FIP CEO: In Pharmacists’ Emerging Roles, ‘We Need to Deliver What We're Doing Well, Not Wait for Someone's Approval of Our Role’ in Health Care


As a part of the Women in Pharmacy series, Catherine Duggan, FRPharmS, CEO of International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), explains her hopes for the pharmacy profession following pharmacists’ pivotal and expanding roles in the pandemic.

As a part of Pharmacy Times® Women in Pharmacy series celebrating Women Pharmacists Day, Pharmacy Times® interviewed Catherine​ Duggan, FRPharmS, honorary professor and chief executive officer of International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), on what inspired her to pursue a career in the pharmacy profession and how her experience of being a leader who is a woman changed over time.

Pharmacy Times®: What inspired you to pursue a career in the pharmacy profession?

Catherine Duggan: My story is not necessarily as orthodox as many other pharmacists. So when I was at school, and I went to a convent school, and girls were split in 2 or 3 different types—you would either become a nurse or a doctor, a teacher or a lawyer, or maybe a secretary. Those were the careers that you were pushed into.

So at that point, my teachers were very keen with my portfolio of work that I go into medicine. So I applied for medicine my first time, and I didn't get my grades that time. So when I reapplied, I had to be more flexible in my thinking. I had to go and think about what would I do if I didn't get into medicine, or would I think about another career. And I did—I thought about pharmacy.

I was really lucky, because in the UK, when you get your A levels, which are the leaving school exams that you have to take, there's a process called clearing—that's where I'm certain universities may have a space on their course—it's a bit like a lottery. But my dear old dad managed to get me an interview at the School of Pharmacy, University of London. I was interviewed by the then dean, and started literally 3 weeks later at the School of Pharmacy.

It's quite funny, because when I look back at all of my career, some of the science in pharmacy would be a stretch for me. I've got quite a broad portfolio of skills, I realized as I've got older, but certain elements I really shone out. But I wouldn't say that I found it the easiest of times, not that you should find your degree easy, particularly. I'm really, really humbled to find myself all those years later, some 31 years later, as CEO of the global federation for the profession—I'm really, really honored with this. I think a bit of humility, a bit of honesty about how we got where we've got to, and how sometimes you might have to change your plans, really, I think offers people earlier in their career, the ability to see that it doesn't—it's not about mistakes, it's about making choices as you go along that fit your circumstance and also you take opportunities.

I do quite a lot of mentoring, for lots of reasons. But one of them is if I could have had a little bit of the insight that I've got now, to tell myself 20 to 30 years ago, I probably would have done things a bit differently, and maybe even caused myself less stress. But additionally, it's to get out to some of the people earlier in their careers—just take a chance. You can always change direction later on. But don't think that things that you do fix your position for the rest of your life. We've got to be a bit more kind to ourselves, I think.

Pharmacy Times®: What has been the role of mentorship in your career?

Catherine Duggan: I think I have found mentors without realizing along the way. I've been reflecting that I went to my first FIP Congress in 1992, which was 30 years ago, and I've done a project in my pre-reg year, that's the year before you qualify—so you've left university and you do it like a training year, and that was one of the best opportunities that I was given. It was about pharmacists and working in residential homes for the elderly, which is still really important now. But also, I made some friends there who were thinking about their career choices, they were at my stage. I was also really lucky to always have good relations with some of those university lecturers, and professors and different people who I still would turn to today.

At each step along the way, I've just found myself being able to ask people who I'm in contact with for their advice. That's what I view mentorship as—I don't view mentorship as giving you unnecessarily harsh feedback, I think you've got to remember that your mentors will probably take quite a kindly view. If you want to be pushed and stretched and developed, then you need to invest in a coach.

Think about your career as like an exercise aspiration or you're in training for something. So that's where a coach comes in. They can move you from A to B, or to C, and you'll learn lessons from them. That will help you in other parts of your career. But mentorship is so important for that networking along the way and creating these allies and friends and genius people who you could touch base with some 30 years later. It's a true privilege to have some of those people in my life.

Pharmacy Times®: How has your background, perhaps even your childhood or youth, helped to shape your professional goals, work, and efforts in pharmacy?

Catherine Duggan: I come from a very Irish family. I'm an Irish national myself. We were brought up in the UK, but we were very rooted in Ireland and with an Irish background.

