Lessons from the pharmacy taught her about good communication. Now it’s her turn to educate pharmacists.
Jocelyn B. Tyson, PharmD, a New Jersey-born and Baltimore-based vaccine health and science specialist at Pfizer, became Toastmasters 2023 World Champion of Public Speaking by winning the International Speech Competition with a speech about overcoming one’s inner critic to achieve success. Tyson credits some of this success to her background in pharmacy, and it is her belief that the ability to communicate is paramount for pharmacists.
“I believe that pharmacy prepared me for Toastmasters,” Tyson told Pharmacy Times in a recent interview. “[At Toastmasters] the stage is bigger, and the audience is bigger… but having these [daily] communications [and] working with and talking to all different people definitely helped.”
Toastmasters is an organization that people join to develop their communication and public speaking skills. Members can choose pathways—such as leadership, team building, or humor—to develop better communication skills related to that pathway; members can also choose to participate in club level public speaking competitions, where they are tasked with delivering any 5-to-7-minute speech of their choosing, Tyson explains.
Those who win these smaller competitions can also move up the ranks and speak at the international competition, as was the case with Tyson, who delivered an award-winning speech about completing a triathlon (an endurance race consisting of swimming, biking, and running) in 2021. The deeper symbolism of speech— making choices to listen to the inner go-getter who says “yes” in the face of challenges as opposed to the tempting but denigrating “no”— are directly applicable to pharmacy, she explained.
“When it comes down to pushing yourself a little bit more within your career path, choosing some assignments, asking for promotions, or pushing yourself to go a little further—maybe into a disease state that you’re not familiar with— these are things that will come up and the inner critic always seems to step up and say, ‘You don’t know this yet,’” Tyson explained. “[These are] real life things that we must sometimes overcome.”
To that end, the inner critic baits many pharmacists into pushing themselves too far, well beyond their physical or emotional capacity, Tyson admits.
“Those moments—and just that exhaustion that I had—I can see how it can be relatable to burnout… feeling like you must keep going,” Tyson said. “I know that this is tough, especially for pharmacists.”
This inner critic can manifest in different ways at the workplace, but when it’s boiled down the solution stays the same—embrace a go-getter mindset, Tyson explains.
Supporting the go-getter mindset can look like having a better outlook about oneself. For pharmacists, this mindset can manifest in ways such as taking preemptive actions to avoid burnout, whether it might be taking moments of alone time, reaching out to people for help, or surrounding oneself with friends and supports. Tyson noted that it is important to not let it get to the point where it feels like “drowning” at work.
Additionally, communication is a key part of the go-getter mindset, and pharmacists who can effectively communicate with patients are the most well-suited to alleviate patient concerns.
For instance, the pharmacist who delivers an answer that is teeming with “ummmss, hmmmmsss, and uhhhhsss” when a patient asks question about a medication can bring down the patient’s confidence in their medication, Tyson explained.
“Understand [that] your patient feels confident [when] you are confident,” Tyson said.
In joining the Toastmasters organization, Tyson learned that definitive answers make for better communication, and she believes that this is exceptionally relevant in pharmacy. And just the same, the pharmacist who can effectively communicate can do a better job at ebbing the fears and inner critics of patients.
As the primary go-between between for the doctor and patient, the pharmacist can answer questions about treatment options and help patients to overcome lingering reservations, Tyson explained. However, if the patient’s inner critic prevents them from asking questions, the pharmacist’s ability to help becomes limited— this was a problem Tyson confronted firsthand while working in community pharmacy. Moreover, patients who did have the confidence to ask a question usually prefaced it with the statement, “I have a stupid question.”
While the patient’s questions are anything but that, Tyson said that patients may not be able see it that way unless the pharmacist intervenes. Ultimately, a valuable takeaway from learning to communicate is having the ability to engage in meaningful conversations with patients that allow them to overcome their inner critic, Tyson said. It can have a direct impact on their health.
“It’s important that the patient doesn't feel, in this case or that, that they are unsure or make a rash decision because not all the questions were answered,” Tyson said.
Joining a Toastmaster group is a “no-brainer” for pharmacy students first entering the profession, Tyson believes. It offers an actionable pathway to improve communication skills, opens the opportunity to network with other professionals, and build on skills that are advantageous to their career.
But young professionals do not have to join the organization to grow their skills, according to Tyson. Everyone should just try something new. “You never know where and how it will go or where you can develop or build,” Tyson said. “I didn't even think it was a possibility to get a World Championship after only 2 years [of doing Toastmasters], but I did.”
Tyson’s inner critic will always be there, she admits. “As a pharmacist, [or] in any career, that [can impact what] we decide to do.” But, according to Tyson, it can be worth it to push through and see what you’re capable of.