Pharmacists Helping Pharmacists: Seasoned Pharmacy Owners Invest in Young Professionals

By Benjamin Waldrum

Owning a pharmacy, however, comes at a significant cost. Nearly every graduate spends years working to eliminate student loan debt while working to establish themselves in the field. Add in the cost of a pharmacy – often half a million dollars or more – and that debt balloons. That means more years spent saving and waiting for an opportunity, only to pay down more debt.

This is where small cadres of UAMS COP alumni and like-minded community pharmacists, come in. These groups of pharmacists are investing in individual pharmacists with a desire to own their own pharmacy. This investment is oftentimes financial, but it is much more – these experienced pharmacists are mentoring, coaching and helping develop young pharmacy owners enabling them to help more communities more quickly.

Meet five UAMS College of Pharmacy alumni whose professional network and connections with their fellow pharmacists have changed lives and built lasting relationships.


Max Caldwell, P.D., COP ‘81

Max Caldwell, P.D., COP ’81, is owner and president of Caldwell Discount Drug in Wynne, Arkansas. He went to work as a staff pharmacist with his brother, who owned a small apothecary shop in a medical clinic. “That sparked that interest, just doing what you can to help people,” he said. “Watching him help people convinced me to go on the road that I went.”

In 1986, Caldwell partnered with his brother and others to open Caldwell Discount Drug. In 1995, he bought out his brother’s share and became sole owner.

He’s also taken things a step further, forming an investment group with other Arkansas pharmacists to financially support and mentor young graduates looking to own pharmacies. Together this group partners with about 14 pharmacies across the state, Caldwell said, including ones in Stuttgart, Mayflower, Conway, Forrest City, Brinkley and Palestine.

“Most [younger pharmacists] have extensive student loans,” Caldwell said. “Our thinking was, it takes several years to pay that off, then they buy a store and acquire even more debt. They might be 50 years old by the time they eliminate all of that debt.”

Caldwell and his group of community pharmacy owners have created a model where young pharmacists own part of a store “as soon as they set out,” using what they earn from the pharmacy to pay off their loan and acquiring equity in the pharmacy itself.

“We let them earn sweat equity, and we give them a percentage of the [profits] as the drug store is paying off their loan,” Caldwell said. “There’s a financial component, but they gain real-life experience and learn the business aspect of how to run a pharmacy.”

They also get a ready-made pharmacist network to help them along the way. “They have five people they can make a phone call to on what to do and how to handle it,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said it makes him happy to help young pharmacists. The sooner they get involved in the community, the sooner they can make an impact and help patients, he said.

“We want to continue to partner with graduates who want to own a store someday,” Caldwell said. “With the way they’re trained now, they have a great opportunity to succeed. They’re the ones who are going to make pharmacy continue to grow in Arkansas.”


Callie Bench, Pharm.D., COP ‘18

Callie Bench, Pharm.D., COP ’18, is owner and pharmacist-in-charge of The Pharmacy of Shannon Hills in Mabelvale, Arkansas. Her path to owning a pharmacy began as a student, when she began working with Cornerstone Pharmacy, which has a dozen locations across the state. Working at multiple locations, she came to know the owners of each pharmacy well.

“When the opportunity came up to become an owner myself, I asked for guidance from these owners that I trusted,” Bench said. “They encouraged me that I could do it and believed in me. Although they aren’t financially involved, they have absolutely been my rock by providing advice and answering any questions I have as they come up.”

In fact, Bench has stayed so connected with her fellow pharmacists that she initially worried she was asking for too much help. They quickly put those worries to rest, she said.

“There have been times where I have felt bad for asking so many questions, and the response I got was, ‘We will tell you when our wives get jealous – ask us anything you need,’” Bench said. “This moment stood out to be as a time that I was overwhelmed, and they were there for me.”

Pharmacy ownership is a process that can’t be taught, Bench said. It has to be learned.

“You could work closely with owners all your career and feel comfortable with the workflow of operating a pharmacy efficiently, but the things involved with owning a pharmacy are totally different,” she said. “The process of owning a pharmacy is not laid out anywhere, period. It’s one of those things where you don’t know what you don’t know. Being able to rely on the experience of other pharmacists who have been through the process is necessary, in my opinion.”

Now, Bench is part of the same network of pharmacists she looked up to. Even with her success, she is quick to credit others and said she wants to help others succeed as well.

“I look up to my other young pharmacist friends Kenny Harrison, Randy Kassissieh and Blake Torres, who helped me open my store,” Bench said. “When I tried to explain my appreciation to them, all they asked was that I pay it forward to future generations of pharmacy owners because that’s what helped them. That is incredibly rewarding. I plan to pay it forward at any opportunity I get.”


Kyle Harvey, Pharm.D., COP ‘19

Kyle Harvey, Pharm.D., COP ’19, is owner of Buck’s Pharmacy in Glenwood, Arkansas. He spent much of his time in pharmacy school involved in organizations, including the American Pharmacists Association’s Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) and the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), with leadership roles in both. He also spent a month with the Arkansas Pharmacists Association, where he worked on influencing policy.

Harvey was able to “owner-finance” his pharmacy and is its sole owner. He said his pharmacy education at UAMS prepared him well for the challenge of ownership.

