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Pharmacy Leader Becky Agar: "I simply love being able to share my passion for pharmacy with others."

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University of Toronto, Class of 1996

Current Role

Vice President, Hogan Pharmacy Partners, Cambridge, Ont.

What excites you about being a pharmacist?

People sometimes find it strange to hear that I have known I wanted to be a pharmacist since I was 15 years old. I truly believe that our profession can be a calling, and that it is the perfect blend of chemistry, biology, mathematics and human interaction, with a huge dash of intuition thrown in for good measure (grin). I’m so proud to be a part of a group of health professionals who can have an immediate impact in peoples’ lives every day and are viewed as so accessible and approachable and trustworthy.

How has your career evolved since you first started in the profession?

Being able to incorporate my love of technology into my work, for sure. I had taken computer science courses as my elective courses at U of T, just because I could. When I graduated in 1996, the Internet didn’t really exist. The dot matrix prescription label printers jamming or coming off their tracks were a regular occurrence at the busy community pharmacy I worked at. I remember when one of my good friends who worked at Cisco got his first Blackberry in 2001. But I always was looking for ways to have our pharmacy innovate and use our technology to improve our workflows and improve our efficiencies so pharmacists could spend more time with our patients, or implement medication safety initiatives. Now, my company is based on the idea of creating new pharmacy technologies to ensure medication safety and the best pharmaceutical care for society’s most vulnerable residents and I am really proud of the work we are doing every day to make that happen.

How would you describe a great day at work?

I actually love teaching as well, so a great day for me is when I get to do informal CEs for my staff. We call them “Becky’s Clinical Pearls” and my team will ask me to do a 15-minute explanation on a topic they have always been curious about, but afraid to ask. Last month, the pharmacy assistants and technicians asked me to explain what lactulose enemas are used for, and we had a great discussion on hepatic encephalopathy, right down to the practicality of how a time-stressed long-term care nurse in the midst of a COVID crisis is going to manage to administer such a therapy. Being able to present a whole therapeutic topic in 360 degrees of care gives huge insight to my team and makes us a better pharmacy service provider, because we see the whole picture and how it all matters. I simply love being able to share my passion for pharmacy with others.

What is (or has been) your greatest challenge as a leader in pharmacy?

Being the seen as a disruptive influencer in a conservative industry like long-term care pharmacy, especially as it has been traditionally run by men, has been a hard club to break into. I feel like I’m being kept on the outer edge of the circle when I could be adding my voice to theirs when it comes to issues like advocating with legislative bodies for betting funding for pharmacy services.

How important was mentoring in your career?

I have been extremely fortunate to have had fantastic mentors throughout my career, especially when I was a pharmacy intern and just starting my career in the late 1990s. The lessons I learned from watching how they led and inspired their pharmacy teams have stayed with me to this day, 25 years later.

As a leader in pharmacy, what continues to drive you?

I always believe that there is a way to improve, to optimize and to make things better, regardless of the profession. There is always going to be a newer technology that we can implement to make systems and processes safer. There is no place for saying, “This is how it has always been done” and I am a person who is always seeking out new ideas and new opportunities. I am always willing to try, and test, and volunteer, and re-test, because that is how innovation works.  And I also believe that success is a natural by-product of the desire for goodness and doing the right thing. That’s what drives me.

What legacy would you like to leave to the pharmacy profession?

I hope that the efforts that my company has been making for increased medication safety for senior living continues to move forward, and the inclusion of pharmacy technologies in long-term care pharmacy continue to advance. Also, I hope that the role of the pharmacy technician in supporting medication management and patient care continues to expand as I have tried to model within our company.

Do you feel there is a glass ceiling for women in pharmacy?

I don’t know that it is a glass ceiling so much as it is a case of pharmacy is still such a small community and so many pharmacy executives are still in the mindset of “like-wants-like” when looking for other executives to work with. Pharmacy executives have high pressure jobs, with long hours, and people may unwittingly gravitate to hire people like themselves. Perhaps, unconsciously they are choosing people that look like themselves because they feel they can “depend” on these co-workers in high pressure situations with such high stakes. Bringing awareness to the lack of women, minorities and other marginalized groups in pharmacy leadership roles is important equally.

What do you think needs to happen to have more women in executive roles across various sectors in the profession?

I think it is vital that our pharmacy schools teach business and management skills as a basic and mandatory part of the pharmacy curriculum. Too many pharmacy managers and leaders are promoted due to the time they have spent at a company, not because they possess the advanced skills needed to be a successful leader.

What advice would you give to new female pharmacy graduates?

Take one or two courses in Excel, you’re going to be amazed how much you’ll use it. Do your own taxes, and take your vacation days. Join your local pharmacy association and volunteer with CPhA and subscribe to the ISMP Canada newsletters; that way you will always be up to date with what’s going on in your region and with pharmacy across Canada. Always do what’s best for your patients and success will follow you.



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