4 tips for pharmacists looking to join hospital C-suites

Compared to COOs and CFOs, the pathway from pharmacy leader to a hospital C-suite is less established. Here's how four hospital C-suite executives with pharmacy backgrounds rose through the ranks.

What lessons from pharmacy work best prepared you for your current C-suite role?

Rob Adamson, PharmD. Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer of RWJBarnabas Health (West Orange, N.J.): When health systems create strategic plans and investments, a pharmacist is uniquely poised to be a successful in the C-suite due to the multi-faced role medications play within the health system. A pharmacist needs to collaborate with a myriad of care teams and multiple services lines, such as laboratory, research, finance, facilities, human resources and the like. Due to the comprehensive nature of the pharmacist role, they are armed with a skill set that allows them to have a broad understanding of the entire ecosystem of integrated delivery networks, which makes them natural strategic thinkers and leaders.

Montez Carter, PharmD. President and CEO of Trinity Health Of New England (Hartford, Conn.): I believe the role that pharmacists play in the oversight of medication management uniquely positions us to have a very broad and deep understanding of healthcare operations. Pharmacists are naturally versed in supply chain operations, patient care delivery and business operations through billing and reimbursement. It's this range of knowledge and capabilities that prove to be very beneficial while serving as a senior executive.

Wendy Horton, PharmD. CEO of UVA Health University Medical Center (Charlottesville, Va.): My pharmacy background has been instrumental in preparing me for my current chief executive officer role. In pharmacy, we gain invaluable experience managing substantial budgets, leading large teams and mastering resource allocation, all of which seamlessly align with the skill set required for executive leadership. The foundational principles of quality, medication safety and clinical care readily translate to leadership roles. Pharmacists excel in interdisciplinary collaboration and possess a natural talent for consensus building across various specialties and departments, finely honing our ability to cultivate robust working relationships — a pivotal factor in achieving success in the C-suite. Finally, the analytical prowess honed in the pharmacy, characterized by data-driven decisions and a commitment to evidence-based practices, proves highly valuable in the realm of executive leadership.

Indu Lew, PharmD. Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff of RWJBarnabas Health (West Orange, N.J.): Much of my work in my prior role as chief pharmacy officer has translated to my current one. The greatest lesson I learned was the importance of establishing a foundation of trust and growth with your team. You must invest in and develop your team so that they have the ability to execute well, to communicate clearly and to collaborate with teams from other divisions. This ultimately ensures that they will be well equipped to successfully cover the operational, financial and clinical landscape within the organization.

What is your No. 1 advice for other pharmacy leaders at hospitals who hope to work in other C-suite roles, besides chief pharmacy officer, at their organizations?

RA: Develop an advocacy strategy with leaders outside of pharmacy to expand your exposure to a broader executive team and you to them.

MC: As we grow in job responsibilities, our leadership and emotional intelligence capabilities become more critical than our technical capabilities. Senior executives need to be strong communicators, coaches and conflict managers. The development of these skills is critical for success in career advancement. 

WH: To pharmacy leaders aspiring to C-suite roles, my advice is to proactively identify and address significant organizational challenges, showcasing leadership, problem-solving and collaboration skills. Show how your pharmacy skills are transferable to other areas. Joining organizations like American Society of Pharmacists in C-Suites or the American College of Healthcare Executives can provide networking opportunities and insights into executive healthcare roles, helping pharmacy leaders see what opportunities are available for them.

IL: When I graduated with my degree in pharmacy, I was surprised by the limits many people placed on the profession. In my own journey, I've witnessed the importance of taking calculated risks. You have to capitalize on every opportunity — those that are presented to you, as well as those that you seek out — if you want to advance in your career.

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