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Dr. Jessica Nouhavandi of Honeybee Health: “Why Self Awareness Is So Critical”

If you don’t know who you are — what you care about, what moves you, what bores you — both your work and personal life will be a challenge. But if you’re passionate and intentional about your actions, you can achieve anything. For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing […]

If you don’t know who you are — what you care about, what moves you, what bores you — both your work and personal life will be a challenge. But if you’re passionate and intentional about your actions, you can achieve anything.


For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Jessica Nouhavandi.

Dr. Nouhavandi combines ethics, patient care and passion to create the ultimate patient experience. After earning her bachelor’s degree in bioethics and becoming a Doctor in Pharmacy from Western University of Health Sciences in 2011, she worked as a pharmacist in charge of MCP pharmacy, an independent compounding pharmacy located in Moorpark, California. As the only independent pharmacy in a town surrounded by big chain pharmacies, Dr. Nouhavandi helped grow the business to be the second highest volume pharmacy in Moorpark as a result of its hardworking staff, impeccable service and commitment to the community. She also reached mid-level practitioner status, studied eastern medicine and practiced hormone replacement therapy for men and women as a compounding pharmacist.After the successful acquisition of MCP Pharmacy in 2017 by CVS, Dr. Nouhavandi helped create Honeybee Health with the idea of bringing the same hometown service and dedication to the whole nation. Honeybee Health brings transparency to any prescription, not what an insurance company or pharmaceutical manufacturer decides. Honeybee Health’s search provides truth to the process of shopping for medications by showing the actual cost of any generic medicine based on form, strength and package size, which can be directly purchased. Honeybee Health is focused on serving 40 percent of Americans who do not take their prescriptions because they have to decide between rent and food or medication. This costs the U.S. healthcare system up to $300 billion annually in healthcare emergencies. Honeybee Health cuts out additional middlemen fees from insurance companies and plan administrators. This makes a dramatic impact on consumers’ medication spending. Dr. Jessica Nouhavandi is successfully leading the charge for transparent drug pricing through Honeybee Health.


Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’m the only daughter of Jewish, Iranian immigrants and the first in my family to go to college. I became a pharmacist for one simple reason: I wanted to help people.

After obtaining my Doctorate in Pharmacy, I ran an independent retail pharmacy with my co-founder of Honeybee Health, Peter Wang. We saw very quickly that patients were regularly walking away from the counter because they couldn’t afford their co-pays.

So, Peter and I set out to do something entirely different and created Honeybee Health, a HIPAA-accredited online pharmacy that carries more than 6,000 different generic drugs and provides the most affordable generic medications to the un- or underinsured. The fair prices are possible because we purchase medication directly from wholesale distributors and pass the savings on to our patients. Working outside the traditional confines of health insurance means Honeybee Health can find the lowest prices for every drug and then sell directly to consumers. This eliminates the multiple layers of companies, pharmacy benefit managers, and others that significantly inflate prices to produce their individual profits.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In many ways we have been at the forefront of COVID-19. Not only are we there every day filling prescriptions, but we also sell hydroxychloroquine, which is being studied as a potential treatment option for COVID-19.

Ever since hydroxychloroquine was first mentioned, it’s been flying off the shelves. But patients with Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) need hydroxychloroquine for treatment and started to run into difficulty obtaining it as other Americans hoarded the medication.

This was a clear moment that, as pharmacists, we needed to step up. It’s our responsibility to work closely with doctors to help curb this behavior and make sure we are prioritizing the prescriptions of those with Lupus and RA. During these challenging times we vow to continue to make sure this unofficial treatment for COVID-19 is not overprescribed and remains available to the neediest population.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

“Honeybee Health” is an unusual name for a pharmacy — but then again, we’re an unusual pharmacy. As I was picking the name, I thought about the fact that there are 200 million people taking medications in the U.S., but each individual is isolated without collective leverage, visibility, or bargaining power. And that’s when it hit me: honeybees. No one honeybee can make honey — it takes the whole hive working together. If patients as a whole started to demand transparency and ethical pricing, then we’d truly be able to improve the healthcare industry. That’s why I named my company Honeybee Health — because we’re the first pharmacy, led by pharmacists, working together with patients to revolutionize the industry.

