USP executive notes importance of including different voices, perspectives for expansion of quality medicine.
Recently added by the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) to its inaugural list of FIPWiSE Rising Stars, Farah Towfic, PharmD, MBA, RPh, says her background, diversity, and mentors helped guide her to where she is today. She serves as the director of CEO operations at US Pharmacopeia (USP) and is the sole awardee from the United States in an international list of pharmacy professionals who have made a significant impact and brought innovations to pharmaceutical sciences and/or pharmacy education. Towfic’s multinational upbringing in Iraq, Turkey, and Cyprus before she moved to the United States has helped shape her international perspective on the field.
Moving from country to country as a child helped her learn to quickly adapt to new cultural environments, but her father’s diagnosis of asthma created some challenges for her family along the way, according to Towfic. “When I was about 7 years old and we were leaving Turkey, [my father] had [a very severe] asthma attack...because one of the med-ications he took was a β-blocker,” she said in an interview. “We couldn’t figure out what was going on. It was a pharma-cist [who said], ‘Hey, you’re taking a β-blocker, and you told me you use an inhaler; there’s a drug interaction going on.’ To be honest, that’s why I became a pharmacist.”
Watching the pharmacist save her father’s life at a young age taught Towfic about the significant impact a pharmacist can have on health and wellbeing. “That pharmacist figured this out, and that’s something I wanted to be able to do for others,” Towfic said.
“Having gone through my journey, moving so frequently, learning new languages, and hitting culture shock, it taught me that the world is a very big place and health disparities exist,” she said. “To be honest, it helped me create a global mindset toward finding a place like USP.”
Upon learning of USP’s mission to help expand the supply of quality medicines throughout the world, she knew she had found her calling. “I can’t think of something more fulfilling than to be able to help support that mission, having seen what health care is like in different countries, [as well as] having seen the impact of not being able to access quality medicines and what that can do,” Towfic said.
Further, she also had a clear understanding of how hon-oring the value of diverse perspectives, in part because of her own multinational background, can result in a more inclusive view on issues related to global medicine quality. “It’s made me, as a leader within the pharmacy profession, see the value and importance of being inclusive of diverse mindsets. Because certainly, I have had mentors who have listened to me, included me, [and] advocated for me to be at the table, and that’s pushed me toward ensuring a global mindset is inherent in all I do across my pharmacy profession,” Towfic said.
Making sure diverse voices have a seat at the table when making decisions regarding global medicine quality is an important way of ensuring everyone is empowered to pursue their passions, just as she did. “Recognizing the efforts of women in science and education creates the opportunity for us to share our unique stories. It enables someone to think, ‘Hey, I can do that, too,’” Towfic said.
“For me, being able to acknowledge and recognize the efforts of women in science, that’s exactly what it does,” she said. “It enables another woman to aspire [to] a role in a profession where maybe she thought she couldn’t do [it otherwise].”
The encouragement of mentors helped Towfic to more clearly see potential roles that she was qualified to pursue when she might otherwise have shied away because of being unsure whether she was the right fit.
“I’ve had so many mentors [who] have encouraged me along the way...to [not] say no to opportunities where I thought, ‘I’m not sure I’m a good fit for this,’” Towfic said. “That’s why it’s so important to acknowledge the efforts of women in pharmacy.”
The role of her mentors was critical on her career path. “Mentorship is the reason I’m sitting in this chair today. It’s the mentors [who] make you an effective practitioner through those soft skills, helping you develop that ability to communicate [and] network,” Towfic said.
“I heard about this job at USP through one of my mentors. When I [first] saw this opportunity, I thought, ‘Oh no, they’re looking for someone with decades of experience, and that’s not me,’” Towfic said. “There’s that doubt that occurs, and having mentors in your life tell you, ‘No, that’s you. Put your name in for that.’ The fact that they believe in you and encourage you helps break down barriers that are simply set by ourselves sometimes. I set that barrier for myself.”