to see when you step out of your comfort zone. I also have a lot of animals, so I spend most of my time outside taking care of them in my spare time. That’s been the most effective way to clear my mind and break away from my daily work life.