I replied recently to a resident survey on leadership aspirations that prompted me to send a note to the surveyor talking about things the survey didn't ask about. This is, of course, entirely my opinion. Here goes:
As I look back over my career, I find that the things that distinguished me from my peers had less to do with my absolute mastery of the practice than they did with the breadth of my education and experience:
- I came to pharmacy school with a BS from a school that forced me to take a broad spectrum of subjects and to compete with majors in the field in each of those courses. In that experience, I had to learn to express myself both in speech and in writing, and to be comfortable in the presence of contrary positions. I believe that my ability to both speak and write were critical in whatever success I may have achieved.
- I came away from that experience older, better trained to study, and somewhat freer of my "wild oats" than my peers in pharmacy school. I therefore believe that such a background should be a pre-requisite for admission to pharmacy school (I know that is a minority opinion). That would equate, at least, to our peers in medicine and dentistry.
- I believe that residency training should be a pre-requisite for health-system practice. Mine was invaluable, both in terms of the hard lessons I learned, and in terms of the network I started building that has lasted me for decades.
- Leadership requires perspective. You get perspective from gaining a variety of experiences. This implies that you do not remain in one place for long periods of time, but rather seek out opportunities to learn new things. In my experience, if you need to stay in a position at least 2-3 years to learn it well and make it your own, but after about 5-7 years, both you, and the organization you work for learn to "accommodate" each other, and you stop growing. Changing positions gives you the opportunity to start over and regenerate yourself (and, hopefully, overcome some bad habits that people have been tolerating).
- Opportunities usually require relocation. Those who start career decisions with the notion that they must live and work in a specific location miss out on what could be life-changing experiences.
- Managing is not leadership, though leadership is really hard without managing. Warren Bennis is quoted to have said: "Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing." The distinction is crucial. The skill that will really create opportunities, especially for creating disruptive change, is the ability to question why we do things the way we do and find better ways. That healthy skepticism lets you see things that others cannot see.
- The corollary to that is that change is hard. Bringing others along to your ideas takes change management which is a skill that is hard to acquire but very worthwhile.
- Get involved in state and national pharmacy organizations. That involvement is a really good way to expand your professional network, and learn more about the variety of practice models that are used throughout our profession.
- No professional training is a life sentence. If, at some point, you discover a different calling, by all means pursue it. Be thankful for what you have learned in your career to date, and use that where possible to enrich your new endeavor. I graduated from my residency in 1975, and discovered computers in 1981. I didn't leave practice until 1986, but I did get to the point where I knew I had to make a change. Much of what I learned in practice supports me to this day, but my transition to industry is one which I have never regretted.
I admit this is a rather eclectic mix of thoughts, but I thought someone might find it useful. Let me hear from you. I would love to hear your opinions.
Dennis A. Tribble, Pharm.D., FASHP
Ormond Beach, FL
The contents of this blog solely represent my opinion, and are not necessarily those of ASHP or of my employer, BD.