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Why wearing a labcoat doesn't make you a pharmacy leader

From the first day I became a pharmacy manager 15 years ago now, I wondered what the difference was in flipping my nametag from Pharmacist yesterday to Pharmacy Manager today.

Being a labcoat is just NOT good enough for me, anymore.

Imagine 2 pharmacists…

The first, Raphael is a great clinician and an extremely hard worker, capable of grinding through the heavy lifting the profession requires. But the demands of pharmacy life with higher expectations, rude customers, diminishing support staff and head office policies being forced down his throat have all taken toll.

He started out as a driven new grad, who dreamed of drafting care plans, hosting clinic days and solving drug-related problems. He was going to save the world! 

And 5 years in, something feels awful. He doesn’t have the self-awareness to enunciate it, but he is punching the clock, shift by shift on a subpar team in a dispensary that is stressful, reactive, & error-prone. He feels well compensated but physically drained by operating at his red-line RPM so long. His eating and sleeping habits have degraded and he can’t give his whole self to his family at home.

He doesn’t know it yet, but this year he will choose one of three paths: seek a job change, leave the profession or burnout. To take matters deeper, his mood will affect his relationships, he’ll lose friends, fight with family and require a divorce.

The second is Raph’s classmate, Leo, who graduated from the same school, at the same time. In fact he works for the same company. He is proud of the clinical interventions and care programs he invents and gets to create with purpose, satisfaction and fulfillment. This gives him a reason to come to work and his approach inspires the team around him, who punches WAY above their-weight class. His dispensary has stressful moments, but primarily prevents problems instead of reacts to them. He has been given a salary bump and bonus each year for exceptional performance and feels he is paid for his true worth. Due to the systems and structure at work he is able to give himself to his family and guess what, they take actual vacations. Since he has things dialled in at work, things are home are good. His kids are doing well in school and his wife is happy (which I’m told is the main goal in life anyway). He feels rested, fuelled and ready.

The impact he makes on his patients and his loved ones is optimized and his legacy will live on far beyond when he is gone.

Now I hope you concluded two things:

  1. That Raph and Leo are Ninja Turtle names, but more importantly, Raph is a labcoat while Leo is a leader.
  2. The difference in these two colleagues: Leo learned to lead. Today, I show you how.

I wanted to be a pharmacist from 16 years old, when I started as a cashier at an independent pharmacy in a rural Northern Ontario town with a population of 2,000 people.

I made $6.85 per hour and was too shy to talk to customers. I did every job imaginable there, including stocking shelves (imagine how embarrassing it is for a 16-year-old boy to face the condoms and lubricants…how humiliating!).

I did the toilets, counted the lottery tickets, delivered prescriptions and eventually worked my way up to pharmacy assistant, before leaving to go to pharmacy school at the University of Toronto.

From the first day I became a pharmacy manager 15 years ago now, I wondered what the difference was in flipping my name tag from Pharmacist yesterday to Pharmacy Manager today. There was no course or certificate. No turnkey moment. University taught us how to be clinicians but there was no course for how to lead a pharmacy team. This led to my burning life question: what are the ideal characteristics of a pharmacy leader?

Through journaling about the anecdotes and lessons of over a decade of real-world pharmacy experience, 7 key characteristics, which I call dimensions, appeared recurrently across years of journal entries, which I describe by the anagram LAYERED:

Limitless humility, Absolute autonomy, Yearn for culture, Elemental belief, Relentless S&S, Esoteric Grit and Decisive discipline.

What if you could control being a labcoat or a leader? 

What if you could choose to be Raph or Leo? 






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