Photo of Auburn Pharmacy and employees

Community Pharmacy Alive and Well in Central Massachusetts

Photo of Auburn Pharmacy and employees

Vrushank Patel, PharmD '15, is creating community with his independent pharmacy.

There was a time when the local pharmacy was the center of a community, a place where people came not just to get their medicine but to congregate with their friends and neighbors. They came for advice and support from their pharmacist, who knew them personally. The rise of national chains like CVS and Walgreens has largely changed that, and independent pharmacies are fewer and farther between.

Vrushank Patel, PharmD '15, has worked for the big chains. He spent several years rising through the ranks at CVS, and while he valued his time there, he craved a leadership role and wanted to put more of his extensive pharmacy education to use. So in 2018 he took the bold step of starting his own business, and Auburn Pharmacy and Home Healthcare was born.

One of the few independent pharmacies in the area, Auburn Pharmacy serves all of Central Massachusetts, and provides delivery to a full 16 towns. Patel says that while running his own business has been a huge challenge with a significant learning curve, the nature of a local, community pharmacy has been incredibly rewarding. First, he says, "if you have your own business, you will use everything you learned in pharmacy school." That wasn't always the case for him in the corporate culture at a larger pharmacy chain, where responsibilities can get particularly siloed.

And Patel really enjoys the close relationships he can have with his customers, getting to know them all personally. "All of our patients are like our family," he says. "We know them by name." Vrushank believes that nationwide, "there are still some gaps in pharmacists being recognized as healthcare providers." But the role he plays in the community, the personal interaction he has with his patients, the comprehensive use of his PharmD education every day: he sees community pharmacy as the most rewarding route he could have taken with his PharmD.

When coronavirus hit, Vrushank was worried about his patients, his workers, and his business. But the whole experience has only strengthened the sense of community around his pharmacy. He and his staff have taken a leadership role and best practices around health and safety, and they’ve been hard at work through all the uncertainty the pandemic has brought.

"One of my patients had tested positive [in mid March]," Vrushank recalls, "so I thought: I can't risk this for my team, my patients, myself. I made a decision overnight to go curbside [pickup]."

"Closing was not an option," Vrushank says. "I was looking long-term. To keep our team and our patients safe, and to lead by example in the community, we decided to go curbside. We were one of the first businesses here to do that, and others have followed suit."

Rather than serve as an obstacle to his business and the bonds it formed with patients, this decision proved to be a foresight that the community has appreciated. "The community has really appreciated what we've done. People feel very comfortable, and we've actually gained more patients by going curbside and delivery only." But that might not be the best part. "Every day at least one of our patients calls us asking if we want anything from Dunkin' Donuts. Every day someone brings us coffee, lunch, something. And they say, 'What you're doing for the community is awesome.'"

For Vrushank, the current situation serves as another reminder why he decided to make the move to independent pharmacy. Even in times like this, it brings him joy. Speaking of curbside delivery, he says, "It's actually pretty fun," says Vrushank. "When we go to deliver the medicines outside, we come in no contact with the patients, so I pretend to be Tom Brady and throw the meds into their cars."

Of course, now that Brady has signed with the Buccaneers, his patients might not appreciate it as much.

Interested in pursuing a career in pharmacy? Learn more about the PharmD program at MCPHS.