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Pharmacy Leader Sepideh Nasafat: "Believe in your abilities to learn, develop and change."

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Co-founder at Viva Health Centre and Pharmacy in Richmond Hill, ON

Doctor of Pharmacy, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Iran 

Diplomate, Pharmacy Leadership Academy (ASHP)

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

As a pharmacist I have worked in different sectors such as the insurance industry, hospital and community pharmacies in three countries: Iran, Canada and the US.

In Iran I was an established pharmacist in my career in the insurance industry. When my family and I landed in Canada in 2002 I had to deal with different aspects of immigration, including re-evaluation of my knowledge and skills as a pharmacist. I am proud that I could get into my profession within a couple of years. I was studying, working full time as a pharmacy assistant, supporting my husband, while raising our two-year-old son with no family members around us. It was tough but doable. Next step was getting ready to move to the US for my husband to start his residency and a new challenge for me. While working as an overnight pharmacist I managed to study for my US licensing exams and was ready to practise when we moved to Texas in 2009.

After moving back to Ontario in 2014 I restarted practising as a part-time community pharmacist and eventually founded Viva Health Centre & Pharmacy. 

 Opening our centre coincided with the start of COVID-19 lockdowns, which brought its own challenges, and I am honoured that I was able to serve our community during this tough time.

When people ask me how I overcome the obstacles in life, my answer is always being positive, evaluating myself, getting ready for what is next for me and moving forward.

 How important was mentoring in your career?

I am so grateful that I had the opportunity of having a direct mentor, Maria Nenadovich, during the time I was working on my licensing process in Canada. By watching her day to day, I learned how a caring pharmacist can have a great impact on her clients and gain their trust.

I have had several indirect mentors, such as Sara J. White in the ASHP Pharmacy Leadership Program and others through business and leadership programs which have made me the kind of a pharmacist I am now. 

Was there an “aha” moment for you, when you realized the impact of the difference you’re making?

As a colleague, I am personally humbled by several pharmacists and pharmacy students who have referred to me as their role model, coach or mentor. This means a lot to me and I am glad that I have made a difference in those lives.

As a pharmacist there have been many instances where patients have acknowledged me as an advocate for their health by educating them and referring them to the right healthcare professional. Those are the moments when I realize I have an obligation to continue my community pharmacist role to fulfill the medical needs of the people who would need them most.

Looking at your career, what are you the proudest of? What have been some of the highlights?

I am proud that I have worked up to my full potential in every role that I have accepted so far, as a pharmacist and leader.

 As the head of the pharmacy department and inspector of an insurance company in Iran I earned the trust of pharmacy owners in town to be their voice in response to any under payments or unjust assessments.

 In Texas hospital, as an Iranian-Canadian pharmacist, I worked hard to earn the trust of my pharmacy colleagues, physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers. I collaborated efficiently with other practitioners to fulfill the needs of our patients, while playing roles in different committees and volunteer projects.

As a community pharmacist in Canada, I am proud that I have had the opportunity to educate my patients about their bodies, medical conditions and improving their health.

And finally, as an entrepreneur I am proud that I have created a business where within a year I have employed over 9 part-time and full-time staff, and recruited four physicians, a chiropodist, a naturopathic doctor, a dietitian and a social worker and am looking forward to more expansions in the near future.

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

As a leader in my pharmacy and clinic I see myself as a role model for others. I know the staff look up to me, therefore I have to be the best version of myself every day. This is challenging at times since as a person you might have ups and downs of your own. However, I have made a decision to myself not to let my personal life affect my professional one and I have been successful so far.

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

I personally believe you create the ceiling for yourself. As long as women believe in their potential and skills, they can make the difference they want in their own lives and others. Meanwhile male partners/spouses as well as colleagues play a critical role in creating the right environment for women in their personal and professional lives. Women and men are equipped with different sets of skills and if they work collaboratively, they can remove ceilings if there are any.

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

I would love to see more women unleash their entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial powers. They should understand what they are capable of doing. Be courageous and put their skills to use in whatever role they are playing. It may take time and experience to get to the level they want and deserve but by being consistent and resilient they will eventually get to the place they are meant for.

What advice would you give to new female pharmacy graduates?

My first and foremost advice is to have a growth mindset. Believe in yourself. Be great in whatever you are doing. Don’t think what you are doing is small and does not count. Believe in your abilities to learn, develop and change. Be proud of what you are and continue to reach your goals. 



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