My mom was a nurse, and my dad was an accountant. They both worked super hard, but they also loved to have some fun. So, I would do my little diaries at primary school telling stories of relatives and friends popping by at the weekend and there would be huge hoolies and parties and perhaps some snoozing on a Sunday after the big late night before, and I realized after a while that wasn't necessarily the background that many of my school friends were having.

Then along the way, I realized, probably a little bit later than I would like, that you might try and put on a facade for work, you might have a professional aura that because—I really do love my job. I'm really, really involved in pharmacy in most of my life, and I'm married to a pharmacist. I'm very, very involved in my career. I realized that I couldn't have a fake face for work and a fake face for play, because a lot of those people would be the same people. So I've really understood that I need to have a level of authenticity, allowing some of my personality to shine through. That doesn't mean I'm unprofessional. That just means that I'm a bit more authentic at moments, and that I am proud of my heritage and my background, and the way I am.

And that—Alana, when we sometimes get told that we're too much of this or too much of that—instead of taking that as a criticism that we have to change, we use that as a powerful inspiration. So I pride myself on my emotional intelligence. I pride myself in the fact that I'm a chatterbox, and I can get to know people. What people may not know is that whilst I talk a lot, I can also listen a lot. So I use that to my advantage. I use my people senses to my advantage as well.

I wish I'd had somebody to tell me that earlier in my career, because I think the phrase, ‘You're too much’ is used very much with women. I've heard a lot of my colleagues and my friends tell me this, and we use it as a stick to beat ourselves with, whereas actually, we can use it to just create a stronger version of ourselves. That also works in your personal life as well as your professional life. I think that's where the authenticity trick comes in loud and clear, really, for me.

Pharmacy Times®: Were you or any female-identifying colleagues impacted professionally by the demands of the pandemic, and what did that impact look like?

Catherine Duggan: So you must remember that I'm in a privileged position as CEO of FIP. All of my team stepped up and stepped into new working practices, new ways of working, and really quite longer working hours, because we realized that the professionals we were serving were on the frontlines.

But I can tell you that many of my friends, my female friends, and even if they had clinical jobs, and they'd be working from home, perhaps a day or so we can in the hospital a day or so we can now try and keep themselves separate from their families, if there was any risk to their family—they ended up doing more, and there's all sorts of reasons for this.

We also have initiative at FIP called FIPWiSE, which is women in science and education. One of the things that we noticed there was that perhaps before the pandemic, there might be factors that may hold people back—women back in those roles, that while we're a female profession, broadly, the majority, that we don't always see senior people—female senior people. So we really were using this to a big effect. We were thinking about the additional pressures that people were finding.

I think one of the things for the pandemic was, if people were behind a screen, they would often put on a facade that everything's okay. They found that hard to break—they missed that personal contact. So we had to be really clear that just because you're being professional on the screen doesn't mean that you can't tell people that you’re having a tough time. The second thing was the ability to take some of the pressure off yourself. Whether that be the home demands, the family demands, the children demands, the work demands, the partner demands, or your career, or also to ask others to help you manage asking for help is a really big thing that I saw many of my team, many of my peers struggle with. But when they started to do it, we developed this way of sharing things that they were doing well, so they almost did it for the team. That's something that we need to take forward.

Alana, we're out of the acute phase of the pandemic, but it's still here. I've heard of 2 friends today who've tested positive who are not very well. Additionally, we've got all of the hangover from the pandemic, things that really impacted us, as well as all of the work that we've still got to do and more that we've got to deliver. So I think the stress has changed as we've gone along the 1000 days with COVID, as we call it in FIP.

Pharmacy Times®: With your work as the CEO of FIP, which places you on a global stage with a rather global spotlight, how has your experience of being a leader who is a woman changed over time?

Catherine Duggan: So being a leader as a woman when I first became chair of the UK CPA in 2008, so that's the UK Clinical Pharmacy Association, many of my peers and my friends and my mentors, my coaches and everybody at that time, we had very much equality and equity at our hearts, I didn't think it was going to be a problem being a leader, or being a woman, as a leader. I thought my problems would be around the issues themselves rather than the issue of me being a woman. I was really taken aback by some of the behaviors I encountered.

But I would say, this is one of the most essential things that you need to do—if you take it for granted that you're going to be treated equally, most times that will come off. But if you expose yourself to leadership positions at a younger stage, you can learn where those development opportunities are necessary. Then when you get to a role like mine, my stage of life, I'm a little bit more prepared for any bias that I may face.

