12 Things Pharmacy Students Can Do to Become Leaders

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Small choices during pharmacy school can help students on the path to becoming leaders in the field.

Pharmacists are constantly working as leaders in patient advocacy, medication safety, and patient safety. We must consistently demonstrate the significance of our profession because all pharmacists are leaders regardless of formal or informal positions.

Pharmacy students can begin by making small choices in pharmacy school that will support their growth as leaders. It is best to be prepared so that you would be ready when an opportunity presents itself, as opposed to waiting until there is one to do so.

Here are 12 suggestions that students can do to hone their leadership skills:

1. Get involved by joining an organization. If you don't know where to start, attend general meetings to gain a sense of the organization and its mission and values. Consider how the organization's mission and values align with your own, as well as how the organization could help you accomplish them. For example, the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA) would be an excellent organization for you if your desire is to help people in low-income communities or developing countries.

2. Be passionate about the mission and values of the organization. It is important that your values align with the organization you serve. If you do not believe in the mission, then how can you share that vision with others?

3. It is not what you say, but it is how you say it. The pharmacy world is full of diversity, but it is also a relatively small community. 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 people, including patients and medical professionals. It is often the delivery that matters more than the content itself, as the non-verbal communication can speak louder than words.

4. Be an active listener. When someone is attempting to avoid awkward gaps in conversation, it can be easy to prepare responses in advance without truly listening to the other person, which prevents a true, genuine connection. In addition to attentive listening, it is important to pay attention to the body language. Body language can convey more about a person than you may think. As a leader, being present in the moment is crucial because patients or other health providers can detect nonverbal cues that you display.

5. Be a mentor. The transition to pharmacy school can be challenging, but students who have mentors tend to persevere and perform better in both the didactic portions of pharmacy school as well as rotations. 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 one’s career.

6. Find a way to relieve your stress. It might be challenging to manage pharmacy school and other commitments, and students may quickly find themselves burnt out. It's essential to set aside time for relaxation and self-care. For instance, students can plan time on Fridays to do nothing related to schoolwork, which allows them to recharge before returning to doing other school tasks on Saturday.

7. Learn how to grow your emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence emphasizes the importance of understanding both your own and other people's feelings. Knowing how you affect people's feelings is a necessary skill for good leadership. It is generally not a good indicator when you believe you are performing adequately but other people disagree.

8. Be willing to get to know your peers. It is easy to be caught up in grades, but developing lasting relationships with your cohort is important. People feel appreciated when they can tell that you are engaged in what they have to say. In addition, you start to develop your network of colleagues even before graduation. Pharmacy is a very small world, and you will be surprised how your connections may land you your first job.

9. Be forward-thinking. There is always room for growth, that much is certain. 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, if you wanted to spread the word about fellowships and residencies, you could ask current fellows and residents if they would be willing to participate in a panel discussion. Students can also ask any questions they might have regarding what their current responsibilities are, why they chose this path, and how to best prepare during pharmacy school.

10. Be confident. The hardest thing for a student to develop is building their confidence and assertiveness, but the best advice anyone could provide is to just do it. If it involves public speaking, just go for it; the first time could be daunting, but with practice, you'll become better. Likewise, if you come prepared for interviews with various responses to questions that are frequently asked, your confidence will increase.

11. Be able to grow from constructive feedback. Most of the time, a good preceptor provides constructive feedback with the intention of helping you improve. Given that, your response to it shows how much you are willing to draw lessons from it, which is a feature that distinguishes a successful leader. Importantly, the learning process does not stop once you are in a leadership position. When things get tough in your career journey and you want a reminder, it is always good to consider why you chose this profession and the impact you hope to make on the people in your community.

12. Be organized and set goals. Believe it or not, time flies in pharmacy school. Setting both short-term and long-term goals will help you in stay focused and avoid getting overwhelmed along the way. Because the curriculum could get intense, take some time to set your priorities for the day, the week, or months in advance. It is important to have a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) to make the goals more attainable and achievable.

About the Authors

Shirley Lee is a fourth-year student at Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel School of Pharmacy and has obtained her master's in business administration. She is currently a part of the LAPPE program at Houston Methodist West Hospital.

Phuoc Anne Nguyen, PharmD, MS, BCPS, FTSHP, is a pharmacy manager of transitions and post-acute care at Harris Health System. She completed a combined Health-System Phramacy 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, and her professional interests include care coordination, population health, and digital health innovation.