Move Over, CVS: This Fishtown Pharmacist Is Changing the Pharmacy Game

Kris Hunsicker with his wife and son.

Pharmacist Kris Hunsicker with his wife and son.

At first glance, the bare-bones storefront of Fishtown Pharmacy might look like no match for big names like CVS, Walgreens and RiteAid. But don’t let the lack of body wash and chewing gum fool you—this neighborhood joint is filled to brim with things you probably won’t find at the local big-box: customized prescription compounds, holistically-minded medical counseling and health solutions for your pet, to name a few.

As owner and pharmacist Kris Hunsicker explains, “We don’t stock shampoo or candy so that we have room for the stuff we actually want to have on our shelves.”

Hunsicker, a holistically-trained pharmacist who opened Fishtown Pharmacy on Frankford Avenue in April 2013, offers a different approach to pharmacy than what you would find, say, at ShopRite. He should know: He spent over 10 years as a pharmacist at a ShopRite in Kensington.

I learned it firsthand when I walked into the pharmacy last week to chat with Hunsicker. I pointed to the three giant pimples lurking on my forehead and desperately screamed, “Help! Please!” His first suggestion was not an over-the-counter medication or cream, but a change in my diet. Skin flare-ups, he told me, are often the result of food allergies. He suggested upping my omega-3 intake with fish oil, if I wasn’t willing to to change my diet.

“I was told that I was too wellness-focused when I was a pharmacy student,” he says. “But I feel like I’ve proved them wrong.”

His emphasis on diet as a key ingredient to wellness isn’t the only thing that sets him apart from your average big-name pharmacy. Hunsicker, a graduate of Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (now called University of the Sciences), gets back to old-school pharmacy’s mortar-and-pestle roots with personalized compounds, tailor-made-for-you medications. Hunsicker says these kinds of compounds are his specialty.

Here’s how it works: Let’s say you don’t like swallowing pills. Hunsicker will convert your prescription into a chewable tablet, and BAM—taking your daily dose is instantly less awful. Or maybe your oral medication for the pain in your elbow makes you feel a bit fuzzy in the head; he will create a prescription compound that allows you to apply that medication topically, localizing the effects of the pain meds and reducing their neurological effects. Or, say you have an allergy to an additive, like gluten or dye, in a manufactured medication you need to take; he will create a personalized compound for you without that allergen.

The professed pet lover even makes vet compounds: If you’ve been known to chase your cat around all day trying to get her to take her thyroid medication, failing every time, he’ll make your life a whole lot easier by creating a personalized prescription compound that can be applied topically to your cat’s ear. Hallelujah!

Hunsicker says his most popular compound is a topical cream for women that targets infection and soreness during breastfeeding, and is safe for babies to consume. In fact, the dad of two (the most recent addition to the family was born just last week) says that most of the folks who wander into his pharmacy looking to consult with him on medications are pregnant women: “I’ve never answered as many prenatal questions in my 15 years of medicine as I have since we opened,” he says.

And that’s one more thing that makes Fishtown Pharmacy different from most: Hunsicker wants the holistically-minded pharmacy, which takes all insurances plans, to be a place where you feel comfortable—and maybe even a little excited—walking in and asking questions, not a place you dread going to. He wants people to understand that helping to prevent illness, with the help of diet and vitamins, is also part of a pharmacist’s job; he’s not just there to fix you once you’re already sick.

“There’s a bit of a stigma when it comes to pharmacy,” Hunsicker says. “People think the pharmacy is just a place you go when you’re sick to pick up your medicine, and it’s always a pain. We want to get rid of that feeling.”

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