Winning at Our Own Game

Pharmacy Times Health Systems Edition, November 2016, Volume 5, Issue 6

Although pharmacists are medication experts and have unique insights into the medication-use process in their organizations, it doesn’t always feel like others think we know the most or that we have control of decisions for our departments.

As I travel around the country and talk to fellow health-system pharmacists, I observe many who are tired. The stress and pace of clinical and administrative positions are relentless, not allowing time for recovery, planning, learning, and organization. Many individuals feel like they go from one crisis to another.

Although pharmacists are medication experts and have unique insights into the medication-use process in their organizations, it doesn’t always feel like others think we know the most or that we have control of decisions for our departments. Instead, we sense that individuals external to the pharmacy department influence what we do and how we do it. If that’s how you feel, here are a few thoughts on how to eventually take control and win at your own game.

  • Know your data. A lot of data are being generated, but the information we need for success is either too hard to get or overwhelming to comprehend. Although accessing, formatting, and interpreting data can be difficult and time-consuming, it is difficult to argue against compelling data. All departments should be investing in and training individuals who can access various data streams and display them for decision-making purposes. The process of learning your organization’s data usually illuminates areas that either are not efficient or have opportunities for improvement. Being able to identify and resolve these issues before others tell you to do so will go a long way toward giving you control of departmental decisions.
  • Leadership positions are not for the faint of heart. Unfortunately, we have too many managers in leadership positions. These individuals work hard to sustain the status quo. Instead of working hard and desiring to grow the department to take on new responsibilities, these individuals are comfortable or feel stretched by their current breadth of activities. True leaders are attempting to do more, whether it is extending into new areas or performing current responsibilities better. There is risk associated with desiring to do more, and it requires more work. If a pharmacist is already feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, why would he or she want to do more? However, I would argue that there is as much risk in managing the status quo. By demonstrating leadership by proposing to your organization new opportunities and then delivering on them, you will gain additional confidence in your skills and show a desire to improve patient care. If choosing the status quo is the preferred path, the potential for individuals outside your department to give direction increases as the pharmacy landscape evolves.
  • Make time for reflection and planning. When things get busy, the first item that drops from our schedules is time for planning. It is hard to justify taking time to plan when meetings appear to consume your day or the top priority is responding to the day’s emergency. At the end of the week, the time that was lost for reflection was never regained. After repeating this cycle frequently, an individual loses the opportunity to reflect and plan, and act upon what comes from this time. Whether you are a clinician or have an administrative position, you cannot give your best to patient care over the long term without taking time for reflection and planning. Although it may be difficult to justify this time when you are on the clock, you cannot be the best pharmacist, change agent, and leader without consistent reflection and planning.

Health care will only get busier and more demanding in the future. Taking the steps outlined here can help us to win at our own game by enabling us to anticipate future pressure and issues, and to respond before outside forces make us act.

I would appreciate any insights and experiences you might have on this perspective. Let me know what you think by e-mail at seckel@unc.edu or follow me on Twitter at @stepheneckel.

Stephen F. Eckel, PharmD, MHA, BCPS, is associate director of pharmacy at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Medical Center and clinical associate professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.