From farm to pharmacy

A photo of Tyler Young’s father working the combine during the wheat harvest in Oakesdale, Washington. Wheat harvesting season takes place in August every year.

Tyler Young grew up in Oakesdale, Washington, a town of about 400 people, and a 45-minute drive south of Spokane. He graduated from high school with only 11 other students in his class and his first job was on the wheat farm where he spent summers from ages 14 to 20 spraying weeds in 90-degree heat, driving a tractor, and harvesting the crop.

“We would work 25 days straight, from sunup to sun down,” Young told a class of PharmD students during the college’s Career Seminar Series, “It’s a big part of who I am, and where I’m from.” At the time, a career in pharmacy had never crossed his mind.

Young went on to play baseball at Walla Walla Community College where he earned his associate’s degree. After two years, he moved to Pullman to finish with his bachelor’s degree in biology. It was during this time that he reconnected with his teammate’s father who hired Young as a pharmacy assistant at Tick Klock Drug, a community pharmacy in Colfax, just a 45-minute drive from Washington State University’s Pullman campus. This is where Young found his calling to become a pharmacist and learned the skills needed to run a business. He decided to continue his education at WSU to pursue his Doctor of Pharmacy degree.

Shortly after finishing his PharmD in 2013, one of his professors who taught pharmacy business, Linda Garrelts MacLean, introduced Young to a family-owned pharmacy looking for a promising graduate to take over their business on Vashon Island, a small town located in the Puget Sound with scarce health care resources.

The challenges in health care access that Vashon Island faces is similar to many rural communities across the country. Though it is a part of King County, which includes Seattle, access to hospitals can take upwards of three hours via the ferry.

Tyler Young with his daughter, Alivia, and wife, Amy, outside Vashon Pharmacy with the previous owners of the pharmacy.

Though Young initially had his reservations about buying Vashon Pharmacy, he took the opportunity to begin working with the family business, not knowing if the deal would ultimately fall through if the two parties did not think they were the right fit. The owners of Vashon Pharmacy at the time wanted someone who would continue to serve and care for the residents of the island as a community health center, not just a transactional relationship between pharmacists and patients.

“I always thought that purchasing the pharmacy was about the dollar amount, but the family was more interested in finding a buyer who would care about the pharmacy the same way they did and look after the community the same way they did,” said Young.

Over three years, Young worked at the pharmacy and finally purchased it in August 2017. Three years with Young at the helm of the pharmacy, and several system upgrades later, the COVID-19 pandemic turned Young’s business on its head. Like the rest of the world, Young had to decide how to stay open.

“Through all of 2020, it was just about trying to hold the fort…Being the only pharmacy on the island we had to show up each and every day,” said Young.

One year later, as COVID-19 vaccines began to roll out across the country, Young quickly mobilized resources and volunteers to put together a COVID-19 vaccination site. Young says that one of the advantages of being an independent pharmacy is being able to pivot and quickly change strategies during the pandemic. He and a team of volunteers administered over 20,000 doses of vaccines. Though COVID-19 was devastating to many communities across the country, for his pharmacy, it created a sense of trust between him and the community, opening up opportunities to be the go-to COVID-19 testing and vaccination site on the island. Aside from COVID-19 testing, Young plans to broaden their scope of test and treat for other minor ailments and conditions such as strep throat and flu among many other things.

“Nothing here is groundbreaking, but many communities don’t have access to this stuff,” said Young.

In the next year, Young says that he will be expanding his operations buying two empty lots to grow the retail side of the pharmacy while adding two clinic rooms to meet with patients. He credits many pivotal moments in his career to the connections he made with faculty, alumni and fellow students and friends at the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.