Pharmacist seeks to marry high professional standards with business savvy

Owner of the Camp Street pharmacy Medicine Express Sandra Khan has a goal to create a chain of pharmacies across the country as a way of multiplying the quality of service, which she says is critical but, in several respects, deficient in Guyana.

Khan, who as of November last year became the holder of a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Nations University, had graduated from the University of Guyana with a Diploma in Pharmacy in 1996. As part of her ongoing training she went to work with Geddes Grant as a medical representative. Her particular responsibility was to market new drugs that were being introduced in Guyana.

It was, she said, “an important responsibility” that went beyond simply selling drugs. “You had to have a knowledge of the drugs and the training included engaging the doctors that were responsible for recommending the drugs and bringing them into the system. It was a matter of being able to provide information about the value of the drugs,” she noted.

Afterwards, between 2002 and 2005 she secured a contract to provide Hospital Pharmacy Management Services at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation. It was her biggest responsibility yet, administering a staff of 33 and embracing responsibilities that ranged from engaging suppliers to ensuring that adequate supplies of the relevant medicines were available to patients in a national health service regime that was known to be deficient in several critical respects.

It was during this time that she learnt about treatment protocols and as a member of the Pharmacy Therapeutics Committee interacted with Doctors and Medical Consultants. She is also a member of the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, a national policing body responsible for monitoring the quality of medicines available in the health sector.

Sandra Khan and the Medicine Express
Sandra Khan and the Medicine Express

Eventually, her journey led her to the creation of Medicine Express in 2008 and much of the rest of her story is about the challenges associated with marrying her professional responsibility with her business pursuits. Khan believes her MBA will serve her in good stead as she pursues her dream of creating a chain of pharmacies across the country. Even as she seeks to consolidate her six-year-old investment, Khan says her recent qualification serves her in good stead. “There was a time not too long ago when I knew nothing about accounting. At Nations, I learnt disciplines that have a direct bearing of the development of my business. There are cases in which investors in the industry simply stock a building with pharmaceuticals. …They are not certain as to what is the next step.”

Khan has issues with the local pharmaceutical industry. “Sometimes I think there are instances in which we are embracing what is a profitable business and leaving the protocols and the responsibilities associated with the profession behind. It’s not just a matter of selling a commodity. It’s about managing people’s health,” she says.

Accordingly, she is advocating key changes in the law governing the creation of pharmacies. At the moment there is no requirement that the proprietor of a pharmacy be a qualified pharmacist.

She wants that changed. “There is the danger that anyone with sufficient investment capital will come along and get into the business and after that they will become more concerned with their ‘bottom line’ than with their responsibility to help manage people’s health,” she adds.

At Medicine Express, she says, her focus is on “building relationships with customers, causing them to have that confidence that you are interested in their welfare. It’s a business but it’s a business that has to take account of the responsibilities associated with people’s health and their welfare.” She wants her business culture to embrace trust and confidence of customers as part of its ethos. “If people feel that you care enough about their welfare then there is market for what you offer that is created out of that relationship,” she says.

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