2003 Preceptor of the Year Award-Winner: Kenny Walkup Jr
Did you hear the one about the duck who goes to the village pharmacist to fill a prescription?
Well, if the story was set in Michigan, the pharmacist on duty was probably Kenny Walkup Jr., owner of Specialty Medicine Compounding Pharmacy, where pharmaceutical therapy for a sick duck is all part of a typical day’s work.
In fact, Walkup’s 100 percent compounding pharmacy has gained wide-spread fame thanks to the owner’s talent for developing custom medications and medication delivery systems for dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, rats, frogs, parrots, ducks — and, yes, humans, too. Among the pharmaceutical items he compounds to prescription specifications for his cash-paying human customers are hormone replacement therapies, pain medications, hospice medications, pediatric medications, and an assortment of other specialized pharmacy products. He also provides individualized fee-for-service consultation, gives flu shots, administers and reads circulating steroid hormone level saliva tests, and offers specialized monthly seminars on topics ranging from HRT to diabetes to weight management.
“Ours is an unusual practice, and a busy one,” notes Walkup, a U-M preceptor for eight years. “We have a three-person staff consisting of a full-time technician, a part-time technician, and me. In some ways, my practice is a throwback to old-time pharmacy where they made all the products they dispensed. The difference is that we now use highly sophisticated instrumentation and equipment. The PharmD students I precept experience pharmacy practice different from anything they’ve ever known. I really enjoy my work, and I try to pass my excitement on to every student.
“That’s one of the basic lessons we teach here: that the practice of pharmacy can be, and should be, enjoyable,” Walkup adds. “We make learning fun. We work hard, but we also laugh a lot. We test one another, and we thrive on the problem-solving challenges inherent in my type of practice.”
Walkup’s ability to make learning both fun and meaningful was a major reason he was selected the College’s 2003 Preceptor of the Year.
A native of Massillon, Ohio, Walkup says he discovered his hidden aptitude for pharmacy when he took a career preference test as a high school student.
“I had no idea up to that point what a pharmacist did,” he says. “So I made the rounds, talked to a few, and realized that pharmacy was a good fit. I’ve always liked interacting with people and I’ve always liked science. Pharmacy, community pharmacy, in particular, offered an ideal combination of the two, so that’s the path I chose. There’s never been a time when I regretted my career choice.”
Walkup attended the Ohio Northern University (ONU) School of Pharmacy, and it was there he met his future wife, Michelle, also an ONU pharmacy student. Both received their BSPharm in the spring of 1992 and moved to South Lyon, Mich., to be closer to her family. For the first 10 years of their professional lives, the Walkups practiced in a chain-retail setting. In May 1999, they opened their own chain-affiliated, apothecary-style retail pharmacy that included a compounding lab. In November 2002, Kenny Walkup switched his practice to a cash-only compounding practice, operating out of a renovated building space adjacent to the retail store. Three months later, the Walkups sold their retail operation, thereby completing the switch to a compounding-only pharmacy.
With the sale of the retail business, Michelle Walkup walked away from pharmacy practice.
“She was just burned out by the never-ending demands of high-volume retail practice,” Kenny explains.
Walkup, a 2000 winner of Drug Topics magazine’s National Independent Superstars Award, has repeat customers all over Michigan, ships prescriptions nationwide to accommodate the seasonal travel plans of retired clientele, and provides phone consultations with practitioners and patients, both.
“A lot of people will phone or fax prescriptions to us, and then come here to pick them up,” Walkup says. “About half of our prescriptions are shipped by UPS. We’ve built our business by word of mouth, through repeat trade, through a strong Internet presence, and through targeted direct mail.”
Walkup says he’s enjoyed the compounding aspects of pharmacy going back to his student days.
“I’ve always liked working with my hands, making things; compounding is an extension of that,” he says. “When I worked for a chain pharmacy, it was a standing practice that any prescriptions needing to be compounded should be set aside until I could do it.”
“What’s interesting to me, now, is to reflect on the things our teachers preached in pharmacy school about the collaborative physician-patient-pharmacist health care model that was supposed to define modern pharmacy practice,” observes Walkup. “I worked retail for 10 years, and I rarely experienced that collaborative model. Now, I experience it all the time. I have physicians and veterinarians calling me just about every day, wanting a recommendation on this, or advice on how to do that, or what would be a good way to administer a medication to a human or animal patient with a specific set of limitations. It’s a rewarding feeling.”
Walkup ponders a moment and then continues.
“The first day students start their rotation with me, we go to lunch and talk about pharmacy,” he says. “I explain what pharmacy means to me and I ask them to explain their career goals to me. I emphasize the point that you need to get past the idea of choosing a professional path simply because it offers you the most money; that happiness and satisfaction are not about money. We continue this conversation as the rotation advances. It’s a hard sell sometimes because so many college students today are up to their ears in education-related debt.
“I know students may not always agree with me or follow my advice, but as long as they hear me out, I will have done my job as a teacher.”