Blogs: Focus on Current Thinking

Developing a Growth Mindset for Pharmacy

Published Online: Thursday, June 19, 2014
Among the more popular terms in educational discussions these days are “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset.” I have heard these terms used in relationship to the university where I work and in the elementary school that my kids attend.

The use of fixed mindset is usually made in a negative context, as we do not want students to have one. People with fixed mindsets tend to avoid challenges, give up easily, and ignore feedback. They also try to look smart and are threatened by others. Instead of wanting to grow in new knowledge and learn new skills, they tend to maintain status quo.1

On the other end of the spectrum is the idea of a growth mindset. These individuals are not daunted by challenges, persist despite the obstacles, and learn from criticism. More important, they have a desire to learn and be inspired by others.1 

Of these 2 terms, which one would you like to be a characteristic of you, your children, and those with whom you work? How about your profession?

Most of the conversations where this term arises are around a desire to develop a growth mindset in all of our students, working with those who have a fixed mindset to transition to a growth mindset. In reflecting upon these terms and concepts, I wondered, how can we ensure that our profession, pharmacy departments, and practicing pharmacists are characterized by a growth mindset? While I do not think there is a playbook that states this is what has to be done, I do believe that the department’s leadership and the culture of the organization can be very influential in this quest. In order to attain and remain in this state, I recommend the following:
  1. Have a rallying mission. When an employee knows and believes in the mission of the organization, they are more willing to be committed to achieving it and doing what is necessary to assist the organization. They might not have the correct skills to be successful, but they are willing to challenge themselves to attain them. This is 1 reason why many people are willing to work at nonprofit organizations, even though it may mean less salary. Having employee buy-in to the aims and goals of the department is so important that the director should spend time communicating these in all potential hires. Doing so at orientation after they are employed is too late. If one does not agree with the mission and is not willing to sacrifice to achieve it, they should not be given an offer of employment.
  2. Be an undercover boss. Every director should spend significant time doing the job of the front-line employee. While it is easy to provide many reasons why this cannot be accomplished, it would give the leader an opportunity to discuss what frustrates an employee and what the job actually is, and to discover the disconnect between where the leader wants to go and what the others know about the direction. It will also allow one to develop relationships with others in the department that you do not typically get to know.
  3. Interact with students and residents. Not only can these individuals provide you with optimism about the future of the profession, but they have tremendous insight into pharmacy and your workplace. They can provide thoughts on what is working well and what can be improved. In addition, precepting is the right thing to do for the profession and pharmacy students can work on projects that positively contribute to departmental goals.
  4. Remove the disconnect between education and practice. If you want to develop a growth mindset in your employees, one needs to have a department where people can learn and learning is encouraged. So much of what we do and implement is either based on history or from networking, not evidence. Having a culture where ideas are challenged, tested, and validated is necessary to achieve this. The culture of the organization can be a major factor influencing this goal, and it starts with leadership.
  5. We need leaders. We should all be striving to develop leaders in our organization. Not only are they desperately needed, but these individuals usually have a growth mindset, and they are up to tackling challenges and not settling for the status quo. They are usually infectious in encouraging individuals out of their fixed mindset.
I hope you agree with me that we need to have a profession that is categorized as having a growth mindset. Unfortunately, I fear the reverse is true. While changing the whole profession is a daunting task, one can start with your department. All change is local and if people commit to implementing these strategies, our classification of having a fixed mindset can shift and we will be able to grow and tackle all of the many challenges facing us.

I would appreciate any insights you might have on this perspective. You can let me know what you think by emailing me at

  1. Hill C, Corbett C, St. Rose A. American Association of University Women report. Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. February 2010.
Stephen F. Eckel, PharmD, MHA, Pharmacy Times Health-System Edition Editor
Blog Info
Stephen Eckel is an avid reader on issues impacting the practice of health-system pharmacy. His writings discuss recent articles or books he has read, with perspectives on how they relate to the current practice of health-system pharmacy. He enjoys hearing feedback from readers of his work, even if they do not agree with his opinions.
Author Bio
Stephen Eckel received his bachelor of science in pharmacy and doctor of pharmacy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He completed a pharmacy practice residency at Duke University Medical Center and then joined UNC Hospitals as a clinical pharmacist. Eckel also holds a master's of health care administration from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Eckel is a clinical associate professor in the Division of Practice Advancement and Clinical Education and is the division's vice chair for graduate and postgraduate education. He is also director of graduate studies and is in charge of the 2-year master of science program in pharmaceutical sciences with a specialization in health-system pharmacy administration, which is hosted at multiple sites across North Carolina. He is associate director of pharmacy and director of pharmacy residency programs at UNC Hospitals, where he leads and develops a dynamic group of patient-care providers. He has worked with almost 200 residents in his career. Eckel is a board certified pharmacotherapy specialist.

As an innovator and entrepreneur, Eckel spearheaded the development of UNC Pharmacy Grand Rounds with ASHP and launched ChemoGLO LLC with Bill Zamboni, PharmD, PhD. He is the editor of the health-system edition of Pharmacy Times and a passionate supporter of the role of the pharmacist in patient care. He regularly publishes his research and is frequently asked to speak around the world on these issues.

Eckel has also been very active in the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists. He has been elected chair of the Acute Care Practice Forum and a board member. He has served many years in the ASHP House of Delegates. He was also the chair of the ASHP Council of Pharmacy Practice from 2009 to 2010. His is a Fellow of ASHP and APhA.
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