Pharmacist and entrepreneur
This month I spoke with Darius Russell, who, with his wife Terensia, owns and operates Russell’s Pharmacy & Shoppe (2116 Angier Ave, 919-908-1060).
Q How long have your been a pharmacist, and how did you get your start?
A I’ve been a pharmacist for 13 years, going on 14. I started at Kerr Drug in Wellons Village and then transferred over to the one that used to be on Fayetteville St. My wife and I were both teachers and I worked as a pharmacy tech during the evenings for extra money. I liked it so much that I went back to school, UNC–Chapel Hill, to get my degree. I worked at Central Pharmacy on Duke St for 10 years, where I learned a lot about the business side of running an independent pharmacy. And now we’ve got our own—we’ve been open for a little more than a year.
Q What’s a typical day like, if there is such a thing?
A There’s no really “typical” day, but when we come in, we start with prescriptions that were sent to us overnight. The doctors make their diagnoses, write out the prescriptions, and we fill them. The patients stop by and pick them up. Most prescriptions are sent electronically, but some doctors are old-school and still send faxes. We check our voicemails—people calling for refills on their medications. We handle the same types of prescriptions as the large chain stores, and we accept insurance. Patients that aren’t insured can come to us and get the same prices as you find in the “big box” pharmacies.
Q Most people don’t get to work with their spouses. What’s it like?
A It’s great. We always wanted to run our own pharmacy, and it was her encouragement that made it happen. We’re in our mid-40s and she said, “Go for it!” For the past 5 or 6 years, she worked on the business plan and figured out how the store should look, where it should be located, etc. Both of us speak Spanish, and we have found that to be very helpful.
Q For the young folks reading this and thinking about their future careers—what classes should they take if they want to become pharmacists?
A While in high school, they need to take advanced math, biology, and chemistry. That provides a good foundation. In college, they need to study the anatomy, and also physiology of the body. You can go straight into pharmacy school after two years, but most people don’t do that. You take the PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test) the summer before your senior year of college (some take it in the fall). Pharmacy school is 4 years, just like medical school, and you graduate with a Doctorate of pharmacy (PharmD).
Students will also have preceptors in pharmacy school—that means connecting with working pharmacists to get valuable mentoring. I’ve had the opportunity to precept students, and also residents (new pharmacists). Usually they come in and stay for one or two months, shadowing the pharmacists, learning how to fill prescriptions, talking with patients, and administering immunizations.
Q What’s the biggest difference between working in someone else’s pharmacy and working for yourself?
A Well, when you work for someone else, you can sleep at night and not worry about the business. But when you work for yourself, you can never stop thinking about it—marketing, business, worrying about the patients, getting your name out there. …
Q What do you like best about being a pharmacist?
A Definitely helping people. I have always wanted to help people, plus I enjoy math and science, so it’s a good match. A patient might come in, struggling with their medications, and I”m able to make a change and see how it helps. We help other patients who are struggling financially, with coupons, etc. The look of relief and peace on their faces is priceless. Owning our own business also allows some flexibility—we can create and work around our own schedules. … And, it’s great working with my wife!