But I will tell you something, I really haven't faced it at FIP; I really haven't. I think I'm very clear with people that I'm honored and privileged to be the first woman CEO. But I also think—I'll be really honest with you—there's a virtue of being the first one because no one can compare me to the other women CEOs. I just have to focus on being the best I can be, rather than fulfilling any preconceived idea of what a woman leader would be. I think there might have been some doubts at some times, but I don't let that stop me. I don't ask for the doubts. So I think that's another virtue of getting older, getting more experienced being at this stage of my life.

I also think that definitely helped with the pandemic, I just had to do the best I could in the pandemic, rather than have to prove that I was worthy of being CEO. Because I've got a really amazing president and bureau; all of my governing body are really, really trusting. So they just assumed that I would get on with it, and there was no question of will she be able to get on with it. So some of those things you can take for granted. But you have to also be aware that you might be able to influence the environment yourself.

Pharmacy Times®: Do you have any recommendations or guidance for women in the pharmacy profession who are looking to advance into leadership or executive roles?

Catherine Duggan: I would say expose yourself to some voluntary leadership positions early in your career when it doesn't matter so much what happens and when you can really reflect on how you might develop yourself in the future. That takes my previous example forward a little bit—and I think that that would be really good advice for anybody.

Don't wait till you think you're ready to be a leader. Put yourself forward for some things. Also, put yourself forward for the things that you may not be super expert in. Because you might find yourself with a skill set that you wouldn't have assumed that you had. But additionally, if you put yourself at leadership, volunteering positions in your pet projects, and you find it super difficult, that ruins your pet project for you. And making yourself a leader in research, when you're young in your career, maybe don't go for that if you want to be a researcher, maybe go for trying something else out. So you can test you can do your teething on that area. I think the thing about surrounding yourself with mentors and friends and chaps, just do that in spades because they will be behind you, and you can share those experiences. There's a few of you engaged in a couple of these activities, you really can grow together. And you also then will have a network for life. I tell you, there's nothing better than these friends that you meet who you've met 30 years ago, and there's a reason why you were friends 30 years ago, and you're still friends because you still click, and your values still align. That's really, really good. And they know you—you don't have to explain yourself, which is really, really super. You can feel like you're coming home to those friends.

So it is for me, I think it's about taking an opportunity and not putting so much pressure on yourself that you have to be perfect when you're early in your career. Use it as a learning experience for other experiences in your life, and surround yourself with networks of chums and friends and people you trust—those things as you grow in your life will hold you in good stead as you take on different roles.

Pharmacy Times®: What are your hopes for the attention and focus paid to supporting and calling attention to the efforts of women in pharmacy as we move forward to define new workplace standards in a post-pandemic world?

Catherine Duggan: Absolutely, so my wish for our profession is that we become more assured of the contribution we give without worrying so much about how we're seen. I think our profession needs to understand, appreciate, and grow our professional self-esteem to warrant the new roles that we're going to have to deliver. We are one of the professions that seeks to defend our roles and provide all the evidence for all we do all the time. And sometimes just doing the role will be enough, and sometimes the evidence doesn't have to be PhD-wise. So it's about having the confidence that goes with that, and I think our female colleagues might need that even more.

As I mentioned, when we seek feedback—so firstly, know when to seek feedback and know when not to. Don't be too willing to give that feedback opportunity to someone else. Think about it yourself. Think about a dear friend who might give you truths—or even tell you that you're wonderful, at a certain point. And don't take feedback internally if you didn't ask for it. That's one of the biggest lessons I've had.

The other piece is that we're bright people in our profession. We need to speak brightly, be bright, and be treated as though we're bright. And that requires a little bit of assertion, a bit of confidence, a little bit of understanding yourself and how you come across best. So that would be an investment piece, I think in us as individuals over the next decade, as we prove our worth and live our worth, without waiting to prove our worth, if that makes sense, Alana.

I think what I'm trying to say is that we need to just get on and deliver what we're doing well and prove that along the way rather than wait for someone's approval of our role. We know that in all the communities globally, that the patients and the public really saw pharmacy for what it is whether they'd had experienced a pharmacy in the past or not, because we were the shining lights on every high street in every community, no matter what country.

So if we can use patient testimonials, we can use the experience of what an emergency allowed us to do and build from there—give the evidence that we have, not strive for the evidence that someone else might need, I think we will be speedier at achieving our full worth.

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