20 Questions: Craig S. Stern, RPh, PharmD, MBA

by Juliet Farmer

Craig S. Stern received his Doctor of Pharmacy and masters in Business Administration from the University of Southern California and is a Fellow of the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, the American Society Consultant Pharmacists, the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, the International College of Angiology, and the Life Management Institute. He is also a Professor of Pharmacy at the University of Southern California, the University of California at San Francisco, and the Western University of Health Science.

In 1986, Dr. Stern formed Pro Pharma Pharmaceutical Consultants, Inc., independent consultants to multi-hospital corporations, payers, and providers with special emphasis in managed care, specifically the design and management of pharmacy benefits, integration of pharmacy and medical benefits, data analysis, strategic analysis/planning and implementation, and the management of pharmacy risk for provider groups. Prior to that, Dr. Stern was Director of Pharmacy and internal consultant on pharmacy operations and clinical pharmacy programming for Republic Health Corporation.

Why did you choose your specialty?
I chose managed care because it provided me with the opportunity to impact the care of populations of patients. My specific specialty combined data analytics with clinical therapeutics, both of which were passions of mine.

Did you plan to enter your specialty prior to pharmacy school?
NO. I originally majored in theoretical astrophysics. Prior to, and after pharmacy school, I worked in hospitals as a director of pharmacy and as a clinical pharmacist. Managed care only came into the picture when the field was in its infancy in the mid-1980s.

Please describe the type of consulting ProPharma engages in.
Pro Pharma specializes in integrating clinical and financial benefit management, reforming patient care operations consistent with good business and clinical practice; strategic analysis, forecasting and strategic implementation; and management of pharmacy risk and educational intervention with provider groups and integrated health care networks. Pro Pharma assists self-insured and insurance companies with statistical analysis of claims data to identify areas for fraud and abuse by providers, as well as improvement in employee performance, attendance, and wellness.

Describe a typical day at work for you.
A typical day includes a multitude of telephone calls with clients; web conferences discussing the results of data analyses and audits; conference calls with various medical and pharmacy directors about formularies, utilization, and benefit designs; and many internal strategy/planning meetings with Pro Pharma principals and staff.

What led you to found ProPharma?
I wanted to have the freedom to work on projects that interested me and to control my own destiny, while meeting the needs of the healthcare industry.

What do you like most and least about managed care consulting?
What I like the most about managed care consulting is the variety of projects and individuals that we come in contact with. What I like the least is the lack of science involved in the profession even after 34 years.

Where do you see your company in 10 years?
Pro Pharma will have a greater emphasis on web-based products and consulting internationally more than at present.

What advice do you have for pharmacy students?
Explore your many options, follow your passions, and the satisfaction and income will follow.

What would you tell pharmacy students who are interested in managed care consulting?
I tell them to get a broad background with experience in as many areas of practice as possible. I chose to specialize originally in provider groups. This was a largely untouched area and very uncertain. As a result, I would tell pharmacy students to blaze their own paths consistent with the desires, skills, and passions.

If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a pharmacist? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
Yes, I would still become a pharmacist because it has allowed me to live a varied and interesting professional life.

Are you satisfied with your income?
Never, I am always striving to improve Pro Pharma and the impact that we make on improving all of health care. The income is not the primary motivator. It is part of the whole package.

If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a strain?
I did not take out loans as I worked throughout school and my parents worked to help pay for my education.

On average: How many hours a week do you work? I work on average 60 to 70 hours a week. How many hours of sleep do you get a night? About 7 hours. How many weeks of vacation do you take per year? Two to three weeks per year.

Do you have a family and do you spend enough time with them?
I do have a family. My wife works at Pro Pharma with me, so I have the unique opportunity of spending time with my wife both professionally and personally. I enjoy spending time with my children, and will soon be a grandfather; although any time is never enough.

In your position now, knowing what you do, what would you say to yourself in 1986, when you founded Pro Pharma?
Prepare for a long, difficult and uncertain road. Managed care was in its infancy when I started, so the outcome of my efforts were uncertain no matter how hard I worked.

From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
There are many stakeholders in health care and their incentives are frequently not aligned. As a result, health care costs, quality and impact are frequently compromised for commercial purposes.

What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I provide of my time freely for the education of pharmacy students through offering of internships, part-time faculty positions at various schools of pharmacy and a Managed Care Externship rotation offering. I also chair the Editorial Review Committee of the California Pharmacist Journal, which is a monthly commitment to publish a quality journal, and encourage and recruit students to participate as authors and committee members. I am also active in CPhA as a member of the Managed Care Advisory group and in various committees at AMCP. Pro Pharma regularly consults internationally as well.

What’s your favorite TV show?
I used to enjoy Numbers, but now I am thoroughly enjoying Masterpiece Theater-Mystery – Sherlock Holmes.

How do you spend your free time?
I spend my free time with my wife of almost 30 years, reading, exercising, and exploring and traveling to new places.

Any hobbies?
My wife and I share our lives with two precious Bichon Frises (Harley and Atlas) who are AKC champions and the rulers of our domain, and I enjoy swimming, running and walking on the beach.

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