Hone these skills and you can change the world.
While the traditional pharmacy curriculum stresses pharmacy-specific knowledge such as pharmacokinetics, physiology, pharmacology, therapeutics etc., I began to realize after graduation that there is a whole other set of skills that are equally necessary not only to practice as a pharmacist, but also to improve health care, to advance your career (especially those wanting to move into management or administrative roles), and to practice to the best of our abilities and do the best for our patients. While it is critical that we maintain a high level of knowledge in those traditional areas, in my opinion these skills are equally important:
1. Conflict resolution and accountability: We will all end up being in situations where doing the best thing for the patient will require skills beyond just being capable of ‘stating the facts’ to other people. Consider the following examples: 1) you work for a hospital and 1 of the top revenue-producing, influential physicians prescribes opioids and benzodiazepines together regularly for post-surgical patients despite knowledge of the FDA black box warning and known risk, 2) you see a nurse enter patient rooms without sanitizing or washing their hands, 3) a physician prescribes a fentanyl patch to a patient that has only tried Tylenol previously, or 4) a pharmacist you work with asks technicians to perform pharmacist-only tasks, such as patient counseling or OTC recommendations because ‘they know as much as a pharmacist.’ Not only do these situations happen but a few of the above situations have happened to me personally.
There are specific, learnable skills that can help you deal with situations such as the ones above.
My favorite resources are those published by a company called VitalSmarts. One of their books, titled Crucial Conversations1, teaches techniques to handle situations when the stakes are high, there are opposing views, and there is a lot of emotion. In it, they teach specific steps such as how to focus on what you really want, how to master your stories, how to create and maintain safety, and how to maintain dialogue rather than going to silence or violence, as so often happens. Another one of their books, titled Crucial Accountability2, applies some of those same techniques and some new ones to deal with bad behavior, violated expectiations, and broken communication. There are numerous well documented cases where these skills, or the lack thereof, have been the difference between life and death for patients.
2. Change management and project management: Both of these are very different sets of skills but I put them together because both are necessary if you are going to create lasting change in any organization, including health care. These skills also make the difference between a health care professional that can just recite guidelines and state facts and one that can use those guidelines to ultimately improve and/or save lives. There are more resources on these two topics than you can put into any one article, but one general management book I love that has a good section on change management is called Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know3. If you are currently a manager or are interested in becoming one that book is a great read. In project management, there is even a widely-recognized certification called a Project Management Professional (PMP) that can expand job opportunities and continue to provide resources for you to hone your skills in that area.
3. ‘Hard’ business skills: While the above skills are examples of ‘soft’ skills that are arguably the most important nontraditional skills you can learn, the nuts and bolts of business is also a necessity if you want to lead any department, company, governmental organization, non-profit, or other. All of these organizations must manage their resources effectively if they are to survive and thrive. These are skills such as accounting, finance, economics, quantitative analysis in decision making, and marketing strategy. I decided to go back to school and start working on an MBA to learn these, but there are probably online resources that would help you as well. If you are thinking about going to get an MBA, keep in mind that many companies will provide tuition reimbursement for at least a portion, which can really help out with the cost of the degree. I just finished my second semester of the program and I feel like taking 1 class per semester is very manageable and taking 2 would probably be doable, although probably more stressful.
1. Patterson K, Grenny J, McMillan R, Switzler A. Crucial conversations: tools for talking when the stakes are high. 2nd edition. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2011.
2. Patterson K, Grenny J, McMillan R, Switzler A, Maxfield D. Crucial accountability: tools for resolving violated expectations, broken commitments, and bad behavior. 2nd edition. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2014.
3. Geisler J. Work happy: what great bosses know. 1st ed. New York, NY: Center Street Publishing; 2014.