Guiding Women Within Health Care and the Significance of Self-Development, Improvement

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The vice president and chief pharmacy officer at City of Hope explains how she serves as a mentor for women within health care, the importance of networking, and staying educated.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Pharmacy Times interviewed Wafa Samara, PharmD, vice president and chief pharmacy officer at City of Hope, who reflects on her lack of female mentors—but she is appreciative of the sponsors she has received—and how she pays it forward to other women in health care. When it comes to self-development, Samara advises women to be confident, network, continue learning, and remain resilient in a workspace that is constantly evolving.

Key Takeaways

  1. Mentorship and Sponsorship: Wafa Samara underscores the importance of mentorship and sponsorship for women in health care, highlighting her commitment to guiding and supporting others in their careers. She emphasizes the value of mentoring junior staff and sponsoring individuals to open doors to opportunity and advancement, advocating for active engagement for the next generation of leaders.
  2. Stepping Out of Comfort Zones: Samara advises aspiring female pharmacists and health care professionals to step out of their comfort zones to evolve as leaders. She encourages taking chances, building networks, and finding sponsors who can amplify their voices even when they're not present. She also highlights the importance of staying ahead in the dynamic health care industry, emphasizing that learning is never-ending, and adaptability is necessary.
  3. Confidence and Respect: Confidence and respect are pivotal in Samara's leadership philosophy. She highlights the significance of showing up with confidence—even in moments of uncertainty—because it influences how others perceive and treat individuals. She also notes the significance of mutual respect when developing productive relationships and professional growth.

Pharmacy Times: Throughout your career, have you had any female mentors that guided and inspired? How do you pay it forward?

Wafa Samara: So unfortunately, I did not have a female role model or a mentor that I looked up to, or went to for questions, for advice, so that's why I made a commitment to myself when I advanced in my career, that I would do this [for] other women in pharmacy. I find myself looking back and thinking how amazing [it would have been] if I had a woman [role model or mentor] that understood how we women think, where we come from, the specific challenges that we have, and for that reason, I've worked with the American Public Health Association I've helped establish a national mentorship program. I take my time to mentor pharmacists [both] locally and across the US, and I do mentor people outside the pharmacy too. I find a pleasure in doing that, I think it's very important to remove roadblocks [and] to be a person that can give advice…and provide support if needed. I think it's very important to give back.

You know, I feel like so fortunate to have had mentors, male mentors, but I think it's very important that we find time to mentor, and I would encourage other female leaders to find time to mentor students, [those who are] early [in their] career, or even frontline staff. I do have a succession planning and in [that], mentorship is very important. I took a couple of very young junior leaders within the organization [under my wing]—managers, actually—and I see them becoming me 1 day.

I think it's not just important to mentor somebody, I think it's very important to sponsor somebody. In my career, I always had a sponsor. In my early career, it was a male, CEO or COO in the organization that sponsored me, somebody who always are thought of me in meetings and boardrooms, and advocated for me and made sure that [they] believed in my ability to do a project, get a new position, or be involved in something on a national level. And I do that now.

See, I was so fortunate at City of Hope, thinking about just my career [here], I had Debra Fields [and] Annette Walker who [have] been great sponsor[s] to me, and I think if sponsorships continue to happen, even if you are at a higher level in an organization or an executive in the organization, so not just mentorship, but somebody to give advice, somebody to shepherd through a process or phase in their career, but sponsor. I encourage every [female] leader to sponsor somebody and open doors for somebody who's junior to them.

Pharmacy Times: What advice would you give to aspiring female pharmacists—or other health care professionals—who want to advance into leadership positions?

Samara: I was asked lately to give up a White Coat Ceremony speech, and…I said, it's very important—I told the students and I'll tell this to everybody who listens—to take a chance [and] to step out of your comfort zone. If you really want to evolve as a leader, if you want to do more, if you want to learn more, you have to get out of your comfort zone. That is very important. And then I would say, again—to the same point that I was just saying earlier—find a sponsor in your organization [or] outside…find somebody who will be part of your voice, even when you're not around the table.

A very important thing that I learned really…early on in my career is [that] you need to build your network—and I tell this to the students when I give presentations—don't wait until you're ready to apply for a job, or you're ready to apply for residency, or [when] you’re ready to take the next move. Always build your network. [When] I go to meetings and the first thing I look for is who is the person around the room that I have not met, [the person] I don't know that, maybe [I may] need or I can benefit [from them], or they can be of help to me in the future. So always expand your network. [Another thing is to] always have the ability to find a friend. You know, I don't know everything—I know a lot of things—but if I'm asked a question, I always have somebody who's a subject matter expert in an area that I can call and get advice from, or I can get some answers from. So always build your network, don't wait.

For us in health care, health care is a very, very dynamic industry that moves fast and changes so fast. So, if you want to stay in the game, you have to stay ahead. Always learn. Learning does not stop. Always learn, always listen, always try to keep yourself educated. And then [my final point is] that…regardless of what you aspire to do as a woman, always be resilient, stay resilient. [Always] be inspired to do more, always be confident. I always say [that] the way you show up is very important. There are a lot of times where I did not know or I wasn't sure, but I always showed up very confident. If you show up confident, people will treat you differently than if you show up like somebody who's really not sure [or] does not know and is not 100% with it. Show up confident and always respect the people around you so you can get respect in return.

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