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Pharmacy leaders have a lot on their plates, and the ability to drive success and better patient care for their healthcare organizations can be an uphill battle.
When I was a pharmacy leader, I was tasked with juggling a wide range of responsibilities: budget/financial, committee membership and leadership, schedules, regulatory requirements (USP, TJC, state boards of pharmacy, DEA, etc.), competencies/training/licensure for all staff, revenue enhancement and cost savings, just to name a few.
Today, as leaders struggle with widespread drug and pharmacy staff shortages on top of their day-to-day pharmacy management accountabilities, they must find new ways to support clinicians in care delivery while inspiring and motivating their teams.
Here are five of my recommendations for effective pharmacy management in 2023, with a focus on stakeholder engagement, communication and collaboration. I have also included guidance from the journal of American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Foundation Pharmacy Forecast 2023: Strategic Planning Guidance for Pharmacy Departments in Hospitals and Health Systems.
Leaders should be visible to their teams and take an active role in day-to-day pharmacy work. A leader who rounds on the pharmacy at least daily, and even rolls up their sleeves and helps with frontline work when staff members are overwhelmed, will demonstrate commitment to their team’s wellbeing.
Because each area of pharmacy will have distinct challenges — the clinical team, IV room, buyers, delivery technicians, Meds to Beds — a pharmacy leader who actively communicates and collaborates across these teams will be better prepared to help them. They are also less likely to be blindsided by issues if they are regularly present and observant.
When a pharmacy leader collects insights from staff members who will be impacted by a change, as opposed to making decisions in a silo, the chances for success are far greater.
Pharmacy staff involved in strategic planning can surface potential issues so the team can address them before the proposed change is made. The transition should be smoother because those impacted have been involved since the beginning and know what to expect.
As the authors of the ASHP report stated, “The process of strategic planning should involve pharmacy staff at all levels and clearly link with institutional priorities.”
Taking a few minutes to touch base with individual pharmacy staff members each week isn’t a heavy lift for most managers, and the rewards can be well worth the effort.
My weekly touch base sessions with team members allowed time for them to share not only work-related matters but also aspects of their personal lives that impacted work performance. Collaborative sharing in this manner enabled us as a team to identify challenges and solutions. For example, when a team member was struggling to find childcare during work hours, we put our heads together and helped identify a daycare provider.
Pharmacy management can be an extremely stressful job with intense pressure to perform efficiently, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that our team members are people. There are steps managers can take to support staff and show they are valued.
Along these lines, the ASHP report authors state:
“Introduce innovative education, training, and enhanced workplace responsibilities to adopt practice models to reflect changing workforce expectations (e.g., encourage flexible scheduling and hybrid models of work to increase productivity while eliminating stressors).”
To retain pharmacy staff members, pharmacy management professionals must acknowledge their career goals and support their growth.
There are so many opportunities today for professional advancement in hospital pharmacy and beyond. Supporting pharmacy staff members on their path to growth not only benefits them as individuals, but it can also add value for the healthcare organization by expanding the skills and knowledge of its pharmacy department .
As a pharmacy leader, I collaborated with my team to set personal and professional goals, as well as overall goals for the department. I assigned goals for each employee based on their desires and tailored them to be SMART ones (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound). At the beginning of the year, I asked each of my team members to select and work toward a process improvement goal, and by the end of the year, we had achieved 100 department improvements.
ASHP report recommendation: “Create development and training pathways for pharmacists looking to expand additional competencies and skills (e.g., shared learning, mentorship opportunities, and experiences toward specialization, including leadership) to develop qualified managers and executive-level leaders from current talent.”
Pharmacy management impacts stakeholders outside of a hospital pharmacy’s walls, including physicians, nurses, other clinicians and patients. Therefore, a pharmacy manager must work to engage leaders from other departments, especially when enacting change that will impact their work.
Take for instance drug shortages and substitutions. As reported by Johns Hopkins University experts during a June 2, 2023, virtual discussion, prescription drug “deficits are at an all-time high — a reality that makes treatment decisions difficult for doctors and affects patients in need of critical drugs like chemotherapy and antibiotics.”
In hospital pharmacy management, we must keep clinical teams abreast of current shortages, the status of drug products they regularly prescribe and administer, and available substitutions. In cases where a substitute drug is far more costly than the original, we must also engage executive leadership so they understand the drivers behind higher spending — patient care continuity in the face of healthcare supply chain challenges
Pharmacy management is a fulfilling but intense profession. Thankfully, ASHP offers many resources to support pharmacy leaders in their role.
Early in my career as a pharmacy leader, I completed the ASHP Leadership Academy, a year-long program that supports new and established leaders in navigating pharmacy today. More recently I completed the ASHP “Well-Being and Resilience: Bringing It All Together” training module. It offered some great tips for recognizing and addressing healthcare worker burnout.
For more information on ASHP’s leadership training programs, visit the organization’s professional development page.