Leadership, Mentorship, and Overcoming Challenges: An Interview with Erin Brown, Senior Clinical Manager in Pharmacy

  • Photos by:
    by Jonathan Ruggieri @jeronimocreative
  • Published on:
    April 4, 2023
  • Reading time by:
    10 minutes
Leadership, Mentorship, and Overcoming Challenges: An Interview with Erin Brown, Senior Clinical Manager in Pharmacy

Erin Brown is a Doctor of Pharmacy who has had an impressive career in the healthcare industry. Her passion for the pharmacy profession began in high school when a mentor suggested that she research the field. After eight years of college, Erin earned her Doctorate in Pharmacy and started her first post-collegiate job as a pharmacist in a 200-bed community hospital. Erin’s didactic part of pharmacy school did not come easy to her, but during her externship, she realized she had knowledge and hustle, which gave her more confidence. 

Erin’s hard work and dedication led her to become the Pharmacy Manager at the hospital, where she incorporated teaching into her managing style and elevated the capabilities of all levels of staff. Erin shifted into a management level position for a health insurance company and has since moved up through three levels of management over the past six and a half years. Erin’s first job as a pharmacist at the community hospital shaped her philosophies on leadership, mentorship, patient care, discipline, women empowerment, being an advocate, and realizing one’s potential.

Can you tell us how you became a Senior Clinical Manager in the pharmacy industry?

Since high school, I was determined to become a pharmacist, and after eight years of college, I landed my first job as a pharmacist in a 200-bed community hospital where I also taught at the affiliated pharmacy school. Although school was not easy, I excelled in my externship and felt confident in my abilities. 

I eventually became the Pharmacy Manager and found that incorporating teaching into my managing style produced great results. After seven and a half years, I transitioned to an entry-level position at a health insurance company where I enjoyed learning, but ultimately missed being able to influence employee development and workflow improvements. I then transitioned into a management position and have since moved up through three levels of management over the past six and a half years. 

My first job as a pharmacist has shaped my philosophies on leadership, mentorship, patient care, discipline, women empowerment, being an advocate, and realizing one’s potential.

How do you approach mentorship and leadership within your team?

I take my position as a leader very seriously because people are putting a lot of trust in me. I have a people-first philosophy when I mentor and lead my team. This means I see everyone as their individual potential and no matter how large of a team I manage I will not look at them as just a number. I work to understand how the individual learns best, including what style of feedback they respond to. Even when I’m faced with making business decisions such as respond to the root cause of an error, I will evaluate the workflow process rather than place any unfounded blame on a person before I know the situation. 

If it ends up relating to an employee, I will take a supportive approach to understand what resources they may need in order to help avoid the error in the future. Pharmacy is high-stakes in terms of accuracy so the pressure is already high as soon as we take our oaths upon graduating. This is all the more reason I investigate instead of react; nobody on my team is being intentionally careless. I also believe knowledge should be shared. As a leader, when my team has knowledge they get to build out their skills allowing them to have the ability to take on additional tasks that I can delegate to them, which in turn allows me to expand my horizons. 

Everybody wins! I have participated in projects throughout my career where leaders kept information to themselves. This had personally left me feeling stifled and disengaged, not to mention compromised the quality of task output. Now as a manager, I consider seriously the effect of disengaged employees. Also, frankly it’s fun to watch people grow their skills and achieve things you can tell they doubted they even had. Seeing the young professionals I’ve worked with over the years start at point A, take my advice or guidance and get to point X, Y, or Z is rewarding!

Can you discuss the challenges you have faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry and how you have overcome them?

A 2019 study on the profession of pharmacy demonstrated nearly two thirds of practicing pharmacists are women and almost 60% of pharmacists in management positions identify as female. While that is encouraging, I reflect on my own career and observe more of a male-dominated look across senior pharmacy leadership. This has played a role in my pursuit for leadership roles. 

Not only should there be representation and a variety of perspectives among decision-makers, but I always want to demonstrate I can do a job as good as a man since that shouldn’t be a factor in the first place, in my opinion. It hasn’t been easy in healthcare being a women despite pharmacy being female-dominated. Starting out my career in hospital was especially challenging as a woman because I was up against very strong physician personalities. 

I felt like I had to prove my competence. Even when I became the pharmacy manager, on several occasions would a physician come to our door, gesture towards one of our male interns, and then ask me if they could speak to the pharmacist on duty (assuming the man was the pharmacist). It was probably unintended but it’s shamefully biased as well as offensive. During those times I wouldn’t say I had the best approach to navigating those situations. For example, I leaned on defensiveness and calling out sexism as soon as I saw it. Reflecting on that gives me a bit of inner conflict because, on the one hand I always strive to be an advocate for myself and others. 

