Non-Traditional Pharmacy: A Day in the Life

Our "Day in the Life" series increases your knowledge about what career paths are available, and what a typical workday entails for these professionals!

Non-Traditional Pharmacy: A Day in the Life
Photo by Luke Peters / Unsplash

With so many career options available to pharmacists after graduation, the "Day in the Life" series is meant to provide you with insights into what it's like to be a pharmacist in various areas so that you can pursue what's right for you!

Alex Poppen - Medical Information Manager - Pyrls (YC W22) | LinkedIn
Dr. Alex Poppen is a Medical Information Manager at Pyrls, as well as the author of High-Powered Medicine: Landmark Clinical Trial Reviews. He earned his Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Pharmacy in Kansas City, Missouri. Fun fact, after graduating, Alex moved to Hawaii (where his wife was living), studied for the NAPLEX on the beach for a few months, passed the exam, and worked his first shift as a licensed pharmacist on the North Shore of Oahu. When he is not actively working, he enjoys taking his dogs (Chief and Cohen) on walks and jogging at the park. Alex is a big fan of spicy food!

1. Tell us a bit about your background (school, training, etc…)

I went to the University of Missouri - Kansas City (UMKC) School of Pharmacy and graduated in 2018. During pharmacy school I worked in both retail and inpatient hospital pharmacy. The retail job was at a Target Pharmacy (later CVS inside Target) and the inpatient job was at a smaller regional hospital. I’m really glad I got to experience both as a student, as they both offered unique perspectives on what my career could look like after graduation. 

I considered residency briefly but due to being long-distance with my wife for two years I wanted to actually be able to spend time together, so I opted to jump straight into retail pharmacy with CVS. The nice part of continuing my employment with CVS after graduation was they were able to find a job for me in Hawaii, where my wife was living and working as a dolphin trainer and marine biologist. We lived there for about two years before moving to Missouri to be closer to family and shortly after the pandemic started. 

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go out and help with Operation Warp Speed and administer some of the first COVID-19 vaccines to nursing homes and long-term care facilities in rural parts of Missouri. Then it was wave after wave of vaccines for adults, then children, then boosters for adults, flu shots, boosters for children etc. etc. 

In January of 2021 I published my book, High-Powered Medicine: Landmark Clinical Trial Reviews. This was a side hobby that started shortly after I graduated as a way to better understand and appreciate the evidence supporting guideline recommendations. Essentially, I crafted a journal club style template and would just read through trial after trial and do my best to organize the clinically relevant information in a concise way for myself to keep as a reference. Eventually, I had put together a decent collection of them and decided to formally pursue a published version. After crossing the 100 trial mark, I did a bunch of editing and revising and was able to get it finalized and published online!

Fast-forward a year and at this point I was a pharmacy manager at a relatively high-volume CVS inside Target, which brought along its own set of perks and problems. My wife and I knew we would be moving to Dallas in June and I would have to basically start back in the floater pool of rotating/traveling pharmacists, which I was not looking forward to. However, my book had caught the attention of Pyrls founder, Derek Borkowski, and I had been doing some consultant work for him for a few months. About two months prior to moving to Dallas, he offered me a full-time position helping build and expand the Pyrls platform. I was pretty nervous leaving the only job I knew for a start-up, but I decided to try something new and I’m so glad I did! 

Currently, I work for Pyrls as a Medical Information Manager. Essentially, my job involves building the drug pages, curating the clinical counseling points and integrating the most current guideline recommendations. It’s a really fun mix of pure drug information (via product labeling), current clinical literature (via landmark trials and guidelines) and a little bit of creative style (in terms of presenting the info as a text summary or chart). One of the most rewarding parts of the job is that I’m always learning, re-learning and helping to build useful resources for myself and others! And a big perk is that I get to work from home, which allows me so much more time with my wife and our two dogs. 

2. What are some of the best and worst aspects of retail pharmacy from your experience?

The best part is being able to provide a vital service to the community in terms of solving an insurance problem quickly, providing medication recommendations and counseling as well as immunizations. Helping people using our pharmacy skill set is a good feeling. 

The worst part was the ongoing understaffing. It gets in the way of doing high quality patient care. 

3. What are some of the learning points you took away from your retail position? Would you go back?

I learned a lot about leadership and communication. Mainly that a good leader sets clear expectations for themselves and others, communicates it well and holds all parties accountable to achieving said expectations. 

