Care of the Leader

Pharmacists are experiencing one of the most challenging times in their careers.

Strong leadership is even more crucial at this time. Emotional intelligence, being the calm in the storm, providing clarity and direction, and holding the team together is essential. Leaders need to be the backbone of their team. Flexible yet strong.

But who looks after you? How do leaders not only survive but thrive during this time? Who is your support? Leaders must have their own support and connection in order to keep their teams healthy. Here are my top three tips for leaders of pharmacy teams.

1-Seek out other leaders who manage similar teams. Engage them in sharing of frustrations and best practices. When I do this I always learn something. A new system, tips for efficiency or stress reduction. At the very least you get to express your frustrations with someone who just “gets it”.

2- Take time to recharge. I know this is a struggle There are many times when I’m trying to take a half day or a full day off and then there’s an emergency, a fire to put out, something that needs immediate attention. This can be difficult when you’re trying to have time away from it all. The clearing of the mind of work related thoughts for a period of time is so important. Find it.

3- Feed the team. I mean this quite literally and figuratively. When the team is positive it is so much easier to manage the small and big fires. It allows them to figure things out for themselves, remain calm and attend to patients with kindness in the midst of chaos. What does this look like? Use humour to diffuse tension. Share information freely so they know where things are at currently and how they may be evolving. Be honest when you just don’t know. Ask them for their advice and input. And yes, food. Never underestimate the importance of bringing in lunch or a celebratory cake or any other food for your team! My favourite from this year is the cake on which I wrote “Covid sucks”. It boosts moral, adds to positive team culture and is just plain fun.


It’s up to us

Practice change. Expanded scope. Clinical services. It seems that as pharmacists across the country gain additional authority, many still struggle with progressing their practice. Getting the prescription out the door is still the primary priority, engaging patients in optimizing drug therapy, chronic disease management and preventative care come second, and often not at all.

Pharmacists are perhaps the only health care professional that upon completion of their training are prepared to practice a profession and end up using only a fraction of their education to do their job.

I’ve heard pharmacy leaders express that our amazing pharmacy students will save the profession. They are primed for “expanded scope” and will ensure pharmacists do not become an irrelevant profession as more and more patients move to having Alexa order their drugs for delivery and get their “patient counselling” from google.

Is that a realistic expectation for the profession? Pharmacy students are struggling. If a new grad is lucky enough to get a job in the depressed market that exists in many parts of the country, what they face is joining a less than desirable practice or one where they hope they can effect some change, but within a very short time slide into apathy.

Inevitably when I present at a conference, I have many students come up afterwards and ask me how they can avoid the peril of apathy after getting into practice. They’ve seen many pharmacy students before them go through the seemingly inevitable slide and they are afraid of what their own future holds.

The problem however is really with us. It is with veteran pharmacists and pharmacy teams who are comfortable doing things “the way they have always been done.” It is almost impossible for a new grad joining a dispensary to change this.

Every dispensary has a “culture”. The culture is the way we interact with each other, the way we talk to patients, our work flow, what we accept and don’t accept, what we complain about, what we value, how we treat each other and what is generally acceptable and for sure what is NOT acceptable in that dispensary. When a new member enters a dispensary, it is an unexpressed expectation that they will fit in and “conform” to the current culture, regardless of what that culture is. A new grad may be asked to “add” some clinical stuff in, as almost a separate entity to the regular work flow, but the essential nature of the culture is not to change.

If the prevailing culture in dispensaries is not a proactive engagement of patients, utilizing the full scope of pharmacists expertise in improving patients quality of life, but instead in utilizing pharmacists as a “checking machine”, new grads will slowly be assimilated into the same role.

If real change is to happen, it will have to come from us. We cannot afford to remain dispensers of drug products and information. Drugs and information are to be had much more conveniently and cheaper than in our pharmacies. Third party payers, government and patients themselves are figuring this out. But our expertise in determining, with the patient, the “best drug therapy” for them ie: solving drug related problems, is a skill no other profession has.  We need to embrace it, or risk losing it altogether. 

Worthy Praise

CCflickr shared by Avard Woolaver

Some of us are better at recognizing our own gifts and talents more than others.  Most people, if pressed, could list two or three of their own talents.  Usually they are obvious ones; personal skills or expertise that has contributed to our career, or positive personality traits we have developed.

What might not be obvious are the gifts you have that impact other’s lives.  Just like those around us may not be aware of the gifts we feel they have.  Humans can be slow to praise and general in our thanks.

The people we work alongside, those we run into day-to-day, probably have no idea that we appreciate them or recognize their contribution and hard work.  I was involved in a virtual chat with health leaders/practitioners across the globe (although mostly North American) and we were tossing around what the essential qualities were for showing appreciation and thankfulness.  Some of the prevailing thoughts were that praise should be:

  • Genuine:  Praise that is not genuine feels contrived.  If you don’t actually recognize the value of and appreciate the person, don’t say it.  This involves some reflection on our part, as everyone has value and talents.
  • Specific:  One of the most meaningful compliments I ever received was being told that I put people at ease, help them feel  comfortable.  That’s specific, and something I didn’t know. Referencing a specific incident or particular skill is valuable when offering praise.  It shows you recognize specific qualities and often encourages personal growth for the person being praised.
  • Generous Praise to colleagues, staff and friends should come with no strings attached, no “to-do” list at the end.  It should just be what it is, an acknowledgment of hard work, contribution, or talent.
  • Personal  What came up over and again is that praise which is personal means more.  Praising colleagues or staff publicly in newsletters, staff meetings, in posts online, all are important.  But so is the handwritten note, or the phone call or the one-on-one thanks.

We all need to feel acknowledged and appreciated.  Remembering to show gratitude or praising our colleagues and staff is an important part of team and community building.