story and photos by Cindy Ruggieri
When I hear the word “Apothecary,” I picture the 19th century store with bottles of powders lined up along the wall and the storekeeper using his mortar and pestle as he grinds together the ingredients required for a particular medicine.
Fast forward to today, where the apothecary is still here, albeit much more modernized, filling a need for specialized compounded medications. Nature’s Apothecary on Cayuga Street in Ithaca is a unique pharmacy, catering to the client needs for medications not available in a traditional retail pharmacy. It’s a niche business that owner Dr. Shawn Burke is passionate about.
Shawn graduated from Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences with his Doctorate of Pharmacy, and spent the next few years working in a retail pharmacy. “I had done one of my clinical rotations at a compounding pharmacy, and continued to have great interest in this part of the business and how much it benefitted the patients.” he explained. He took a leap of faith and opened Nature’s Apothecary to focus on compounding medications. He makes use of the training he completed that was specific for compounding medications, along with the hands-on experience gained from his previous internship. He also uses special tools, and unique wholesalers who can provide the pure medications he requires. He explains, “Doctors’ prescriptions are required and insurance generally covers the compounded medications.”
I have seen the need for his pharmacy in my own family. My young niece needs a specific medication to treat her scleroderma, and it is not available at any retail pharmacy. The only option is to have it created at a compounding pharmacy.
Shawn described some of the options in the medications he is able to create. For a chronically ill child who has difficulty swallowing a pill, for instance, he is able to create a flavored liquid that a child can easily swallow. For someone dealing with pain management how has difficulty with the side effects of a pill, he can create a cream to apply to the source of the pain. He can even cater to the needs of a pet, creating their medication and then adding a beef or chicken flavor.
Shawn showed me his work area and his process for compounding the medications. Fully suited with protective gear, he sat at the enclosed compounding filter hood where he does most of his compounding. The hood not only provides the sterile environment for the drugs, but is also is a filter to keep a drug away from him if there is potential for something to be detrimental to his own health. “One example is estrogen” he explains. “If I was to breathe in too much, it would throw off my own hormone levels. The hood protects me from this.”
The storefront of Nature’s Apothecary is lovely, with beautiful old wooden floors and a tin ceiling. The shelves and counter are all natural wood, built by Shawn and his dad, to keep with an all-natural theme for his business. A huge mortar and pestle sits prominently in the front window, along with an assortment of large potted plants. His shelves contain over-the-counter herbal supplements and natural products.
He has plans to develop his own line of natural skin-care products, and is currently working on developing a tick repellent as the first product he plans to offer.