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Pharmacy and the lesson of the wood stove

Do you have any embarrassing stories from your childhood? I do. Lots of them, actually. And today, I will open with one of those stories.

I believe that I have shared in this column previously that I grew up on a farm. One of the things we did on the farm, especially in the wintertime, was sell firewood. In the early 1980s we heated our home with a wood stove. As a kid, I can recall waking up in the morning and going downstairs and standing by the wood stove to get warm on some cold winter mornings before school. Well, on one particular winter morning when I was probably in first or second grade, the stove wasn’t all too warm. So, I inched closer and closer to it. I ended up putting my backside on the stove itself. And this is where the story becomes embarrassing. You see, the stove was just warm enough after burning down overnight to melt my pyjamas! When I stepped away, there was a print left on me of the side of that wood burner. While it has faded over time, you can still see it if you look for it. Needless to say, that is an event that lives in infamy complete with the occasional reference to it at family gatherings.

While I trust this story to bring a bit of smile to your face, there is an important lesson that we can learn from the wood stove, and that lesson goes right along with the concept of value we provide to our teams and the patients we serve.

To illustrate this principle, we first need to agree that the world works by exact law. To illustrate, consider this experiment. If we all took our cellphones and held them at arms’ length and let go, what would happen? Why, they would fall to the ground! How many? All of them. This is due to the Law of Gravity. We don’t even need to do the actual experiment because we know what would happen 100 out of 100 times. 

Similarly, how many days have 24 hours in them? All of them! 

How many weeks does it take for a human baby to grow before being birthed? Right around 40 weeks.

Of all the laws at work all the time, perhaps the most important law is the Law of Cause and Effect. Emerson called this the “law of laws.” Because of this law, we can make certain predictions with a high degree of confidence. For example, if we mixed up some eggs, milk, butter, and flour and then put them in a pan in the oven, we would be on our way to baking a cake. We have no expectation that a new pair of shoes would be produced. This is because of the law of cause and effect.

So, what does this have to do with the lesson of the wood stove? Well, the law of cause and effect is at work here as well. The effect that we want from a wood stove is to get heat from it (not to melt your pajamas against it). But for that to happen, we must first put some kind of fuel into it. In this case, wood. I could put brick in it.  But bricks don’t burn, therefore I won’t get any heat. 

Sadly, too many people do not understand this concept. We must always put something of value into the wood stove to get something of value from the wood stove. I can think of more than one occasion in my life where a professional athlete has declared that he is not being paid enough and therefore, he will not produce. The thing is, paying him more doesn’t necessarily mean he will produce more. The lawful way this should play out is that the athlete produces well (the cause) and then will later be rewarded with a more valuable contract (the effect). 

For decades now, I have listened to pharmacists say they will start to be paid for something and then they will deliver more value. Unfortunately, that is not the way the world works. We do not say to the wood stove, “when you provide heat, then I will add the wood.” That doesn’t make sense to anyone.

We need to recognize this lesson of the wood stove, because it gives us a tremendous clue for our leadership. We need to operate on the cause end of the law of cause and effect. What does that look like? It looks like adding value to the patients we serve. That often includes adding value to the teams that we serve on so that, as a whole, our teams can add more value to the patients we serve.

When we add more value, we improve quality.

How do we add more value? By following the GPS of our leadership.

Ultimately, all of this points us to compensation. And we will look at that next time.

Until next time -

Jesse McCullough, PharmD

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