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Leadership: It’s Not Just for Leaders
New Practitioners Network

by Anne Misher, PharmD, PGY2 Ambulatory Care Resident, Midwestern University Chicago College of Pharmacy; Lindsey Westerhof, PharmD, Assistant Professor Pharmacy Practice, Ferris State University; Jen Phillips, PharmD, BCPS, Associate Professor, Pharmacy Practice Midwestern University Chicago College of Pharmacy

As the profession of pharmacy continues to grow in size and scope, there will be many more opportunities for pharmacists to serve as leaders within the profession. A 2004 survey of pharmacists, managers, and students predicted a major gap in pharmacy leadership.1 A repeat survey found that although the leadership gap was narrowing, strategies need to be implemented to avoid a leadership crisis in the next 10 years.2

There has been a calling for increased efforts in leadership development of new practitioners.3 New pharmacy practitioners are looked upon to bring new energy, passion, and curiosity into the clinical workforce. While many new practitioners may not have immediate aspirations to step into a “Big L” leadership role (i.e., manager, director, etc.) in the near future, continuing to develop leadership skills can have numerous advantages, regardless of role or area of practice. First, having a solid leadership foundation can help the pharmacist be a better practitioner. Several pharmacy organizations have advocated that leadership skills are necessary for all pharmacists, not just those in leadership positions.3,4 Therefore, we must encourage ourselves and our colleagues to seek opportunities to further develop the building blocks of a strong leader, regardless of job title. As Toby Clark once said, the greatest leadership sin is to remain passive in the face of challenges.5

Leadership skills help pharmacists adapt to change. The pharmacists and pharmacy leaders of today need to be prepared for several challenges, including: the adoption of improved information technology to accommodate increased safety and quality demands; drug shortages; and establishment or expansion of chronic disease management within community and ambulatory care pharmacy settings.6,7 Skills, knowledge and abilities identified as being most important for pharmacists to be successful in managing challenges include ability to see the big picture, demonstrate the value of pharmacy services, lead and manage ethically and influence senior leadership.8 Having these strong leadership skills can help both the “Big L” and “Little l” leaders be successful in these initiatives.

Leadership skills may also help new practitioners remain competitive in today’s market. Choosing a combination of available options to further leadership skills can help to create a well-rounded skill set that can enhance marketability of the candidate when pursuing employment. Practice and experience can help foster an understanding of the challenges the profession faces as well as the motivation to seek change and advancement. New practitioners can pursue leadership training through a number of different mechanisms, including:

Being a Mentor and Seeking Mentorship
Mentorship is essential for leadership development. Most people naturally seek mentorship through informal interactions with supervisors or those in management roles. Additionally, many will serve as mentors to younger practitioners as experience in clinical practice grows. When selecting mentors, it is important to seek those who will be most beneficial for achieving your desired goals. As stated in Good to Great, mentorship often does not come from a single individual, but rather a “cabinet”.9 Each member of the cabinet should play a unique role in guiding various aspects of career development. As interests and goals change during the course of a career, the mentorship may also change as new points of view may be necessary to take on new opportunities. In looking for mentors, it is essential to find individuals who cannot only help shape your career, but can help establish a manageable work life balance.10 Regular mentorship meetings can help to build a strong relationship and set a course of action for development.

Professional Organization Leadership Programs
Seeking roles within professional organizations can give new practitioners the practical experience needed to grow and show their leadership capabilities while keeping up to date with the latest developments in the profession. Involvement in local or state organizations can be a great starting place for organization involvement. Additionally, most national organizations have committees or networking groups, such as ASHP’s Sections and Forums, which can be a platform for gaining knowledge while demonstrating interest in leadership. Many organizations (including ICHP!) also have new practitioner groups, which can provide networking opportunities to foster relationship building and understanding of available leadership roles within the organization.

Attending annual conferences provides opportunities to network with peers and acquire knowledge that can be used to advance the practice within your own health system. Specifically, programming such as Great eXpectiations at the ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting provides new practitioners with sessions focused on career development and becoming a leader within clinical practice.

For those seeking more advanced leadership training, many pharmacy organizations offer leadership training programs that utilize both self-study as well as interactive sessions focused on a variety of leadership topics.12,13 Each program offers different experiences and has a variety of unique opportunities for participants.

Resident and Professional Training Opportunities
For those interested in leadership development during residency, there are a variety of ways to accomplish this. First, make the most out of your management rotation. Even if you are convinced that you will never be a “Big L”, there are many things you can learn that will help make you a more knowledgeable and well-rounded practitioner. In addition, many programs offer teaching certificates which provide new practitioners with skills for not only teaching students, but also for developing communication and assessment skills that can be used to better facilitate interactions with the healthcare team. Having the ability to serve as a co-preceptor is another great way to experience first-hand some of the challenges involved in leading others.  

Some residency programs are specifically designed to develop their residents into future leaders of the profession. For example, The Nebraska Medical Center (TNMC) residency program includes a Leadership Development Series in which residents participate in leadership discussions throughout their year of training. Other programs offer specialized residency programs that provide a two year residency program focused on Health System Pharmacy. At the current time, there are 34 PGY-2 residencies and 7 PGY-1/2 programs in Health Systems Pharmacy Administration, and 2 PGY-2 programs in Corporate Pharmacy Leadership in the United States. There are an additional 36 PGY-1/2 programs in Health Systems Pharmacy Administration that offer the resident an opportunity to get a master’s degree upon completion of the program.14

Some established organizations offer professional development programs for leaders and those interested in leadership positions. For example, the Pharmacy Leadership Institute developed through collaboration between University of California, San Francisco and the Center for the Health Professions provides learning seminars, coaching and leadership projects to help members become more effective leaders.15 For those unable to complete a leadership focused residency, these types of leadership development programs can assist with obtaining skills and experience. 

