In this edition of Profiles in Pharmacy — Tim Lacey and I discuss his career and journey as a Practicing Pharmacist.
Tim has been a Pharmacist for over 40 years, and has plenty to share about the profession. To the young Pharmacist and Pharmacy Students that have an opportunity to meet and talk with Tim Lacey, please take advantage of that opportunity. Ask questions about the profession and learn from his perspective and memories.
In order for us to realize the potential of our future as Pharmacists, we must first pay respect to those that helped to lay the foundation for which we stand upon. I often tell folks that my triumphs in life are just reflections of the parenting, mentoring, coaching, and praying that I received from individuals that cared enough to teach me right from wrong.
Me and Tim often joked that he was my Pharmacy Daddy. Because when it came to Pharmacy, he taught me right from wrong…
I met Tim, while he was floating at the Walgreens on Greensprings Ave in Birmingham, AL circa 2009. I transferred stores later that year and began working for him when he was the Pharmacist in Charge for the Walgreens located on Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. I was still finding my way in pharmacy when we met. I still looked at Pharmacy like it would be a good job to have. Under his direction, I began to realize that Pharmacy was more than a job — it truly was a calling. Under his tutelage I began to realize what it meant to be part of a Profession…
I think about Tim often because he practices Pharmacy in the the trenches like a good offensive lineman. He hasn’t always gotten the recognition for the great work that he does, but he still keeps plugging away daily — 40 plus years later he’s still providing each individual with appropriate pharmaceutical care.
Sam: What year did you graduate from Auburn? Since you’re a local Birmingham native, where did you attend HS?
Tim: I attended Phillips High School (now Phillips Academy) and graduated from Auburn in 1976.
Sam: How did you learn about pharmacy? I remember you telling me about your mom working at a local drug store when you were growing up, how did that impact your decision to pursue a career in pharmacy?
Tim: I was influenced by the two pharmacists that worked at Cowgill Drug in North Birmingham, where my mother worked as a clerk. The owner, Franklin Little, was classy and professional, highly respected by everyone in the community. Everyone called him “Doctor Little”. The staff pharmacist, George Thompson, was a happy-go-lucky guy that seemed to enjoy his job immensely. I admired both very much and decided that I wanted to be a combination of the two.
Sam: There are foundational lessons I learned from watching you practice. Things like keeping appropriate eye contact with customers, how to keep the pharmacy lighthearted with a few jokes, knowing your patients name when they come to the counter, and always being the early shift pharmacist on Monday mornings when you’re the manager…. Who are some of the men and women in pharmacy that taught you the way of doing things the right way? And in what way did each person influence your practice of pharmacy?
Tim: In addition to the two already mentioned, I had the privilege of working a number of years for Jimmy Harrison, president of Harco Drugs, and Jerry Thomas, vice president of Harco. They made working for Harco seem like a family business, where everyone was important. When I decided to go back to work for Harco after Big B Drugs was bought out by CVS, I received a personal phone call from Mr. Harrison, telling me how excited he was that I was back. When he made the difficult decision to sell Harco to Rite Aid, he personally hand wrote a letter of apology to each of his pharmacy managers, explaining why he made the decision. It meant so much to all of us. He taught us the right way to treat employees and patients.
Sam: Can you describe your career path — I know about Big B Drugs and helping to open the Walgreens in Pelham, have there been any other stops you would like to discuss? How have your jobs in pharmacy impacted your outlook of the profession?
Tim: In addition to working at Cowgill as a teenager, I worked at Campus Drugs in Auburn (a Harco store) while in school. After graduation, I did my internship with K-Mart Pharmacy in Huntsville. After I received my license in 1977, I returned to Harco, working briefly in Talladega before opening a new store in Alexander City. I became homesick for my family and friends in Birmingham, and started working for Big B in 1979. I stayed with them for 17+ years until they were bought by Revco, then eventually CVS. By then, Harco had locations in Birmingham and I received an offer from them in 1997. I was glad to be back with the Harco family, but the Rite Aid deal was not long after. I stayed with Rite Aid for about another year. I began hearing rumors about Walgreens coming to Alabama, and started checking about possible employment. I had been told many years before “if you ever get a chance to work for Walgreens, take it!” I had the honor of being one of 3 pharmacists hired to open their first Alabama store, in Pelham. I now have 20+ years with Walgreens.
Sam: In your opinion what have been the differences in curriculum when you compare the Bachelors Degree in Pharmacy to the Doctor of Pharmacy degree? It seems that when we talked about your curriculum (BS degree) you told me about having to work a full year as an intern after graduation prior to being allowed to register as a pharmacist… In your opinion what were the strengths and weaknesses of the BS in Pharmacy and what are the strengths and weakness of the Doctor of Pharmacy? Has the transition been what you thought it would be — and does the BS in Pharmacy receive enough respect from the younger generations of Pharmacist?
Tim: The PharmD degree has much more clinical component than the old Bachelors degree. In my opinion, at first, there was a shortage of practical experience with the PharmD students, but I believe that has been addressed and corrected now. When I graduated, the requirements were different in that we had to get the majority of our intern hours after graduation, which gave us about a year of practical experience under supervision. I probably learned as much in that year as I did in 3 years of pharmacy school. The PharmD students get great experience on their rotations in their final year. I think it would have been fun to do that while I was a student. For the most part, I’ve received nothing but respect from my students. They recognize that 40+years of experience counts for something, and that I know what I’m talking about (most of the time).
Sam: What pharmacy law rule do your current prescribers have the most difficulty understanding, thus leading to errors and calls for clarifications?
Tim: I think, over the years, the one rule that causes the most confusion, is the “two signature lines” rule. Technically, if a prescription blank does not have that, it’s not a valid prescription. I understand there is some talk about eliminating or modifying that rule.
Sam: What would you tell a new grad?
Tim: I would tell a new grad that patient safety is the most important thing. If something is unclear, whether it is the drug prescribed, directions for use, potential interactions or contraindications, you must get it right. If you don’t get it right, it doesn’t matter how fast you got it to the patient. Ours is one of the few, if not the only profession, you have to bat 1000, or there’s a problem.
Sam: How has being a preceptor changed for you over your career? Is it harder or easier to teach? How many students do you think you’ve taught over the years?
Tim: Student pharmacists are so well educated these days. I feel that sometimes I learn more from them than they do from me. As far as being harder or easier to teach, it depends on the student. Some come to me with no experience in retail. There is a learning curve for them. Five or six weeks is not long enough to learn everything we have to deal with. The ones with retail experience are usually the easiest. I would estimate that I have had close to 500 students, including students on rotation and students that worked part time. I often wish that I had kept a scrapbook of all my students over the years.
Sam: Is being a Pharmacist what you thought it would be?
Tim: Yes, and no. Pharmacy, especially retail pharmacy has changed so much over the last 42 years. I never dreamed that I would be administering immunizations. I never imagined the impact that third party payors would have on the profession. I never thought I would have to deal with a drive thru window.
Sam: Is there anything that you would like to add?
Tim: The profession has been good to me. It has given me a nice income, and a sense of being a part of something that helps people. I have derived much satisfaction from mentoring students that went on to be good pharmacists, and any time a patient thanks you for what you do for them, well, it doesn’t get any better than that.