“The College of Pharmacy not only prepared me educationally, but also helped foster an environment in which I could network professionally,” Harvey said. “I felt very prepared moving into ownership due to both classes that I took and relationships I formed with pharmacists and business leaders across the state. The college helped create the environment for those relationships to grow.”

Although he did not receive financial help from a group of like-minded pharmacists, Harvey said he relied on a few of his contacts made as a student for advice and suggestions. Pharmacy ownership involves both significant financial and personal accountability, which can be stressful.

The toughest challenge I face is trying to find better streams of revenue besides just filling prescriptions,” Harvey said. “Another challenge I face, because of not being in a ‘group purchase,’ is I am the only one with ‘skin in the game.’ All consequences, whether good or bad, fall on me and no one else.”

Despite the difficulty, Harvey said it has been “a dream come true” to own a pharmacy in his hometown, and he feels personally responsible for his patients.

“I see people when they don’t feel good and just want to get their medicine and go home,” Harvey said. “Going above and beyond to meet their need and give them a positive experience when they come to the store pleases me. Sometimes, when people come in grumpy, I make it a personal goal to help brighten their day. I love my job, my hometown and my patients.”


Marco Middleton Sr., Pharm.D., MA, COP ‘19

Marco Middleton Sr., Pharm.D., MA, COP ’19, owns a pair of Arkansas pharmacies – Middleton Pharmacy in Clarendon and Brinkley Family Pharmacy in Brinkley. He has a strong connection to the Delta region, strengthened by driving from Clarendon every day to attend class while holding a full-time job. He said the experience was unique and helpful.

He credited Nicki Hilliard, Pharm.D., a professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice, with keeping him focused. “The most important thing was gaining confidence, as well as what it means to be a professional,” Middleton said. “That helped catapult me and was one of the most valuable experiences I had in pharmacy school. UAMS has my heart.”

Middleton said he gained the confidence to reach out to the group of pharmacists that have invested in him and his business, and it paid off.

“For new graduates, there are many financial opportunities but it’s hard to define which are best for you,” Middleton said. “My group of pharmacists’ investors have helped me find my personality. They allowed me to not only come back to the Delta, but also bring with me things that the Delta needed.”

“I got out of school at the right time to acquire a pharmacy in the area,” he said. “My situation was definitely divine because I became owner of a pharmacy in my hometown. The pharmacists’ investment group has allowed me the financial support to satisfy patients’ needs in my area. It was meant to be.”

Caldwell, a member of Middleton’s investment group, has been happy to watch his progress.

“We go where we think there’s a store we can buy and where there’s a pharmacist that wants to go there,” Caldwell said. “Marco has doubled his business in the area. I’m proud of all the pharmacists we help, but particularly those that get involved in the community and give back.”

Financial assistance was important for Middleton, who has a spouse and three children.

“In 2019 I told my wife I wanted to own a pharmacy in my hometown, and she told me I’d need to save up for 15 years,” he said. “Without an investment group of like-mined pharmacists I couldn’t have had the financials or understood a lot of particulars about pharmacy. They are 100% family-oriented, not only on a business level but also on a personal level. A hand-in-glove match is what we are.”

Middleton is passionate about changing health disparities in the Delta. He said it’s the single most rewarding thing about his work as a pharmacist.

“I’m from the Delta, I understand the people,” he said. “It’s rewarding to practice here and know that every day my staff and I are making the entire Delta better. That mindset challenges me and keeps me going every day.”


Tyler Tollett, Pharm.D., COP ‘21

Tyler Tollett, Pharm.D., COP ’21, is owner and pharmacist-in-charge of Nashville Family Pharmacy in Nashville, Arkansas. In high school, he made deliveries for an independent pharmacy and knew he wanted to return home to open his own. The financial realities of doing that, however, concerned him, so initially he focused on hospital pharmacy.

It was during his fourth year of pharmacy school, when he was on his first rotation at a community pharmacy, that Tollett changed his mind.

“My love for independent pharmacy was rekindled,” Tollett said. “At that moment, I simply prayed that God would provide me with a sign that he wanted me to turn away from hospital pharmacy and pursue independent pharmacy again. The very next month, I was approached about the opportunity to open a pharmacy in my hometown.”

Even through all the difficulties – insurance contracts, licensure and marketing, among others – Tollett was undeterred. Nashville Family Pharmacy opened in April. He was quick to credit his investment group, composed of local pharmacists, with making his dream a reality.

“I cannot express enough how much my group of community pharmacists’ investors has helped me get to the point that I am today,” Tollett said. “They’ve been much more than financial support and have served as incredible mentors. These are pharmacy owners all across the state who have faced the same challenges you have and can provide you with practical advice or ideas on what you need to do to cross whatever hurdle you’ve encountered.”

Tollett wants to help his fellow pharmacists too. He’s taking part in the 2022 Summer Student Internship Program put on by the Arkansas Medical, Dental and Pharmaceutical Association with the goal of helping pharmacy students better understand how pharmacy technicians assist with day-to-day activities. He’s also hoping to be part of a group someday that will support future generations of community pharmacists’ small business owners.

“If the opportunity was ever to arise, I would love to be a member of a group of pharmacists like the one that has helped me,” Tollett said. “The work they do is paramount in continuing to grow this profession.”