Location: Preston, GA
Nikki Bryant started working in her father’s grocery store when she was twelve years old. She enjoyed being there with her dad, she says, “because he spent a lot of time working to provide for his family. He rarely took vacation and missed out on a lot of family time.” Nikki knew that was not for her. “The last thing I wanted to be was self-employed,” she says.
Instead, Nikki opted to follow in the footsteps of a close family friend who was the pharmacist for her small town in rural Georgia. Bob Snipes (“Mr. Bob” to Nikki) also worked long hours, coming in after hours to fill prescriptions for people who needed them. “Mr. Bob was kind, loving and caring and what I wanted to be like,” Nikki says. “He set the tone for the career that I wanted to have.”
Nikki studied science in college and then pursued a doctor of pharmacy degree from Mercer University College of Pharmacy, graduating in 2003. She started her career in Richland, Georgia as the Director of Pharmacy for a 25-bed critical care hospital. She left there in 2006 to work as the pharmacist at the CVS in Albany, Georgia. It was an extremely busy store, and Nikki was filling 700 to 800 prescriptions per day. The job was intense, requiring a lot of focus and concentration. In December 2007, Nikki’s younger brother was killed in a fatal accident at his work and Nikki found that she no longer had the laser focus she needed to keep up that pace. “You can’t lose your concentration,” she says. “I started making mistakes.”
In February 2008, Nikki opened a Walgreens in Americus, Georgia. Mr. Bob, the pharmacist who had inspired her as a child, came to work with her there. Nikki took a lot of initiative and implemented several programs and services during her time at Walgreens. She started their MTM (Medication Management Therapy) program that helps patients learn how to take their prescriptions, what they are for, and reconcile everything for them to make sure they are not on things that are duplicated or will interact. She also Implemented their immunization program, figuring out how to oversee such a program in a pharmacy. Nikki was also able to add delivery of prescriptions at the Walgreens and packaging medications for large institutions, like a nearby children’s home. “That job pretty much taught me everything I needed to know about independent pharmacy,” Nikki says. “I did a lot of things for them that involved more than jut counting pills in a pharmacy.”
Nikki had moved back to her hometown of Preston following her brother’s death to be closer to her parents. “It is very rural,” Nikki says. The town’s population is 406, and the entire Webster County has a population of 2300. Nikki was driving into Americus every day for her job at Walgreens, a job that was yielding less and less satisfaction when it felt that the corporation was not appreciating all of her efforts and how busy and successful her store was. Nikki began asking herself why she was giving a corporation so much of herself when she should be giving it to her community. Preston had not had a pharmacy for over sixty years. Her father’s grocery store had been there for 35 years. In Feb 2014, Nikki decided to combine those two facts and open her own pharmacy, converting part of her father’s parking lot into a pharmacy.
“Entrepreneurship and ownership were in me all along but I suppressed it,” Nikki says, “because I didn’t want my family to go without me.” Nikki had two small children at home and knew she had to consciously make choices to not lose time with her family. She could run an independent business – Preston’s first pharmacy in 60 years – and still be the kind of wife and mother she wanted to be.
It is a good thing her vision and determination were strong, because Nikki did not get a lot of encouragement. “Everyone thought I was crazy,” she says. “It was extremely risky.” But Nikki was determined to make it work. “I saw a need in my community,” she says, and her father put his faith in her and supported her decision. People in her county had to drive at least ten miles, and often much more than that, to get to a pharmacy. There were no public transport options and no delivery services available.
Nikki opened her pharmacy in July 2014. Her clients from Americus followed her to Preston. She began a delivery service that had a radius of 30 miles at first and now covers 50 miles. (The delivery radius expanded when she began making daily deliveries to a teenager on hospice in Cusseta, Georgia.) Nikki started off with a part-time delivery person and pharmacy tech, but she now has a registered pharmacist (Mr. Bob has joined her!), a part-time pharmacist, three full-time technicians and one full-time delivery person. People often ponder how they got by before Nikki opened her pharmacy, sometimes calling her at 11 pm at night when they are leaving the emergency room with a prescription to fill. “It is really motivational for me to know I made an impact and gave them access to a service they didn’t have before,” Nikki says.
In addition to opening the pharmacy, Nikki also started a nonprofit to raise money for cancer patients in her community, to provide assistance with transportation, or to pay for their medications if they can’t afford them. She was moved to do so after experiencing the pain and frustration of being unable to help her friend’s father, who had metastatic lung cancer, when she was working at Walgreens. “I couldn’t help him then, but, now I work for myself and I can discount the medications and offer gas vouchers, food, and housecleaning through the foundation.” The Stewart Webster Cancer Fund (covering the two counties in its name) has raised over $100,000 and continues to expand what it offers patients in need.
Nikki is also continuing to expand what her pharmacy can offer her community. She now offers a full telehealth suite in the clinic so that people in need of transplants do not need to drive all the way to Atlanta. “If you live in rural GA,” Nikki says, “Atlanta is the last place you want to go.” Last year, Nikki added another building onto her father’s lot and opened a doctor’s office that she has since converted to a rural health clinic. She employs a Nurse Practitioner during the week with extended hours on Wednesday and Thursday for people who have to work.
She will soon be serving an even greater area once she opens her second pharmacy in Cuthbert, one county South of Webster. “I am taking the model that I have here in Preston and putting it into that area,” Nikki says. She will be able to serve thirteen counties between the two pharmacies.
What sustains Nikki and lets her know all of her efforts are worth it are the patients. A close friend of her father’s recently died from cancer. Nikki took comfort in knowing that the Cancer Fund helped him immensely, helping him with transport and lodging for his care in Augusta and ensuring that he had the medicines he needed. “He couldn’t speak at the end,” Nikki says, “but the way he looked at me, I knew how grateful he was.” She recently hired his grandson, Beau, for her new location in Cuthbert.
Nikki chuckles when she looks back on her vow to never run her own business. She is now busier than ever, with no plans to slow down. “It is difficult,” Nikki says, “but the patients keep me going. They are so appreciative.”
To learn more about the Stewart-Webster Cancer Fund or to make a donation: https://www.facebook.com//STEWARTWEBSTERCANCERFUND
To see a video of Nikki discussing the pharmacy: Nikki Bryant, Mercer Pharmacy Alumna
And for more about the pharmacy and the clinic: https:///www.facebook.com/Adamsfamilypharmacy/