November saw us in Washington state to meet Kirk Heinz, whose pharmacy career spans 30 years of success and three locations in Eatonville and Puyallup. We visited his Eatonville location to get a firsthand look at his dynamic pharmacy practices that impact the rural setting around him.
In rainy Eatonville, Kirk’s Pharmacy is an ideal spot to escape the dreary weather. You can’t miss the large, green “Kirk’s Pharmacy” sign that currently advertises flu shots, and the gray brick building is decorated with murals painted by local students. Upon walking in, you’re immediately welcomed by the cozy atmosphere and friendly staff. It certainly doesn’t feel like a pharmacy; between the photo kiosk and expansive gift section, you’ll be tempted to window shop before you venture to the pharmacy side. And Kirk? He’s never in one place for too long. You can look up and see him chatting with a patient, and a moment later, he’s in the back helping his staff. One of his coworkers jokes that the only way she can ever find him is by looking at the security monitors, and sure enough, he flits from screen to screen looking like he’s having the time of his life. He definitely loves his profession, judging from the excitement and passion he emits during our conversation.
From the start of his career, Kirk knew exactly what he wanted. “I knew that when I graduated from pharmacy school, I wanted to live in a small town,” he begins. “I knew I wanted to own my own store. I knew that I wanted to be within two hours of our parents because I wanted my kids to know their grandparents. So, I drew a circle around where they lived and started applying for jobs. I came out here to Eatonville and the pharmacy manager spot was available. They hired me right out of school (I think potentially because I was the cheapest guy),” he jokes. “There was an understanding I would purchase the store. We purchased the pharmacy in 1995 and have grown our business over the last twenty-five years.” His origin story shows his tenacity and knack for goal-setting; he knew exactly what he wanted in his pharmacy career, and today, his three branches are a testament to his dedication to pharmacy. Kirk continues to set goals and always strive to provide the best care for his community, and that translates into every aspect of his career.
In order to be involved in the community of Eatonville, Kirk has held every office from mayor to school board member (remember those murals?). After fourteen years on the school board, he knew it was time to start giving back to his profession. “I always received notices that said ‘WSPA needs your help,” and I always assumed somebody else would take care of it. Then, I got to thinking. This is my profession. That’s my life, and I need to be able to give back.” His son and fellow pharmacist, Andrew, encouraged Kirk to run for the open seat on the Washington State Pharmacy Association. Four years later, Kirk remains a member. His continued efforts for bettering the pharmacy industry play into bettering his community.
Though the pharmacy industry is always changing, Kirk’s values haven’t. “How you take care of your customers. That’s the standard. I think that if you truly care about the outcome for your patients, that’s what makes the difference,” he affirms. Eatonville is a community of 1700 citizens, so Kirk strives to cater to a variety of needs his patients may have. All that Kirk does in his pharmacy is geared towards providing better patient care, and that begins with the services he offers. He goes beyond dispensing to provide dozens of services, from compounding to custom insoles to vaccinations. His pharmacy technology helps him carry out these services and ensures Kirk is performing the best patient care practices. He also makes an effort to meet with fellow pharmacists in the state of Washington who use the same technology he does. “We need to be sharing those types of things to make us more efficient so we can all spend more time with our patients,” he advises. “I’m very willing to share those types of things to help other people succeed.”
However, many of his patients see him as more than their pharmacist. After receiving their prescriptions from other staff members, several patients stayed behind to catch up with Kirk before they left, and according to Kirk, one patient stops by every week for a hug. In the spirit of being adaptive, Kirk doesn’t shy away from networking with other pharmacists and sharing the “secrets” of his trade. “I feel that for me to help other pharmacists and stores raise their level of patient care is going to help pharmacy in general in order to move the profession forward,” he explains. “We need to be sharing these types of things to make us more efficient so we can all spend more time with our patients.” Colleagues are not even competition to Kirk; they’re allies in the fight for better patient care.
“We – my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather – never looked at the business as something we’re trying to build up to sell. We’ve always looked at the business as something for us and the family members and the employees to have a great place to work, but also to have something the community and the people can count on over time.”
As important as it is to spend time in your pharmacy, Kirk encourages other pharmacists to “carve out” time to be involved with pharmacy legislation. “If you’re not involved in meeting your legislators and senators, then get out there and introduce yourself. Tell them how important pharmacy is to you and how it affects what’s going on within your communities,” he insists. “You need to get involved. You need to be there to help direct which way things go.” Later, he tells the story of a fellow pharmacist who testified on a bill that would affect his ability to provide medications, and rather than go alone, ten patients volunteered to testify, too. As Kirk continues to passionately entreat other pharmacists to get involved for the sake of their profession and its future, he always brings it back to his main focus: the patients.
Coincidentally, the most important change and the main value that hasn’t changed in Kirk’s Pharmacy is patient care. In his thirty years as a pharmacist, his driving force has been the community he serves. The only change has been how he conducts patient care, whether it’s by adopting new technology or embracing new legislation.
Kirk is the kind of man who takes the time to make you an incredible cup of coffee, serve it to you in his favorite mug, and give you his undivided attention. You’ll walk out of his pharmacy feeling upbeat and downright inspired. His warm personality and determined spirit continue to bring patients into his pharmacy and have them leave as friends.