HOPA President: ‘Women Excel in Team-based Care,’ Health Care Is Strongest With a Team-based Approach

Heidi D. Finnes, PharmD, BCOP, FHOPA, president of HOPA discusses some key recommendations to women interested in pursuing leadership roles in oncology pharmacy.

To celebrate Women Pharmacist Day, Pharmacy Times® interviewed Heidi D. Finnes, PharmD, BCOP, FHOPA, president of Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association (HOPA) on some of the moments that inspired her on her career path in oncology pharmacy, the role of mentorship in her career, and how her experience as a woman working in the field of oncology pharmacy changed throughout the span of her career.

This interview is a part of a Pharmacy Times® Women in Pharmacy series which highlights extraordinary women of diverse backgrounds who are achieving and innovating in the pharmacy field today.

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

Heidi Finnes: I actually have 2 parents that are teachers; my dad was a business teacher, and my mom was a social studies teacher in high school, and they encouraged me to do a mentorship program. So I had done a lot of the strength finding and kind of matching to your career types of things as well, and always had an interest really in science that stemmed kind of from a young age. We did a lot of—my brother and I—did a lot of science projects. So I think that really kind of helped me lead a little bit more to a science-type career.

But in high school, I did a mentorship program, where I followed for a semester, a different person, and so I chose to follow one of our local pharmacists. I grew up in a smaller town in Illinois, and so this pharmacist, Mr. Rinker, was in our town pharmacy that was connected to our clinic. So where you went to see the doctor, he had a pharmacy just as you walked out the door as patients would be discharged from the hospital. So he gave me different tasks that I could be in charge of while I was there, and he allowed me to participate in making some of the capsules and things like that he would make for kids who couldn't swallow different pills or didn't like the taste of different things.

I remember just being in awe of listening to him talk to providers on the phone, specifically physicians back then, when he had questions on prescriptions about patients’ medications that they may be taking, that maybe the doctor didn't know about, and his way of helping to teach patients the importance of how to take their medication correctly. I think seeing that impact that he had, in kind of the background of the science and the continued learning that my parents instilled, really helped me to think that pharmacy was a career that that fit my skill set and my personality moving forward.

Pharmacy Times®: What has been the role of mentorship in your career, and why can mentorship be particularly impactful for women in STEM fields?

Heidi Finnes: As I think about mentors I've had in my professional career, really many of those have been men, but I'm of the age probably where there were more male pharmacists when I started out, and that's definitely something that's changing.

I think, ever more important that we as women support one another, and really encourage one another to reach for the stars, and to try to achieve things that maybe we hadn't been comfortable doing before. I think I've always watched other female leaders, whether it be in organizations like the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association, physicians, nurse practitioners, or nurses in my own institution that are leaders, and I think using—maybe they're unknowing mentors—but using those little pieces that you learn from them really help to shape your future. As a pharmacist, and as a leader in oncology pharmacy, I feel that's my responsibility to help others try to have those opportunities as well.

Pharmacy Times®: Tell me about an opportunity you have had to be a mentor for women in oncology pharmacy.

Heidi Finnes: I do mentor; I have an awesome team of 6 pharmacists and 3 pharmacy technicians. We work in cancer research, pharmacy or investigational drug services, and I really see my role as their mentor to help them develop skills that maybe they didn't realize were things that they could excel in and help them find things that they're truly passionate about.

I also work with our PGY2 and some PGY1, but mostly our PGY2 oncology pharmacy residents, many of which are female. I think in those instances, it's really important to recognize different learning styles and different goals that people have—not everyone needs to be the same person. So helping them realize how they learn best, what they want to prioritize in their life, and how to help them achieve and feel good about developing those balances of work and home life, to make things better and to help them feel like they're being more successful in their career.

Pharmacy Times®: For women looking to take on roles of leadership in oncology pharmacy, what would you recommend they keep in mind as they move forward or consider future avenues?

Heidi Finnes: I think what I finally found is, sometimes you just have to take a chance. I decided to run to be HOPA president because I really felt that it was an organization that gave me so much that I wanted to give back to it. But I had delayed doing that for some time, because I thought I just don't have the time to dedicate to it.

I think the hard thing with being a woman, especially in leadership positions, is that feeling that you're sacrificing your family, your relationships, or some of those other things when you pursue leadership positions within your organization, your institution, or within your career. I think we have to get away from that misnomer. I guess I would encourage other women, if you want the opportunity to do these things, put your name in the hat and do them—there are so many people that are around to support you, and help you to be successful in those types of things, and look to others to give you advice.

But I think most importantly, set boundaries. It is difficult to manage all of these things but staying sane—and your family is still the most important priority, and I think that that's okay. I think women are finally kind of understanding it's okay to be successful, to be a leader, to have a family, and do all of these things. That is why we need one another to support and help us do that.

Pharmacy Times®: How has your experience as a woman working in the field of oncology pharmacy changed throughout the span of your career?

Heidi Finnes: There's a pharmacist at every avenue of your cancer journey. I think the difference that I see now is that you can work as much, and you can work as little [as you want], but still have such an impact on patients and their cancer journey as they go through things. It's such a different approach to more of an organizational getting the medication to the patients. But I think the approach now is so much more the care and safety associated with what pharmacists are doing—much of the monitoring for side effects, but also for efficacy associated with patients receiving medications for cancer therapy.

I think there's so many avenues of being more a part of a health care team. So it's not just the physician making the decisions. It's a nurse, it's a dietician, it's a coordinator that does research clinical trials, and the pharmacists that are helping take more complete and total care of that patient. I think we have to see these as opportunities to where we can show our expertise as pharmacists. But again, I think it's just showing the strength of health care is more of a team-based type of approach. I think women excel in those areas of support in that team and seeing the good that we can do for our patients in some of those roles and getting down to doing that workload for our patients.

Pharmacy Times®: What are some examples of how you saw female colleagues in oncology pharmacy being impacted professionally by the demands of the pandemic, and what did that look like?

Heidi Finnes: During the pandemic, I think many people were forced to be able to do their work at home, but to do their work at home while managing children who were schooling at home. I saw so many of my colleagues, that I am so impressed, and so I think indebted to as to how they were able to manage, being a mom, being someone who facilitates their kids’ education during the pandemic, while continuing to do their professional career or work from home as well.

I think some of the telling things from the pandemic were women who made the choice to take care of patients with COVID-19 and not go home to their families because of the concern of potentially giving COVID-19 to their families. I think it only shows what women are willing to do in order to do what's right for patients and for their care during a health crisis like COVID-19.

Pharmacy Times®: As we move forward, what are your hopes for the attention and focus paid to supporting and calling attention to the efforts of women in oncology pharmacy?

Heidi Finnes: I mean, I think obviously pay equity and women in leadership positions are going to be of utmost important to inspiring other women. As a woman, I look to other women leaders within the practice of pharmacy, someone like Rosalind Brewer from the Walgreens Boots Alliance, hearing her speak and hearing her thoughts and how she got to where she is I think is a way to inspire other women.