Pharmacists serve as advocates to optimize patient pharmaceutical care, advance the profession, and positively influence the community.
Today, pharmacists continue to be leaders in the evolving health care landscape, especially in patient advocacy and patient safety. Pharmacy students can begin by making small choices in pharmacy school that will support their growth as pharmacy leaders. Students need to prepare so they can be ready when an opportunity presents itself.
All pharmacists are leaders regardless of formal or informal positions, serving as advocates to optimize patient pharmaceutical care, advance the profession, and positively influence the community. Pharmacists consistently add value to patients, health care ecosystems, and the overall community. Here are 12 ways students can hone their leadership skills:
1. Get involved by joining an organization. Attend general meetings to gain a sense of the organization and its mission and values. Consider how the organization intends to fulfill these values. For example, the Student National Pharmaceutical Association is dedicated to helping improve the health, educational, and social environment of minority communities.
2. Be passionate about the mission and values of the organization. It is important for the student’s values to align with the organization they will be representing. How can the mission help students share their vision with others?
3. It is not what is said, but how it is said. The pharmacy community is very small and diverse, so it is important to learn how to effectively communicate with different types of personalities. In pharmacy school, students are taught to interact with a wide range of individuals, including patients and medical professionals. In addition, when speaking with patients, ask open-ended questions to gather as much information as possible, which also encourages a dialogue. It is often the delivery that matters more than the content itself, as nonverbal actions speak louder than words.
4. Be an active listener. In an attempt to avoid awkward gaps in the conversations, the individual might prepare responses in advance without truly listening to what the other individual has to say. This can prevent a genuine connection. It is also important to pay attention to body language, which can convey more about someone than what they say. As a leader, being present in the moment is crucial, as individuals can detect nonverbal cues.
5. Be a mentor. The transition to a graduate program, such as pharmacy school, can be challenging. Students who have mentors tend to persevere and perform better during the academic year or during their rotation. If there is an opportunity to participate in a mentor-mentee program for the incoming class, take that opportunity to pay it forward. It will also provide the student a chance to get to know the mentee better and show them that they can rely on the mentor in difficult times. The mentoring time is precious and can be impactful to a mentee throughout a student’s career.
6. Find a way to relieve stress. It might be challenging to manage pharmacy school and other commitments, and students may quickly get burned out. It’s essential to set aside time for relaxation and self-care. For instance, a student can plan time on Friday to do nothing related to schoolwork, which allows the individual to recharge before returning to doing school tasks on Saturday.
7. Learn how to grow emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence heavily emphasizes the importance of understanding both one’s emotions and other individuals’ feelings. Knowing how emotions affect others’ feelings is a necessary skill for good leadership.
8. Be willing to get to know peers. It is easy to be caught up in grades, but developing lasting relationships with peers is important. Individuals feel appreciated when the individual listening to them is engaged. In addition, this could help develop a network of colleagues even before graduation. Pharmacy is a very small world, and these connections can help with employment opportunities.
9. Be strategic. There is always room for growth. For organizations, increasing membership engagement is a continuous challenge. Resources must be made available in order for individuals to see the organization’s value. For instance, to spread the word about fellowships and residencies, ask current fellows and residents whether they would participate in a panel discussion. Students can also ask questions regarding what their current responsibilities are, why they chose this path, and how to best prepare during pharmacy school.
10. Be confident. It can be hard for students to build confidence and assertiveness, but the best advice is to just do it. If it involves public speaking, just go for it. The first time could be daunting, but with practice, it will become easier. Likewise, come prepared for interviews with responses to frequently asked questions. This will help build confidence.
11. Be able to grow from constructive feedback. Most of the time, a good preceptor provides constructive feedback with the intention to help improvement. Responding positively to feedback shows a willingness to draw lessons from it, a feature that distinguishes a successful leader. Upon gaining leadership, the learning process does not stop. When things get tough, it is always good to consider why the profession is important and the impact it can make on the community.
12. Be organized and set goals. Time flies in pharmacy school. Setting both short- and long-term goals will help you stay focused and avoid getting overwhelmed. Because the curriculum could get intense, take some time to set priorities for the day, the week, or months in advance. It is important to have SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) to make them more achievable.
About the Authors
Shirley Lee, MBA, is a fourth-year student at Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel School of Pharmacy and has her master's in business administration. She is part of the Longitudinal Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences program at Houston Methodist West Hospital.
Phuoc Anne Nguyen, PharmD, MS, MCPS, FTSHP, is a pharmacy manager of transitions and postacute care at Harris Health System. She completede a combined health-system pharmacy administration residency at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, with a master of science in health outcomes and policy at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy. In 2022, she completed a Population Health Fellowship with the CDC. She is a passionate and visionary pharmacy leader whose professional interests include care coordination, population health, and digital health innovation.