Pharmacy leaders seeking higher roles: 2 skills to hone

Hospital pharmacy leaders aren't the usual candidate for CEOs and other top positions in health systems, but they might not recognize their existing capabilities. 

Apart from the recommended five areas of growth, here are two tips for pharmacy directors considering a career jump.

1. Embrace non-pharmacy positions

Wendy Horton, PharmD, CEO of University of Virginia Health University Medical Center in Charlottesville, said her willingness to learn new disciplines unlocked opportunities. For example, she took on a pharmacy and technology assessment role at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. 

"Little did I know, this was probably the most important piece of my career, because it was my first foray outside of pharmacy," said Dr. Horton, who then earned her MBA and filled more non-pharmacy leadership roles, including surgery director at UW Health in Madison.

Mike Sanborn, chief growth officer of Dallas-based Baylor Scott & White Health, told the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists he first said no to leaving pharmacy to become a cardiovascular leader. 

After years of directing pharmacy operations, a senior vice president at Dallas-based Baylor Scott & White Health asked Mike Sanborn to leave his department and helm cardiovascular services, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

He initially said no. 

Three weeks later, the senior vice president implored him again. 

"I did a lot of soul searching," Mr. Sanborn said. "I knew the people I worked with were all going to be top notch. Ultimately, I decided to take on cardiovascular services for the system. It opened a lot of doors for me."

Mr. Sanborn then became a hospital CEO, which led to a regional executive position of three hospitals and multiple ambulatory surgery centers. In April 2023, he was named the system's chief growth officer. 

"A lot of that was based on growth and projects I had championed as a regional CEO," he told the ASHP. 

2. Translate pharmacy skills to a systemwide mindset

Rob Adamson, PharmD, executive vice president and chief information officer of RWJBarnabas Health in West Orange, N.J., told Becker's he recommends creating an advocacy plan with other leaders to "expand your exposure to a broader executive team and you to them."

"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," Dr. Adamson said. "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."

Mr. Sanborn echoed Dr. Adamson's thoughts, adding that pharmacists' clinical experience gains automatic trust among physicians, therapists and nurses. Plus, running a pharmacy department already requires expertise with human resources and complex financials. 

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