PLEI Perspectives: Will the Real Leaders Please Stand and Be Recognized?

Pharmacy CareersPharmacy Careers August 2015

Those who think that leadership is only about a title held by a select few are sadly mistaken.

There is a big difference between holding a leadership position in the pharmacy setting and actually being a leader.

It would be an understatement at this point to say that the practice of pharmacy is moving at an incredibly fast pace. We have all either experienced this change or are learning about it. One thing is for sure: change is here, and its pace is not letting up anytime soon. Who among us is going to step up and navigate our profession in a direction that benefits pharmacy as whole, keeping in mind that at the center of every health care decision is a patient’s life and well-being?

If you have attended any of the national, regional, or local meetings of our respected professional organizations in the past few years, then you have heard about the need for leaders to step up. Current leaders have been using a multitude of methods to inspire a new generation of pharmacists and students to be ready to direct our changing profession. Many of these sessions are filled with inspirational quotes and examples of leadership that have transformed the profession into what it is today.

Some sessions consider the consequences that could ensue if pharmacy does not take a leadership role, instead allowing other professions to shape the future of health care. No matter the meeting or the session, the message is the same: pharmacy needs great leaders to truly advance health care for the benefit of patients. That may seem like a tall order, but it is our reality and we must address it.

Many of you who thrive under pressure and either desire to or already hold a leadership role are excited about these opportunities. Others may be rolling your eyes, thinking this is not your forte and you will leave leadership to those who want it. Another subset might think that you would not mind stepping up, but you want to master your clinical or leadership skills first; maybe a leadership role is something you would consider in the distant future, but not today. Remember, whatever role you play in your career has the potential to be an important one. There is not a single position in pharmacy, or health care for that matter, that is not important in order to advance our profession.

We must understand the value of each and every person in order to effect change. Many people think of a leader as someone with a title and an office who makes decisions for his or her department. This is what I would call a “visible leader.” We could probably list the names of the visible leaders who represent us at our national, regional, and local professional meetings, but have you actually heard them speak and really listened to them? I challenge you to do so if you have not. Go listen to these leaders, reach out to them, and ask how they got where they are today and who helped them along the way.

The truth is that visible leaders are the product of the team that surrounds them. Leaders have had an amazing supporting cast of pharmacists, technicians, and administrative teams who have helped guide them. When you listen to them speak, they will likely tell you how each member of the pharmacy team makes a difference. It is never just 1 person alone who positively effects change; rather, it is often the cumulative efforts of the clinical specialist pushing for more services; the technician optimizing distribution methods; staff pharmacists maintaining accuracy; secretaries creating countless memos, e-mails, and schedules; and, of course, the visible leader who coordinates it all.

An article published in Innovations in Pharmacy, “Inviting Scholarship in Leadership in Pharmacy,” looks at the true meaning of leadership and explains why each component is so important. The authors talk about positional and nonpositional leaders and the reality of today’s environment: “Gone are the days of solely depending on the appointed or elected to pass a charge and specific directions onto followers who execute that single person’s vision.”1

What makes visible leaders unique is that they work hard to bring out the best in those around them, and for that, they are respected. Visible leaders are typically skilled at listening to their colleagues and incorporating their ideas into practice to benefit everyone. When complaints or suggestions are made, these leaders dig deeper to find the root cause of a problem or find the maximum potential of an idea. Only then can changes be made to better the workplace as a whole. It is a leader’s duty to mold a department comprised of pharmacists, technicians, and supporting staff into a cohesive unit.

In the article, “Leadership: A Simple Definition,” published in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacists, Marc R. Summerfield breaks down various leadership definitions and builds them into a single, simple definition: “Making things better.”2 A leader of pharmacy can be any member of the pharmacy team who comes to work every day seeking to give patients a better health care experience. A leader is someone who knows every aspect of his or her unique role and works to optimize his or her skills to improve patient outcomes. A leader is someone willing to work directly with other professionals over the phone, in person, or through other modes of communication technology in order to help patients. A leader is anyone who notices a breakdown in service, works hard to fix it for the patient, and communicates the problem to the rest of the team in order to prevent that situation from happening again. This list could go on forever, but you get the point. It takes true leadership to work hard each and every day, offering time and energy to serve patients.

Those who think that leadership is only about a title held by a select few are sadly mistaken. We need to change the way we view and acknowledge leaders throughout the profession of pharmacy and work to build relationships in the workplace. Schools of pharmacy and mentors should foster leadership in their students. We should all work as a team and acknowledge the work we do together.

As we continue to advance our profession, attaining credentials, degrees, and certifications will become even more necessary and important. Those who continue their education will gain appropriate recognition and will be considered leaders in their respective area of expertise. Whether or not pharmacists have earned additional credentials or undertaken specialized clinical residency training, they should feel like they are part of a team and understand the leadership role that they can take. Advancing the profession of pharmacy is truly a team effort, so each of you should stand and be recognized for the leadership you possess.

The purpose of this article is to inspire you to publicly recognize the dedication and passion you and your team give to the profession of pharmacy. It is important to share stories expounding the value of each individual who rises to the challenges of unrelenting changes in technology, staffing levels, and the interconnectivity of health care. It is my hope that you will share the ways in which you and your colleagues contribute to our profession and the positive effect that these efforts have on your team and on the patients you serve.

Kevin Anderson, a fourth-year student pharmacist at Wingate University School of Pharmacy, attended a leadership seminar hosted by the Pharmacy Leadership and Education Institute (PLEI).


1. Sorensen TD, Traynor AP, Janke KK. Inviting scholarship in leadership in pharmacy. Inov Pharm. 2010;1(1)1-6.

2. Summerfield MR. Leadership: a simple definition. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2014;71(3):251-253. doi: 10.2146/ajhp130435.

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