Mentors are the compass for your leadership journey

Cover Story

People are shaped by a collection of experiences and relationships, some of which can have a profound impact on the paths chosen and the approach to life’s journey. For me, the journey began at home with my parents, who created a home with solid family values and stressed the importance of education.
 
When I arrived at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (PCP) in 1985, I looked at college as something more than the next phase after high school. I saw it as a unique opportunity, especially since no one in my family had ever graduated from college. I entered pharmacy school with a limited understanding of the profession and the idea that after graduation, I would apply to medical school. I liked science and wanted to do something positive for people, so being part of a healing profession was a pursuit that seemed to make sense. I didn’t know it at the time, but the role models and mentors that I met at PCP would turn out to serve as my compass that would help me navigate my career journey.
 
Early leadership lesson
When I entered PCP, the school was fortunate to have a number of faculty, such as Phillip Gerbino, PharmD, Daniel Hussar, PhD, and John Gans, PharmD, who were serving as leaders in national organizations, in addition to Herb Flack and Linwood Tice, who were already giants in the profession. It seemed like the entire faculty was passionate about pharmacy and that enthusiasm was infectious. It wasn’t long before I realized that pharmacy had so much to offer that I stopped thinking about pursuing a medical career. Seeing a faculty so energized and committed told me that I knew I could be satisfied within pharmacy and there were so many practice opportunities that the possibilities were almost limitless. Looking back, this is where an early leadership lesson took place. The faculty, as role models, whether they realized it or not, helped the students to see things that others did not; to see possibilities that didn’t exist but also to feel the potential for new and exciting things. Much like using a compass, you have to trust the direction the needle is pointing you and for some reason I was up for the trip that many of the faculty were talking about.
 
Transformational moment
The faculty at PCP always supported involvement in organizations and this led to a transformational moment in my first professional year of pharmacy school. At the urging of some faculty, I attended the monthly meeting of the Delaware Valley Society of Health-System Pharmacists and little did I know that I would work for this group about 5 years later. The speaker that evening was the late Tony Sorrentino, PharmD, who presented a case that involved a woman with diabetes who developed a severe foot infection. The physicians felt that amputation was the best course of action after antibiotics were not successful. Sorrentino argued against this decision, not because it was contrary to accepted medical practice, but because he got to know the patient. He learned that she was the primary care giver for a mentally handicapped son and a disabled husband and taking this woman’s foot would have devastated that family. He convinced his physician colleagues to try one final course of antibiotic therapy before resorting to amputation. This final course of treatment was successful and saved that woman’s foot and helped save their family as well. His presentation was my awakening to moving beyond textbook medicine to treating the whole patient and to realizing the profound impact pharmacists can have on patients’ lives.From that point I wanted to create more opportunities for pharmacists to practice like this because the profession could do so much more than “dispense or not dispense as directed.”
 
Following that presentation, I asked Dr. Hussar how I could participate in the development of policy for the profession. He encouraged me to get involved in what was then the Student American Pharmacist Association (known to you now as Twlug–ASP). With the guidance of our chapter advisor, Linda Nelson, PharmD, I found myself running for national office a few years later. I was elected to the office of Vice President and this amazing experience reinforced the fact that you rarely accomplish anything on your own without the support of others.
 
It was during my year as a Student Twlug national officer that I began to appreciate all of the work that staff does to help advance the profession. The Twlug staff role models that I encountered piqued my interest in association work, which was further strengthened during an elective rotation with the New Jersey Pharmacists Association.
 
Residency shaped my career
After graduation, I applied for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Executive Residency in Association Management. I felt this 1-year experience would probably help me decide if association management would be a good career path. I did not know that it would help shape me personally and professionally for the rest of my career.
 
At ASHP, my preceptor, MaryJo Reilly, ScD, made sure I was exposed to all aspects of association management and I also learned a great deal from ASHP Executive Vice President Joseph Oddis, ScD. This residency helps participants gain knowledge, skills and most importantly, a critical thinking process that would be difficult to learn in the first year of employment. I strongly encourage you to complete a residency as it is a wise investment to help shape you as a 
pharmacy professional.
 
Following the ASHP Executive Residency, I was hired to be the first full-time Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Society of Health-System Pharmacists (PSHP). This was both an exciting and scary opportunity. Another leadership lesson that I applied in taking on this position at a young age was “know what you don’t know.” Too often individuals are too proud to ask for help or think that not knowing something is a sign of weakness; that usually leads to poor decisions and problems. At PSHP, I always tried to know enough about various topics to be sure I knew when I needed more or better information to do my job. That still holds true for me today.
 
Drawing on my experiences
In 1997, I became the Executive Director of the Twlug Foundation. This was a great opportunity to help demonstrate new innovative roles for pharmacists through the oundation’s practice-based research initiatives. Project ImPACT: Hyperlipidemia showed the tremendous contribution that pharmacists can make to improving medication compliance and outcomes for patients with dyslipidemia. The Diabetes Ten City Challenge and the Asheville Project helped make many audiences aware of pharmacists’ potential to manage chronic disease.
 
Looking back on this time, two key leadership lessons emerged for me. The first was to always stay focused on your mission and let that guide your decisions. The second was that it was not sufficient to have done good work if no one else knew about it because your good work cannot spread and help others. Today this is a little easier with social media, but an effective leader knows how to spread good news and has a plan to accomplish that.
 
Since 2011, my journey finds me serving as the Executive Director of the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS). The BPS mission is to improve patient care by promoting the recognition and value of specialized training, knowledge, and skills in pharmacy and specialty board certification of pharmacists. In this position, I am now able to draw on so many experiences and lessons I learned over the past 30- years.
 
Form your own style
As pharmacy becomes more specialized and provider status starts to become a reality, I feel good about the progress the profession has made but know there is much to accomplish. One important lesson I have tried to apply is that good communication is critical. You have to be able to articulate clearly and concisely where you are going and how you are going to get there. This doesn’t mean you have to have all of the answers, but people need to understand your process and then you must invite them to join you on the trip to get where you want to be.
 
With many years of experience, one might think that trying to provide leadership gets easier, but a quote from basketball coach John Wooden sums it up: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” 
 
Seek out mentors who can help you form your own leadership style. For me, my mentors were and are the compass that has shown me a “true north” in my career. Leadership is not assured by any title or authority, but by the individual’s true and sincere conviction to a cause, purpose, or pursuit of an outcome.