Lester “Doc” Carter, BSPha’58, doesn’t like the word retired.
So when he sold his popular independent neighborhood pharmacy in Milwaukee in 2014 following health problems, he made the new owners a deal.
“I told them I would work for them until I was 100,” Carter recalls, and then adds with a smile, “but then I wanted a day off.”
The spry 85-year-old continues to work four days a week as a pharmacist. He also hosts a health segment on a local radio station, and travels the country speaking to students and at professional seminars.
Carter was in Omaha this spring, speaking to a group of Creighton pharmacy students.
He told the students that when he purchased his drug store on Milwaukee’s northwest side in 1968, there were 13 other independent drug stores within walking distance. His was the only one to survive.
What was the secret to his long-lasting success?
“You take care of your customers and patients, and they will take care of you,” Carter said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Carter has a strong background in herbal medicine and supplements, and has even developed his own remedies – a skin lotion that treats the razor bumps experienced by some African-American men after shaving and an ointment for scalp ringworm.
He urged the students to, at least, become familiar with these alternatives, so that they can better inform their patients.
“Our job is to help improve the health and well-being of the people we serve,” Carter said.
When patients come in with their prescriptions but ask about other alternatives, he said the pharmacist should be able to share other options so that patients can be better informed when consulting with their physician or other primary care provider.
“We need to be able to give them the information,” he said. “People don’t want to be sick or in pain.”
Carter, an Omaha native and Korean War veteran, moved to Milwaukee in 1967 at the urging of a friend who also graduated from Creighton with a degree in pharmacy.
When he purchased the drug store, he said, the neighborhood was primarily home to German immigrants and their descendants. “I’m sure they looked at me like, ‘Who is this black guy from Omaha?’” he said.
With “nothing else to lose,” he decided to try the advice given to him by the previous owner, a German himself, who had stayed on to help. He told Carter to approach each morning’s customers, look him or her straight in the eye and say, “Guten morgen!” (Good morning in German.)
“Later, I hear people talking in the back of the store and they’re saying, ‘That guy can’t be all bad; he speaks German!’”