I’m really enjoying working with Pyrls, so I’m not looking to go back anytime soon.


https://www.pyrls.com/

4. What are some of the best and worst things about working outside of a traditional pharmacy setting (referencing your position at Pyrls)?

There’s a lot of great things I like about Pyrls, but one of the best has to be enjoying the work I do. It makes a world of difference.

The worst part about it is having to explain what I actually do, since it is a non-traditional position. 

5. Which position do you enjoy more? Retail or Pyrls?

Pyrls. No question.

6. What are the main barriers to entry? (PGY1 or PGY2, fellowships, 3-4 years experience, etc…)

It’s hard to say! Pyrls is still growing as a company so there is not an established path, so to speak. Myself and the other core members of the team collectively have a mix of experiences, including drug information fellowship, venture capital bootcamps, computer coding and engineering and retail pharmacy. 

A common trait, however, would be a shared interest and enthusiasm for improving how students and clinicians access and apply drug information. In my case, the way I demonstrated that was the book I published. 

7. Why have you continued with this position as opposed to moving back into the traditional pharmacy workforce?

I simply enjoy the work more. And getting to be around my family and friends more means a lot. 

8. What are some of the challenges you face as a pharmacist in a non-traditional role?

Given the nature of the position, I am no longer in a patient-facing role. Which means I no longer have fresh and repeated exposure to how medicine is practiced in the real world. This can feel a little isolating at times, but thankfully we have a robust panel of expert consultants to leverage and share their clinical experiences!

9. How can current students or pharmacists best prepare for a career path similar to yours?

Find a drug information problem or opportunity and build a service or solution around it. I can’t guarantee any results, but you will learn a lot in the process and at the very least it will look good on a resume or CV.

10. What are your responsibilities/tasks during a typical workday?

The topics vary each day, but each morning and we meet on a video call and give our status updates for the various projects we are working on (e.g., drug page development, pharmacotherapy reviews, topic summaries). There’s a general task-wheel of create, review, re-review and publish that involves each content item being passed around to various team members so it’s important that we keep each other closely informed when something is ready for the next step. We use Slack a bunch to do this and often jump into quick video “huddles” for more detailed clarification or when quick discussion is necessary. 

11. What are some of the most common questions you are asked on the job?

Since we are a growing medication education platform, the most common question we ask each other is “What should we do next?” in terms of drug page development, pharmacotherapy reviews or topic summaries.

12. What is the biggest impact you think you have on patient care/developing pharmacists/medical community?

Providing new and clinically relevant drug information quickly and concisely. 

13. What are some helpful tips for everyday pharmacists to know about non-traditional pharmacy roles such as yours at Pyrls?

These roles exist. Don’t limit yourself to traditional positions if you don’t find them appealing or enjoyable. It’s not easy changing fields, but I am confident that you know someone personally or via a work connection that would be able to help if asked.


https://highpoweredmedicine.com/

14. How did you come up with the idea for High-Powered Medicine? Is it difficult keeping up with the current literature?

The High-Powered Medicine book started out as a simple resource for myself that I could use to review key points from landmark trials and better understand the reasons behind guideline recommendations. Eventually, I got up the courage to put it out in the public for others to use as well. But at its core, it is still very much a personal resource that I am continuing to build and improve upon.

Keeping up with current drug trials is not as troublesome as it sounds. In terms of the trials I typically focus on (common, chronic disease states) there is not an overwhelming amount being published regularly (although there is an abundance of previously published trials to sort through). Knowing where to look for new publications and signing up for email alerts is a big help too! 


black and white dog with disguise eyeglasses
Photo by Braydon Anderson / Unsplash

The following questions are meant to be fun and provide some insight into the culture and personality of these professionals!

1. Dumbledore vs Gandalf, who wins?

Dumbledore (I’m more of a Harry Potter fan).

2. If 100 physicians fought 100 pharmacists, who would win? (Orthopedic surgeons not included)

Got to go with pharmacists. We have all the meds. 

3. Which pharmacy specialty is the best and why?

For me, it’s a tie between ambulatory care and infectious disease. They are the best examples of highlighting the benefits to patient care that collaborative practice and multidisciplinary care can offer (inpatient and outpatient; acute and chronic care).