Leadership Skills Are Becoming Imperative as Pharmacy Profession Continues to Evolve

The role of the pharmacist has experienced significant change during the past couple of decades. Often thrust into leadership positions with little experience under their belts, many pharmacists lack the business savvy and management skills that would make them effective leaders.

This change in scope is partially due to healthcare reform and the nontraditional roles pharmacists take on in interprofessional teams that go far beyond prescribing medication. In nearly every pharmacy practice setting, the pharmacists will have leadership responsibilities whether they are officially in management or not. These duties include supervising clerks or technicians, operations, financial management, human resources, clinical practice, regulatory and quality issues, technological advancements, patient safety, and working alongside technicians and nurses in a hospital setting.1 

Michelle C. Corrado, Pharm.D., MHA, FACHE, chief pharmacy officer and residency program director for Health-System Pharmacy Administration at Hallmark Health System in Medford, MA, is intimately familiar with the need for pharmacists to further their education.

“Leadership is not formally taught in pharmacy school,” she said. “Often times, especially in retail, you're a leader very quickly. I was at the staff level for less than two years and then in a leadership role without any training.”

Since the dawn of the millennium, the healthcare community and numerous pharmacy education stakeholders have called for increased leadership development. In 2000, the Institute of Medicine published a series of reports evaluating the quality of healthcare in the U.S. These included the need to optimize medication-use system management as pharmacies have a significant impact on a hospital’s budget.2 The charge to improve quality of care and patient safety while controlling cost led to a year-long partnership between the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), the ASHP Foundation and Georgetown University to address the need for formal leadership training.2

The Center for the Advancement of Pharmacy Education (CAPE) 2013 Educational Outcomes analyzed curriculum planning, delivery and assessment within colleges and schools of pharmacy by looking at the knowledge, skills and attitudes of Doctor of Pharmacy graduates.3 CAPE gathered representatives from the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC) organizations and provided a framework for curricular changes that would emphasize innovation, meeting challenges facing pharmacy education, addressing the personal and professional skills necessary for the delivery of patient-centered care and managing a highly technical workplace.3 The importance of integrating leadership development into pharmacy curricula is also highlighted in the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) 2016 Standards.1

While these and other initiatives push for the integration of leadership skills in pharmacy education, many are opting to supplement their skills and experience with master’s degrees that focus on areas often left out of traditional pharmaceutical training. Competition in the field is putting added pressure on pharmacy graduates to differentiate themselves.

The number of U.S. colleges and schools of pharmacy has increased approximately 50 percent during the past decade.4 In 2015, there were 130 accredited institutions, up from approximately 80 in 2000.4 The number of students and graduates has followed the trend as has the cost of pharmacy education, which has increased by an average of 54 percent during the past eight years, leading to an average debt of $114,422 for graduates.4 This greatly outpaces pharmacy’s salary increases over the years.

“Time and money are the biggest issues in pharmacy,” said Joseph G. LeBlanc, Jr., Pharm.D., MHA, MBA, assistant director of pharmacy at the Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria, Louisiana. “New pharmacists may be interested in furthering their education, but they are in debt and worried about money. It’s a good idea to practice for a year and then decide what you can afford.”

After pharmacy school, LeBlanc said he wanted to work in a hospital setting.

This proved to be quite the challenge as hospitals wanted someone with more experience, but he was able to land a position in a remote hospital.

“With just a Pharm.D., it’s hard to get a job, and the competition is only getting worse,” LeBlanc said. “I knew I needed a way to distinguish myself from my peers.”

Just one year after pharmacy school graduation, LeBlanc completed the ASHP Foundation’s Pharmacy Leadership Academy (PLA). LeBlanc went on to earn his Master of Health Administration degree through Simmons College in 2013 and recently completed his Master of Business Administration in pharmacy leadership from New England College.

“I knew I wanted training beyond what I learned in pharmacy school,” LeBlanc said. “As assistant director of pharmacy at a Level 2 Trauma Center, my role has evolved to focus on operations and strategic financial planning. I’ve become a numbers guy, and that’s a good thing.”

He decided to pursue his MBA immediately after completing his MHA when his advisor told him it would only take 25 more credits.

"You may be surprised about how attainable the next degree could be," LeBlanc said. "With online degrees, you don't have to put your career on hold. You can work at your own pace and take classes with people from all over, offering so many other points of view. Then you have a universal degree that enables you to offer a wide spectrum of services."

His MBA has opened the doors to a wide variety of consulting work as he helps pharmacists manage and build their businesses.

“Because of my additional education, I’m able to give back to the profession in a new way,” he said.

LeBlanc also serves on the board of directors for the Louisiana Society of Health-System Pharmacists and was recently invited to be a representative for the Louisiana House of Delegates. He said his post-Pharm.D. degrees enable him to better communicate clinical outcomes and apply them to administrative advantage.

“It’s like a clinical prism,” he said. “If a pharmacist is sharing frustrations that an administrator does not understand, for example, I can shine light on both sides. I can explain the clinical point of view and how it will affect the balance sheet. I can help the team make better decisions this way.”  

Corrado has also been able to take her career to new heights as she furthers her education and cultivates leadership skills for the next generation.

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Her nontraditional path led her to a bachelor’s degree in biology, transferring to the Pharm.D. program her third year. She graduated with a bachelor’s in pharmacy and began to work as a staff pharmacist while finishing her doctorate. Her career that followed sent her on a path of escalating leadership. She became supervisor of an outpatient pharmacy before heading to Hallmark Health System to be its first-ever clinical coordinator. After just a couple of years, she was director of pharmacy until her appointment as chief pharmacy officer.

To hone her leadership skills, Corrado – the immediate past president of the Massachusetts Society of Health-System Pharmacists – completed the ASHP Foundation’s PLA and her MHA from Simmons College, where she was part of the program’s first graduating class. She also recently received a fellow designation from the American College of Healthcare Executives.                                                                                      

“I don't know what my end game is, but I know leadership is my niche,” she said. “I felt having the credentials of a master's would further validate me in the eyes of prospective employers should I want leadership above and beyond clinical roles. I never want someone to dismiss me because I don't have the right letters after my name. Giving yourself an edge is an absolute must.” 

Corrado credits her leadership training with improving her teaching and mentoring skills and building the confidence that allowed her to develop the Health-System Pharmacy Administration program at Hallmark Health System, Inc., a 24-month residency program that fosters leadership skills, which supplement pharmaceutical practice. In partnership with the ASHP Foundation, the residents complete the PLA during the first year so they are ready to delve deeper into administration issues the second.

“We’re really excited,” she said. “This program is unusual, and it’s the only one of its kind in Massachusetts. There are lot of leadership openings out there, and it’s hard to find the right candidates. This is helping to close the gap. It's our job as senior leaders to identify those who are appropriate to keep feeding the pipeline. Then we will have a rich crop of leaders to pick from.” 

Sources:

  1. Deliberate Integration of Student Leadership Development in Doctor of Pharmacy Programs. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education.
  2. The National Center for Health System Pharmacy Leadership. Department of Health Systems Administration, Georgetown University.
  3. Center for the Advancement of Pharmacy Education 2013 Educational Outcomes. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education
  4. Examining Pharmacy Workforce Issues in the United States and the United Kingdom. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 

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