Business Meets Academia: My Preparation for #PharmEd17

One of my favorite parts of leaving the private world for academia has been the engagement with other pharmacy faculty through the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), the national organization that represents schools and colleges of pharmacy around the US.  The annual meeting (on Twitter you will see a lot of #PharmEd17 from me this week) for the organization starts July 15th in Nashville and is full of workshops, presentations, research, and roundtable discussions on the future of pharmacy and pharmacy education.  I’ll get a chance to showcase some recent work with colleagues and hopefully absorb as much from others as I can.  For me, this meeting feels like my life coming full-circle as I get to work with former faculty I admired as a student while I apply the skills I’ve acquired as a pharmacy manager to become a better educator.

Transitioning to Academia

When I told my family in 2013 that I was leaving AlixaRx to pursue an academic career and apply to programs to earn a PhD in pharmacoeconomics I didn’t really surprise them.  It was a life-changing moment and a major career shift (on paper, even a step back), however the people that knew me the best had always believed I would end up in a career that involved teaching in some way.  Probably because I was that annoying kid who was extremely curious and once I learned something I wanted to try and break it down for everyone around me (whether they asked me to or not).  My Pappaw jokingly told me on multiple occasions, “Joey, you think too damn much.”  Fortunately, I had great professor-mentors at the University of Kentucky who helped encourage me back to academia because they saw some value in my quirks.

When I arrived on the University of Maryland’s campus in 2014 and began teaching pharmacy management (an area I had immersed myself in for the previous 5 years), I thought it would be easy to present some information and have all my students learn right away.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that while I may have had good “public speaking” skills, I had a long way to go to understand pedagogy.  Just telling a few stories and describing concepts may be fun, but it may not translate to actual learning.  Fortunately, when I was hired our school offered an educational theory course (taught by Stuart Haines, an expert with a real passion for teaching and mentoring) to sort of set the stage for how I would have to approach teaching.  This forced me to rethink my teaching philosophy and critically evaluate everything from my course’s terminal performance objectives to the overall role my teaching would play in the curriculum.

Applying Lessons from Business Operations

As an operations manager, a commitment to continuous process improvement (CQI) was critical to a sustainable business practices that produced higher quality results in more efficient ways at my pharmacies.  The practices of CQI can be applied to a not-for-profit institution in several ways.  In the case of a school of pharmacy, the development and review of the curriculum is one area that I would encourage all schools to consider committing to CQI.  We have a roundtable discussion devoted to this topic at #PharmEd17 on Tuesday at 11am, hopefully to hear how schools have implemented various CQI practices for curricular improvement.

Another business tool that was extremely valuable for motivating my employees to achieving goals was thoughtful benchmarking.  When I managed for the Kroger Company, I constantly posted results of all major performance metrics of our pharmacy in relation to our district and the “Top 20” pharmacies in the entire division (I didn’t want my team to settle just for district success).  In pharmacy education, one of the more common sources for school comparison is the US News and World Report where the schools are subjectively ranked on a 5-point scale through a survey of deans and department chairs.  While reputation is extremely important in any business, it usually doesn’t tell the whole story of performance or quality.  So I worked with a few colleagues this past year to ask Deans how they define quality in PharmD education and how they measure success internally at their institutions.  We will be presenting this as a poster at #PharmEd17 and have a manuscript coming soon (looking forward to the feedback and conversations we hope this spurs).  We hope this work helps us think about better ways to benchmark and improve our institutional performance.

One excuse for poor performance from employees in any sector is a lack of resources (ie: Not enough help, poor technology, bad facilities).  As a leader, it is important to evaluate how resources are being deployed in relation to the appropriate competition that you benchmark and how your performance compares.  In my experience, the “not enough help” argument is over-used but it is a sensitive claim for employees where they feel over-worked and helpless.  So I would try to tread this area cautiously, but sometimes I would just be brutally honest.  For example, after constant complaints from one of my worst performing retail pharmacies I built a table comparing 10 other pharmacies dispensing more efficiently, completing more clinical interventions, and providing better customer service – and yes…all with less technician and pharmacist hours per prescription compared to my squeaky wheel store.  After this “Coming to Jesus” talk with my pharmacy, I spent the next few weeks teaching more efficient workflow practices and helped provide encouragement along the way (I believe positivity and support must follow stern criticisms unless you plan to just fire the whole team).  The lack of resources argument can definitely be heard among faculty circles, so now I am trying to decide if this is an area I want to evaluate next.  The lessons of handling budget constraints and the evaluation of cost-effectiveness may be used to improve resource utilization across our industry to achieve the goals we identified through our benchmarking exercises.

Capitalizing on Curiosity

One word summarizes my goals for the meeting in Nashville: sponge.  I will be surrounding by many great minds from schools all over the country with many different environmental, structural, and process challenges.  While I love to talk, the acts of listening and observing will provide much greater returns.  If you are attending #PharmEd17, please come say hi and share your story.

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Joey Mattingly, PharmD, MBA is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy located in Baltimore, Maryland. Joey has managed retail and long-term care pharmacy operations in Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. Leading Over The Counter is a blog of Joey's views and opinions on the topics of pharmacy leadership and management and do not represent the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Joey can be followed on Twitter @joeymattingly.

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