Women in Pharmacy Should Be Intentional in Defining Their Own Identity

Women in pharmacy must realize that what they have to offer has value, both to the business and to patients’ lives.

Women in pharmacy have the power to define themselves and who they want to be, according to a session at McKesson ideaShare 2022.

Speaker Blaire Thielemier, PharmD, founder and CEO of Pharmapreneur Academy, discussed her journey to becoming a pharmacy leader. Thielemier said it took time for her to be able to describe herself as a business development consultant and she encouraged attendees to take the time to decide how they want to define themselves.

“Think about what identity you want to be stepping into,” Thielemier urged attendees. “One that feels expansive instead of limiting.”

Thielemier encouraged attendees to make 3 mindset shifts to speak to their value and enhance not only their own roles, but the role of pharmacy more broadly. By seeing themselves as heroes and speaking about that role in health care, Thielemier said she has already seen huge shifts take place, such as with last week’s FDA decision to allow pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid.

In the first mindset shift, Thielemier said women in pharmacy must realize that what they have to offer has value, both to the business and to patients’ lives. She encouraged attendees to value their work instead of saying they are just a pharmacist, and to recognize that every member of the care team has unique skills and viewpoints to offer. This is an essential step in creating a specific direction for the business and for pharmacists’ careers.

“It’s not enough to be running away from something,” Thielemier said. “You have to know what you’re running towards.”

The second mindset shift encouraged women in pharmacy to define and embrace their own identity. When starting her own business, Thielemier said she was nervous to seem egotistical or conceited when she shared successes online, and she even considered ways to launch her business anonymously. However, she said she eventually realized that she was seeking autonomy, rather than anonymity.

Recognizing that your voice and opinions matter is essential for women in pharmacy, Thielemier said. She pointed out that career satisfaction is directly linked to autonomy, mastery, and purpose, all of which require a strong identity to accomplish.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re the best clinician in the world if people don’t trust you,” Thielemier said. “People work with who they know, like, and trust, so how do you generate that? By knowing, liking, and trusting yourself.”

Finally, Thielemier said women in pharmacy must recognize that who they are has value. However, this can take work and time, especially when dealing with inner doubts, imposter syndrome, or perfectionism. For example, Thielemier said she has interests in non-traditional medicine and healing methods, and as a result she has questioned whether she belongs in the pharmacy community. However, she ultimately realized that the pharmacy field is evolving and what she has to say matters.

Thieldmier said a friend of hers has called her a “medicine woman” in the past, and it is a title that she has come to embrace. She encouraged attendees to develop their own words or phrases to describe themselves, and to try that identity on and see if it fit.

“Words are powerful,” she said. “Be very intentional with how you describe yourself and what you call yourself, because you get to decide what you want them to call you.”

After giving her keynote address, Thielemien joined several other women in a panel to discuss their experiences and career growth. When asked what led them to ownership, several of the panelists said they wanted to care for patients in their own ways, without the constraints of working in a chain pharmacy.

Panelist Emlah Tubuo, PharmD, founded Powell Pharmacy in Ohio in 2019, just 6 months before the COVID-19 pandemic started. As a child in Africa, Tubuo said she only saw hospital and independent pharmacies, although she worked in a chain pharmacy after graduating from Ohio State University. Although she learned a lot in that environment, Tubuo said she wanted to provide more personalized care for her patients, so she decided to launch her own pharmacy.

“It was really hard for me to dispense care at a chain pharmacy,” Tubuo said. “I did not feel celebrated enough, and I love to celebrate my wins and losses.”

Sandie Kueker, owner of Hesston Pharmacy in Kansas, said she grew up in a small, rural town where the pharmacist was essential in helping uninsured patients access care. Like Tubuo, Kueker also went to work for a chain pharmacy after graduation and learned a lot, but said it was not ultimately what she wanted.

“In my mind, that’s what a pharmacist was,” Kueker said of her childhood pharmacist. “You helped the people when they came in and solved what the problem was.”

All of the panelists agreed that one of the key obstacles they face is balancing their work and personal lives. With 3 children, Tubuo said she always encourages people to celebrate their journey and to see the challenges as opportunities for growth. She added that it is impossible to be a great pharmacist without also having strong personal relationships with family and friends.

“Flexibility is the name of the game, both as an independent pharmacist and as a business owner,” Tubuo said.

Panelist Karen McNabb, owner of McNabb Pharmacy in Massachusetts, agreed, and added that building a supportive team among the pharmacy staff is important. Team members at McNabb Pharmacy will often help each other when scheduling conflicts arise, whether by watching each other’s children or jumping in to cover tasks at the pharmacy. This sort of teamwork has been essential to managing the COVID-19 pandemic, McNabb said.

“I never want my children to think that my job is more important than them, and I think I can do that for my employees, too,” McNabb said.

Thieleman said that balancing all of these competing responsibilities requires a strong sense of self and the ability to say no. In such a quickly changing health care environment, she urged women in pharmacy to take care of themselves and to look to the future.

“We need to be more than just the medication experts,” she said. “We’re the health experts, we’re the wellness experts.”