Rx Care Next Door

Personal letters thanking Tyler Young for his advice and attention to his Vashon Island customers

Being a pharmacist on Vashon Island puts Tyler Young (’13 PharmD) on the front lines of health care. Although it’s part of populous King County, the island is a ferry ride⁠—and a minimum of 45 minutes in travel time⁠—from hospitals in Seattle, Tacoma, and Port Orchard.

“We’re a mile and a half from big cities as the crow flies, but we’re also isolated because you have to wait for the boat,” says Young, the owner of Vashon Pharmacy. As a result, “there’s a small group of us responsible for the bulk of the health care on the island.”

During the pandemic, Young teamed up with other providers and volunteers to roll out Covid vaccinations for Vashon’s 10,000 residents. To date, they’ve administered about 30,000 vaccine and booster shots.

Since he and his wife, Amy, purchased Vashon Pharmacy in 2017, Young has also been interested in expanding primary care services to help islanders stay healthy.

Beginning this year, that could include helping clients manage their high blood pressure, monitor hormone therapy, or treat minor ailments such as rashes, cuts, and burns⁠—all of which pharmacists are allowed to do in Washington.

“Those are a few of the issues we see on a daily basis,” he says. “At a rural pharmacy, you’re truly taking care of your neighbor.”

Young’s interest in rural health care was shaped by his early years. He grew up in Oakesdale, a town of about 400 people south of Spokane, and spent summers working on the wheat farm of family friends.

During his time at Washington State University, Young also spent five years as a pharmacy assistant at Tik Klock Drug and Gift Store in Colfax, where the former owner became a mentor.

“I would ask him all sorts of questions, which he so kindly answered, including ‘How do you make money and keep the lights on?’” Young says. “The business side of it was fascinating to me. I left with a knowledge of inventory management, payroll, and billing. I was better prepared to enter the industry simply because I worked for him.”

After graduation, Young managed an in-store pharmacy for a large retailer in downtown Seattle. During that stint, he was on an email list that connects Cougar alumni with independent pharmacies looking for buyers. When the Vashon opportunity came up, Young and his wife were intrigued.

“Being your own boss has a lot of family perks in terms of flexibility, although that’s quickly erased during events like the pandemic,” he says. “Now that things have settled down, I’m able to spend more time with our kids.”

Young worked with the former owners for three years before the couple purchased Vashon Pharmacy. The transition period allowed him to get acquainted with the job and the island’s residents.

“When it became public that I had bought Vashon Pharmacy, it wasn’t this big shock wave through the tight-knit community,” he says.

While Young focused on the pharmacy, Amy used her background in retail management to assess Vashon Pharmacy’s sales of gift items, expanding the offerings of toys.

“When I say we’re more than a pharmacy, that’s really because of her,” Young says. “Probably the thing we’re best known for outside of our pharmacy is our toy selection.”

The couple also added a nutrition center that sells vitamins and supplements. Their future plans include a building expansion that will add consulting rooms to the pharmacy.

Diversified revenue streams are critical to pharmacies’ financial well-being, particularly for independent operators, says Julie Akers, associate dean of external relations at the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Unbeknownst to customers, pharmacies typically break even or lose money on many of the prescriptions they fill, she says. Reimbursement rates are negotiated by middlemen for insurance companies.

Sales of gifts or sundries play an important role in pharmacies’ bottom lines. In addition, the ability to offer more health services can augment pharmacies’ revenue while addressing provider shortages in rural areas.

For rural residents, transportation can be a barrier to accessing primary care. That’s why pharmacists’ ability to diagnose and treat things like shingles can make such a difference.

“We’re trying to help pharmacists understand what they can do in our state, then help them fill the gaps, whether that’s training or other needs,” Akers says.

Young is working with a third party on certification that will allow Vashon Pharmacy to bill insurance companies for providing additional health services. In 2024, he expects to start rolling out some of the services.

“As we get credentialed with more insurance companies, we’ll get an even better idea of what Vashon needs,” he says. “We won’t get rich doing it, but we’ll be serving our neighbors and seeing the positive impact on the community.”

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Pharmacy care in rural Washington—An interactive map

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Rural Health Initiative and how you can help support the work

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Watch a video of the RHI and its work.