Today, I interview Katasha Butler, MBA, PharmD, inpatient pharmacy supervisor and chair of diversity and inclusion of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Illiana Medical Center. She is also an entrepreneur—owning a wedding planning business (KSherrie+Company Planning Atelier) and an event and banquet hall (SOCIAL).
How long has your career in pharmacy spanned thus far, and what led you to your current day role?
KB: I have been a pharmacist for 11 years now. I always wanted to work for the VA. Prior to working for the VA, I worked as a pharmacy supervisor for another large health/hospital system in Indianapolis, IN, where I also worked as a student. But I’m from Danville, IL, and when my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I thought I could create a win-win by working for my dream hospital and help my parents take care of my grandmother back home.
What do you love about your current role at the VA?
KB: I enjoy managing the largest part of the pharmacy program at the VA—we have clinical, inpatient, and outpatient within the service and I manage inpatient. My chief gives me a lot of freedom on how I work with my team.
Also, I love being chair of diversity and inclusion for the hospital. I don’t get paid anything extra to do diversity and inclusion (other than time and training), but promoting diversity for the entire medical center is so much fun! I have the opportunity to plan observances and educational events for all types of cultural groups. I also get to work with human resources and the entire center so every special emphasis group can be heard and represented.
Right now, I’m working on a Black College Fair for the city of Danville, which has never happened in Vermillion County—ever. I still don’t know how I went to a black college, because no one ever talked about them back then, but I’m now working to change that.
What do you do outside of your pharmacy role and how does it enhance what you do professionally?
KB: The diversity work I do at the VA contributes to my personal job satisfaction. Also, being an entrepreneur and party planner helps me both with being a pharmacy manager and the diversity work—because I can get things done more creatively and see the bigger picture outside of my own department.
For example, instead of just a holiday celebration for the medical center last year, we rallied to donate hats, gloves and scarves to an elementary school in the Danville area. We have about 1500 employees at the VA, and to incentivize participation, those who donated could wear jeans to work one day. This was completely unheard of at the time, but we made it work by getting support.
I also try to make sure I do more for my own employees—with carry-ins, employee appreciation days, etc. We get out of the rut in our service and have more fun at work!
If you were talking to a newer pharmacist or someone wanting to switch to another position in pharmacy, what career advice would you have for him or her?
KB: As a new pharmacist you have a short window of opportunity after graduation to try out different areas of pharmacy in order to figure out what works for you.
I worked as a temporary pharmacist for a while and I went everywhere—long term care pharmacy, retail, clinics, rural hospitals, urban hospitals, and even mental institutions. Try everything you can in pharmacy. Once I discovered the management and administrative pathway, I went for it!
What is your biggest professional success thus far?
KB: Opening my businesses. While I totally love my job in VA, opening businesses and bootstrapping them—running a banquet hall and not taking out any loans and making it work—while going to school and working full time is what I’m most proud of at this point.
What’s your parting advice for pharmacists?
KB: Technical skills are important as a pharmacist, but people skills matter more. Interacting with people, choosing your words carefully, being part of a team, not alienating others, and having a positive, upbeat attitude goes a much longer way than just being a great clinician.
When I hire, I don’t look for the straight A students. I look at how you interact with others and how you will represent pharmacy when working with other departments. I can teach you how to check IVs, but nine out of ten times I can’t change your attitude. People skills matter. Of course, you need to have a license, but putting patients and people first is most important.
Erin Albert is a pharmacist, author, entrepreneur, lawyer, and associate professor at Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. For more on her writing, go to www.erinalbert.com.