Degree Programs
Pursuing a degree program can help learners formally acquire advanced knowledge and credentials that may be helpful when developing their leadership potential.  For example, obtaining a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) can provide the business acumen needed to fulfill a leadership role in administration. Pursuing a Masters of Health Administration (MHA) can help fine tune leadership skills specific to a health system. Other advanced degree programs can help further develop knowledge of clinical practice or research. For example, seeking a PhD or fellowship training can provide the background needed to serve as a leader in research. Learners can acquire skills in project development, grant submission and research team coordination, which can all be helpful for new practitioners who are interested in advancing their research careers.

Regardless of formal leadership titles, all pharmacists should seek to be leaders in the realm of medication management. One way to do this is by pursuing board certification, or advanced credentialing in areas such as: diabetes education, anticoagulation, and geriatric pharmacy, to name a few. Although not all credentials are specific to leadership, these credentials show dedication to the practice of pharmacy and assurance of the necessary expertise to lead others in clinical practice. Additionally, advanced credentialing demonstrates credibility beyond the profession of pharmacy to others within healthcare. This can be especially helpful in expanding our practice into new practice areas and leading healthcare in new ways. 

Personal Development
Once leadership skills are attained, they must be maintained. Attending professional conferences, networking with colleagues, and staying up to date with recently published literature are a few ways for practitioners to continue to hone their leadership skills. It is also a good idea to regularly schedule time for quality improvement assessments of your leadership abilities to ensure that the knowledge and skills you have learned are being optimally implemented in your work environment and/or to identify further opportunities for growth. This can be done formally or informally. Formal methods include evaluations from supervisors, co-workers, or student/resident evaluations. Some institutions have started using a 360 degree evaluation system that incorporates feedback from an individual’s peers, supervisors, and subordinates in addition to a self-evaluation. Informal methods of evaluation include devising a personalized continuing professional development plan or self-reflection through journaling. Actively engaging students, co-workers, and supervisors in an informal dialogue (especially after particularly challenging decisions or tasks) is another way to gain immediate feedback on performance as well as strengthen relationships. One way this can be done is through a Leadership journal or book club, where all members can learn about new ways to implement leadership skills.16

As pharmacists, we are all called to be leaders whether formally or informally on a daily basis. As new practitioners entering a competitive job market, it is even more important to be aware and take advantage of opportunities to develop leadership skills. Choosing a variety of training opportunities and remembering to “sharpen the saw” – as stated in Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – can help to become and remain an active member of the healthcare team.17

  1. White SJ. Will there be a leadership crisis? An ASHP Foundation Scholar-in-residence report. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2005;62(8):845-55.
  2. White SJ, Enright SM.  Is there still a pharmacy leadership crisis? A seven year follow up assessment. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2013;70(5):443-7.
  3. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. ASHP statement on leadership as a professional obligation. Am J Health-Syst Pharm. 2011; 68:2293-5.
  4. American College of Clinical Pharmacy. ACCP white paper: a vision of pharmacy’s future roles, responsibilities, and manpower needs in the United States. Pharmacotherapy. 2000;20(8):991-1020.
  5. Clark T. Leading healers to exceed. Am J Health-Syst Pharm. 2013; 70:625-31
  6. Clark JS. A vision for the future of pharmacy residency training. Am J Health-Syst Pharm. 2014; 71:1196-8.
  7. Medvdeff D. Real leaders wear running shoes: myriad variables need to be evaluated and strategies developed for lifelong career in pharmacy. J Am Pham Assoc. 2007 Sep-Oct; 47(5): 576-8.
  8. Meadows AB, Maine LL. Pharmacy executive leadership issues and associated skills, knowledge, and abilities. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2005 Jan-Feb;45(1):55-62.
  9. Collins J. Good to great: Why some companies make the leap…and others don’t. New York, NY: HaperCollins Publishers Inc; 2001.
  10. Raub JN, Thurston TM, Fiorvento AD, Mynatt RP, Wilson SS. Implementation and outcomes of a pharmacy residency mentorship program. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2015 Jun 1;72(11 Suppl 1):S1-5.
  11. White SJ, Wilkin NE. Leadership development: empowering others to take an active role in patient care. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2012 May-Jun;52(3):308-18. 
  12. Aleshea Martin. Fostering career development through involvement in professional organizations. Am J Health Syst Pharm. July 15, 2007 64:1472-1473; doi:10.2146/ajhp070096.
  13. Pasek K. Leadership opportunities within ASHP for new practitioners. Am J Health Syst Pharm. December 15, 2009 66:2164-2169.
  14. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.  Residency directory. Accessed 26 June 2005
  15. Louie C, Mertz E. A pharmacy leadership action study. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2009 Jan-Feb;49(1):98-104. 
  16. Eric Wombwell, Christopher Murray, Stephen J. Davis, Katherine Palmer, Monica Nayar, and Justin Konkol. Leadership journal club. Am J Health Syst Pharm. November 1, 2011 68:2026-2027; doi:10.2146/ajhp110008.
  17. Covey SR. 7 Habits of highly effective people. New York, NY: Free Press; 1989. 


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