“This rotation is going to change your life,” Kert Shuster, directing pharmacist of Rainbow Pharmacy in Kihei, Hawaii, told his two UA College of Pharmacy students when they touched down January 2013 on the island of Maui for a six-week rotation with him.
Little did he know that that rotation would also qualify him to become the 2013 Rookie Preceptor for the College of Pharmacy.
As a 1997 PharmD graduate from the UA College of Pharmacy, Shuster found work through the years in Los Angeles, with Kaiser Permanente, Safeway and a few small, independently owned pharmacies. Shuster slowly began to dream of opening a pharmacy of his very own and the thought of making it in Hawaii fueled the confidence he needed to take the risk.
Shuster moved to Kihei, on the southwest shore of Maui, in 2002. Economic conditions lowered property values throughout Maui in 2009, giving Shuster a perfect place to purchase a store to build his own pharmacy for less than he had originally thought.
“Trying to start a pharmacy is essentially like trying to lift a space shuttle with no fuel,” Shuster says. “You have to be lucky as well as be at the right time and the right place.”
In 2010 Shuster established Rainbow Pharmacy across from Kameole Beach. Slowly, he built up an inventory of thousands of drugs and clients began to stroll through the doors. After the first year, Shuster began to conduct rotations for students at the University of Hawaii, giving back the education he had received himself as a pharmacy student.
It was around this time that two young PharmCats (Wildcat fans who are also pharmacy fans), Seung Oh and Kim Tran, were making phone calls for a fundraiser for the UA College of Pharmacy. Tran dialed the number to an alumnus from the college to ask for a donation. That person happened to be Kert Shuster. Tran asked for more than a donation; she asked Shuster for a rotation for both herself and Oh.
“This great and generous man told me that he just opened his independent pharmacy one month before and told me to keep in touch for when I started rotations,” Tran says.
Oh and Tran made it to Hawaii in 2013 during the busiest vacation season in the year. Pricing for housing was dismal; however, Shuster volunteered to connect them with a local property manager who could hook the two up with a place to stay within their budget.
During the six-week rotation, Shuster kept Oh and Tran busy working in the pharmacy. The students worked Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to noon.
Rainbow Pharmacy provides pharmaceutical care for people inside the shop, over the phone or by email. Shuster and his students help address any medical questions the customers may have about their medications or diet, as well as fill prescriptions. Being so close to the beach, the staff even sends people who step on coral or jellyfish to the doctor when stiches are needed.
On slow days, Shuster takes his students through every drug on the pharmacy shelf, from drug A to drug Z. Shuster asks them what the drug does, what it is for and the side effects associated with it. His main goal is to gather all the knowledge the students had gained from the PharmD program and apply it to the real world. He even teaches the perks and challenges of starting a pharmacy business.
“Before they came they wouldn’t have thought in a million years to open their own store,” Shuster says. “But now that they’ve seen what it’s like to open your own pharmacy, it’s become a possibility for them. That’s the kind of service I provide.”
Tran and Oh graduated with their PharmD degrees in May 2013. Their rotation at Rainbow Pharmacy was enlightening, they say.
“I was afraid I may have become jaded with this profession, but Kert and my Hawaiian encounters showed me that this profession is still great and has endless opportunities,” Tran says.
“My philosophy is about helping people,” Shuster says. “I don’t worry about the rest.”
That message came through to the two UA novices. Although Shuster had worked with students previously, the rotation with Tran and Oh was his first time working with the UA COP experiential education program. The University of Hawaii had sent various letters of appreciation to Shuster, thanking him for teaching students. But after his first year as a UA preceptor, Shuster was shocked when he received notice that he had been chosen for the Rookie Preceptor of the Year Award.
“Kert is a great teacher who helped us apply the knowledge we had to real-world situations, with real-world prescriptions that we process and fill,” Oh says. “Kert helped us to think about other important issues to consider such as drug allergies and interactions. Kert not only taught us about medications, but also about how to open up a pharmacy and manage it successfully.”
And Shuster’s prediction to the students is coming true, too. Before he graduated, Oh was hired as a permanent employee at Rainbow Pharmacy. Tran will work the coming year in Arizona, but has plans to move to Hawaii in the near future.
Story by Isaac Cox
Photos supplied by Kert Shuster, Seung Oh and Kim Tran