President's Message - Survival Skills

by Jen Phillips, PharmD, BCPS, ICHP President
May 16, 2016

This past weekend, my seven-year old son, Ben, and I embarked on a great adventure. We spent the weekend camping with other members of his Cub Scout Pack in Potato Creek State Park in North Liberty, Indiana. It was Ben’s first time camping, and he was beyond excited to spend two nights sleeping in a tent and to discover the wonders of nature.  

During the weekend, the boys spent some time with a nature specialist, Vince, learning about all of the different types of birds and animals in the wild and even participating in the scheduled feedings of turtles, reptiles, and frogs. Vince also led a 90-minute, interactive, “survival skills” workshop with the boys. During this session, he helped the boys learn how to start a fire using just two sticks, how to identify edible plants, and how to build a durable debris shelter. The boys were fascinated by the information. So was I! I found this session to be very informative. You just never know when you might get stuck in the wild, and having this kind of knowledge in your back pocket could come in handy someday. 

I started thinking about how this might parallel professional life, especially in the field of pharmacy. What type of “survival skills” do we need in order to make it through those hectic workdays, yet still provide compassionate and informed care to our patients? At the start of the survival skills workshop, Vince mentioned that there are four things that are absolutely essential for survival. The first two essential things are food and water. Apparently, our bodies can only survive 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. Without food and water, we lose the ability to function effectively, so finding replenishment options should be at the top on our priority list should we ever find ourselves stranded. Finding a sustainable source of food and water would be a great way to ensure long-term survival.  

Within the profession of pharmacy, we can think of the profession-specific knowledge and skills as our “food and water” that are essential to our professional survival. Without these things, we would not be able to provide care to our patients. Tools such as continuing education (CE), continuous professional development (CPD), and professional certifications help provide a sustainable method to ensure long-term professional survival. These tools allow us to constantly replenish our knowledge and skills so that we can stay up-to-date on the latest developments in healthcare and ultimately pass this onto our patients. ICHP provides a lot of opportunities for professional “food and water” by offering CE programming in a variety of different formats: Champion webinars, Spring/Annual meetings, and local affiliate programming, to name a few. If you are “hungry or thirsty” for CE, I encourage you to attend one or more of these sessions.

The third thing Vince identified as essential to survival in the wild was shelter. Apparently, in unfriendly environmental conditions, humans can survive for only up to 3 hours. Thus, finding a durable shelter is important to protect us from wild animals and harsh weather conditions.

There are many potential corollaries to this in pharmacy, but one thing that I thought of immediately that fits nicely with the concept of shelter is professional networking. Having a strong network of individuals to rely on when we face various unknowns can offer us the support that we need to get through any new situation we are facing. Thus, it is important to remember to take time to build a strong professional network. If you are looking for ways to build your “shelter,” ICHP can help. ICHP offers many opportunities to build and grow a professional network, including: networks that meet in person and via conference call such as the New Practitioners Network (NPN), the Pharmacy Directors Network dinners, and the Clinical Practice and Research Network (CPRN), the newly implemented ICHPchat, and a strong social media presence. Did you know, for example, that ICHP has a Twitter account, an Instagram account, and a Facebook page? In addition, offering live CE programming several times a year at the Spring and Annual Meetings and through live affiliate programming allows members to interact in-person with other pharmacy professionals.

After reviewing the first three items that are essential to surviving in the wild, Vince asked the audience if anyone could guess the fourth thing. An answer immediately popped into my mind, but seeing as I was the person with the least wilderness experience, I didn’t say it. People guessed for a while, throwing out such ideas as fire, pocketknife, and clothing. Vince acknowledged that while all of these things were definitely helpful, they weren’t allessential. Vince asked us to close our eyes and picture ourselves lost in the woods. He then asked us, “In addition to food, water, and shelter, what would you want to have with you?” I figured it was time to throw my guess out there, so I did. “I would need to have a positive attitude, else my anxiety would get the best of me”, I said, half smiling. I was very surprised when Vince smiled too and said, “That is exactly right!”

He then proceeded to tell us stories of people who were stranded in the wild and didn’t make it. Some of these people had food, water, and shelter. However, they were unable to remain calm, which led to irrational decision-making and/or a feeling of desperation; both of which led to unfortunate consequences.

Many times, people underestimate the power of a positive mental attitude. Some consider it “frivolous,” but I think many would agree that when we feel our best, we do our best. And when we do our best, our patients benefit. I urge you to think about this the next time you find yourself having a hectic day. Sometimes, when you are overwhelmed and understaffed, it can feel like you are stranded in the wilderness. If this happens, remember there are only four essential things you need to survive in the pharmacy world: food (knowledge), water (skills), shelter (network), and a positive mental attitude.

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