While I love our name, it has caused some small moments of confusion for customers. Early on, someone called me and said, “I have a bee problem.” They went on to describe the concerns they had about the health of honeybees on their farm. The customer and I ended up laughing together as I cleared up the confusion and explained that we’re a pharmacy. While this was just a small moment, it reminded me of a lesson I learned early on when becoming a pharmacist: what truly inspires me is these human moments between myself and a customer. At large retail pharmacies, these moments rarely happen. The pharmacists who work there are frazzled and hurried, racing to meet impossible corporate metrics. At Honeybee Health, we prioritize our patients instead.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our personal experiences have led us to create a company where people always come first. To cite just one story, my co-founder, Peter Wang, watched his sister struggle for a long time to afford her mental health medications because of an insurance coverage gap. At one point when she couldn’t get her medication she wandered away for several days and ended up in the hospital. These are scarring experiences and all too common in our healthcare system.

When Peter and I ran a brick and mortar retail pharmacy, we knew every single customer by name and considered ourselves part of the community. Even though we’re no longer a small local pharmacy, we bring this mentality to Honeybee Health. We treat our patients like our own family.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

It’s increasingly common that a chain pharmacy like CVS will sponsor a young pharmacy student’s education. I’m not faulting anyone — student debt is a tremendous hurdle — but unfortunately, it means that a lot of students are being pumped back into chain pharmacies and not independent stores.

At Honeybee Health I’m working on creating a program to coach some of the young pharmacists who want to break out of the chain pharmacy cycle. All the details are still coming together, but I think it’s very important that students know there are more options available to them. Five years ago, online pharmacies hardly existed. Today, we’re a growing industry and we want to make sure young pharmacists have all the intel they need to make a fulfilling career choice.

Similarly, I’m encouraging Honeybee Health employees to further their education if they so choose. That means everything from one-on-one coaching sessions to time off for studying to creating opportunities for interns to shadow pharmacists and learn from them.

Lastly, but it goes without saying: we’re always trying to expand the medications we provide. We have exciting things coming up, but nothing to officially announce yet.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

The healthcare industry can be frustrating to change because it is rife with complications and structural challenges. As a result, success can often feel slow and incremental. This has taught me the importance of considering my motivation and taking the time to figure out exactly what inspires me to keep going despite these challenges. I’ve found my dedication stems from direct interactions with real-life patients. Hearing their stories and the ways in which Honeybee Health is making a difference in their lives inspires me to keep fighting for future change in the industry.

My advice would be to have both yourself and each member of your team really examine what it is that inspires them to come to work every day (or, recently, work from home). During COVID-19, this is especially important as working from home can lead to increased feelings of burnout, isolation, and anxiety.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

As a woman in the male-dominated industries of healthcare, business, and tech, I’ve experienced my fair share of both overt and covert sexism. That has included everything from investors asking me if I’m planning on having kids to assuming I wouldn’t understand the financial side of the business.

These experiences have made me feel like I need to assert my authority and ability as a female CEO by doing everything for Honeybee Health on my own. However, when you run a rapidly expanding business that depends on the teamwork of many pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, customer service agents, developers, and engineers, you have to learn to let go and trust others to step up. As Honeybee Health has developed from a dream to a thriving company, I’ve gained confidence in both my own abilities as a female entrepreneur and my company’s future, allowing me to feel comfortable delegating.

That would be my first piece of advice to other female leaders with large teams. I understand your position — the world of business is often not friendly to female leaders. But if you trust in yourself and believe in your own worth, in time others will too. This is essential because if you want your business and team to thrive, you have to be able to let go and trust in others to get the job done well.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There have been many influential people in my life including mentors, professors, and friends, but at the end of the day I’m most deeply grateful towards my parents. They instilled in me a hard work ethic, but also always told me that money and success come and go while relationships that last forever.

Through their own actions they’ve taught me humility, kindness, and selflessness. Before COVID-19, my parents would come to eat lunch at Honeybee Health once a week. My mother would even bring the employees home-cooked food. I can’t say I hear of many other CEOs’ parents who are willing to show up in that way.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Honeybee Health’s number one concern is to make sure that patients have fair, safe, and speedy access to medication. We believe that the only three people involved in your medication should be you, your doctor, and your pharmacist.

But, too often, that’s not how our healthcare system works. We’re tired of waiting for governmental change and are taking matters into our own hands. We are dedicated to creating a world where every single American has access to the medication they need — no skipping or microdosing — and where a 90-day supply of medication is mailed without a hitch. We believe that this is achievable, and that’s why we’re asking people to join Honeybee Health.

On a larger scale, I also believe that truly reshaping the broken American healthcare system will take informed policy revisions. That is why I’ve been working one-on-one with legislators, senators, and congressmen and women to educate them on the struggles currently facing Americans when it comes to healthcare costs. Too many large corporations have political sway and we need to find solutions that empower individuals instead to be involved in the decisions concerning their health.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.

