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My best pharmacy teacher

When we last met, I left you with the task of identifying some good things and some not-so-good things you experienced over the last 12 months. How did you do? 

The purpose of the exercise was to come up with a list of experiences. These experiences can deliver great value, but only if you decide to use them! 

Perhaps you've heard the expression before that experience is the best teacher? I know I have, and I would even suggest that I subscribe to it. But now, I find myself in the place where I know that I believe this expression. Here's why. If experience is the best teacher, then the most experienced people would be the best at what they do. But I don’t believe that's true. I'm not saying it's never true, I am simply saying that it is not always true. There are some people with a lot of experience who haven't improved.  Conversely, there are some people with less experience who have dramatically improved themselves. 

I believe the reason for this can be found in a slight derivative of this old expression. I believe that experience that is identified, evaluated and applied is the best teacher. Take just a moment or two to consider this. We all have experiences, however very few people are intentional and deliberate about learning from their experiences. There are many reasons, most of which are not good. The main reason we don’t learn from our experiences is that we were never taught to. This is for both bad and good experiences. We can learn from things that do not turn out well and fix them. We can also learn from things that do turn out well and get even better.

When the challenge came down to train 12,000 pharmacists to give flu immunizations, I knew it was big task. The thing was, it was only part of the task. We weren’t training all of these pharmacists just to prove we could do it. We were training all of these pharmacists so that we could vaccinate more people. We were now talking millions of immunizations that we would look to provide to patients at risk. Many pharmacists felt there was no way we would ever be able to vaccinate large numbers of patients in the pharmacies, and that we would need to do off-site clinics to be able to serve the numbers of patients. We agreed, so we began developing off-site clinic procedures and policies and many times we would need a separate contract with the business to perform such services. The first year we did this, I had about a dozen contracts. 

At the end of flu season, the entire department met for a “post-mortem” of the just completed season. During these meetings we identified the good, the bad, and the ugly of the season and begin taking steps to improve for the next season. I wasn’t bright enough to identify this at the time, but what we were doing as a group was taking the time to identify, evaluate and then apply what we could learn from the experience. And we got better.  Just as a means of illustration, after having only a dozen contracts that first year, just three years later I was executing nearly a thousand contracts in a single season. This is the power evaluating our experience.

I admit I didn’t realize exactly what we were doing at the time, but the result cannot be disputed. 

And let me share this secret – it can help you, too. Whether you do this frequently or have never done it before, there is tremendous value from evaluating and applying our experiences. 

Last time, I encouraged you to look back and identify some good and no-so-good experiences from the last year. 

Today, I want you to take a few minutes just to consider those experiences. What would you do again? What would you do differently? How did these experiences over- or under-perform your expectations? Taking the time to evaluate your experiences with questions like these will help you distill what you need to learn. And just a note: these aren’t the only questions you can ask. You can ask whatever questions you want. The secret is with asking better questions, you will get better answers. 

When you take the time to apply the answers, you are well on your way to applying your experience and gaining all you can from the lessons life is teaching.

Until next time -

Jesse McCullough, PharmD

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