Lesson 1: Don’t be afraid to break the mold.

For years, I worked in a traditional pharmacy setting at a retail pharmacy. However, I grew increasingly frustrated with the established way of doing things. I was sick of watching patients walk away from the pharmacy counter because they couldn’t afford their copays, unable to help because of binding contracts with insurance companies and other industry middlemen. So I decided to reinvent the system by creating a new type of pharmacy. Honeybee Health’s direct-to-consumer business model means patients don’t need insurance in order to afford their medications. Now, I’m able to help tens of thousands of patients across the country gain access to their life-saving medications. None of that would have been possible if I hadn’t been willing to break the mold first and find a new, better way of doing things.

Lesson 2: Go outside your comfort zone

I am a pharmacist by training. Before Honeybee Health, my world was focused on filling prescriptions and consulting with patients. However, when I decided to start my own health tech company, I went from being just a pharmacist to an entrepreneur as well. I had to learn a whole new world of skills, with everything from fundraising venture capital to figuring out the e-commerce platform we’d run the business on. In the very beginning, I was more hesitant to make decisions outside of just the pharmacy aspect of Honeybee Health. But then I reminded myself that it is people like myself — pharmacists — who are in the best position to help patients because we are the ones who truly understand their experiences. It’s those of us at the counter, on the frontlines, in the exam room that get to know patients and hear their frustrations. Now, I am confident in my own expertise and authority.

Lesson 3: Break barriers

As an online pharmacy, you need to have a pharmacy license in every single state you ship prescriptions to. Most pharmacists only get their license in one state, and that’s hard enough. When I first dreamed up the idea of Honeybee Health, everyone told me it was impossible because I would need to get a pharmacy license in all 50 states. I decided to start Honeybee Health anyway. And now, one year later, I have my license in 41 states territories and counting. I plan on hitting all 50 by the end of the year. People often believe that bold new ideas are impossible. My advice: prove them wrong.

Lesson 4: Stick to your morals

I started Honeybee Health because it was time someone put patients first. Traditional chain pharmacies prioritized profits instead, leaving patients stuck in long lines with high copays to pay. I set out to run a different type of pharmacy, one where customer service came first. When a patient calls Honeybee Health, someone picks up the phone by the third ring. Patients have direct access to friendly pharmacists who truly care to make them feel comfortable. Where others artificially raise prices to line their own pockets, we offer medications at affordable prices that reflect their true cost. I became a pharmacist to help people, not make money. And I refuse to forget that as my company grows. The driving question behind everything we do at Honeybee Health is, “What is best for the patient?”

Lesson 5: Radical transparency

Too often the pharmacy world is a dark and murky place where insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers, and other middlemen hide their earnings and cloud exactly how much drugs cost. This leaves patients in a constant state of confusion, without the agency they deserve to make well-informed health decisions.

This was first made apparent to me back when I worked at my independent retail pharmacy. One day, a patient walked in for a standard cholesterol medication. I looked up his insurance, submitted his claim, and his copay was $90. The patient couldn’t afford it. The number seemed wrong to me — this was a generic, standard medicine that had been around for years. Curious, she looked up the out-of-pocket cost of those pills (aka the cost if you don’t go through insurance). It was $2. At Honeybee Health, the cost of those pills is actually $2.

At Honeybee Health we strive to practice radical transparency. That’s why we refuse to work with insurance companies, who often artificially elevate prices. By going directly to consumers, we cut out middlemen and streamline the process.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Everyone knows our current healthcare system is broken. However, the system is so big and bloated, it can feel overwhelming to try to make a difference. That’s one of the amazing things behind Honeybee Health. We’re not just trying to create a more convenient, affordable pharmacy. We’re trying to change the healthcare system as a whole. If enough patients come together and demonstrate that they want options like Honeybee Health to exist, then we will have the collective leveraging power to force big pharmacy corporations to lower drug prices and prioritize the needs of patients over profits.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Find out who you are and do it on purpose — Dolly Parton

If you don’t know who you are — what you care about, what moves you, what bores you — both your work and personal life will be a challenge. But if you’re passionate and intentional about your actions, you can achieve anything.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them!

I’ve admired Melinda Gates for a long time. Like me, she works in male-dominated industries and has faced many gender barriers. Her accomplishments in science and business inspired me throughout my whole career from when I first went to pharmacy school to when I decided to launch my own business.

She fights for women not just with her words, but also with her actions. Whether it’s donating hundreds of millions to improving access to contraception for women in poor countries or analyzing her own foundation’s gender record, she is a tireless advocate for women of the world.

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