On the other hand, those methods got me nowhere professionally. Admittedly, it took some time across my career to experiment with different tactics to feel like I knew how to get my male colleagues to view me as a peer instead of someone to fetch the person who had the ability to collaborate. I don’t claim to have it all figured out now. What I can say is persistence, confidence, patience, and keen knowledge about your industry are virtues. You trained for the role so you’re absolutely qualified. 

You are a person and therefore deserve to occupy space and have a voice. You should respond to the question if you know the answer. These are some of the actual affirmations I have told myself. I have intimidated people along the way with being self assured but when there are goals to meet or patients to serve, persistence has helped me influence the rest of the care teams I’ve been a part of to realize we have a common goal larger than any one of us and we need to embrace our differences and work towards successful output. 

My experience is such that when I learned to navigate my own emotions along with believing in myself and persistently showing up to contribute, I eventually became someone my male colleagues would seek out to collaborate with! 

Can you talk about the importance of independence and self-love in your life and how it affects your leadership style?

My own journey to becoming self sufficient and loving myself has been one of my proudest accomplishments and when given the opportunity to mentor young people on that topic it gives me such joy. It wasn’t an easy road, but it was a significant one. An essential function of the job pharmacists do in some settings is make a decision about the care of a patient in a short amount of time and sometimes without all of the facts we would like. 

Not only have I seen, but also personally experienced, that insecurities about yourself can lead to hesitation or lack of confidence in your decision-making in these scenarios. There was a period of time in my personal life when I lost myself in a relationship that was not serving me well. I struggled with confidence because of that and continued to let this relationship define me. This affected my work in a few ways. I felt hesitation in my clinical decision making, I struggled with imposter syndrome given my role was in management and I wanted to project fearless leader, I was poor at setting boundaries for when my workday ended since I really didn’t want to be at home, and I was always agitated because I felt like something was holding me back from being my truest self. 

After a couple of long years, I started to get into fitness because I was looking for an escape more than anything. A transformation happened that I’m forever grateful for, which has less to do with physical changes and more to do with creating mental clarity and believing I can achieve anything I want when other peoples’ assumptions are removed from the equation. This gave me the strength to move on from this relationship and prioritize my wellbeing. In healthcare it is hard to prioritize yourself because we take a professional oath to serve our patients and put them first. But the changes I saw in my professional abilities due to the changes I was experiencing in my personal life gave me so many tools to use in my mentorship style related to taking care of yourself. Now, I’m confident in what I know but accepting of what I don’t and I’m no longer insecure about delegating something to a colleague who is better suited. I have seen how much more effective I am at work when I have a fulfilling outlet in my personal life as well as truly love who I am. 

I encourage my team to use their vacation time, to have hobbies, to find something in their lives outside of work that makes them happy. I truly feel I can take better care of other people when I am taking proper care of myself. Therefore, I share this sentiment with my team because they meet our goals more successfully and provide the highest quality health care when they feel empowered to be themselves and believe they are a valued part of the team. 

Can you share advice for other women looking to advance in their careers and become leaders in their industry?

I have a list of leadership pearls that I’ve picked up along my journey of growing in my profession. 

  1. Find a mentor to work with you or a leader you can draw inspiration from. While the hustle is yours and it’s important to be your own advocate, someone who is in the place you want to go will have perspective you haven’t yet seen.
  2. Be patient with the process. Advancement doesn’t generally happen overnight and you may not always work for a company that has a crystal clear leadership ladder. There is a lot of value in refining your skills in the current position you have and take a moment to breathe and appreciate the confidence boost that comes with expertise at the task at hand.
  3. Know your worth. You don’t want to let yourself be taken advantage of in terms of taking on more tasks but reaping no reward even after putting in the time. Part of becoming keen to this is getting familiar with your industry to get a sense of the workload people with similar training are taking on relative to their level in their organization and their compensation. Certainly there are numerous factors that play into how workload differs from one organization to the next for the same position. Also, collect more facts than emotions if you intend on addressing your worth. 
  4. Speak up. When there are forums to provide feedback or ideas, speak up. When your manager is asking for people to participate in a new task, speak up. The task may not be something you feel passionate about or something you think you’d be good at but the act of taking initiative goes a long way.
  5. Be transparent with your manager about your interest in growing professionally and demonstrate your willingness to put in the work. 
  6. Be prepared to hustle. You can’t expect something for nothing, and you shouldn’t want to. It’s more rewarding to see the fruits of your labor rather than getting handouts. Additionally, your journey can then become something you share with your future mentees. 
  7. Realize leadership roles, and sometimes the journey, can be lonely. These are positions where you have to make decisions that not everyone will understand. Your team has their individual vantage points whereas you have to view the team as a whole and figure out how to get everyone working towards a common goal. You have awareness of a different level of intricacies about the organization which play into your decisions as a manager. While I practice with a people-first management philosophy this isn’t the same as people-pleasing. Sometimes you’re giving feedback or directives that a person takes negatively but as long as you know it’s in their best interest they often end up realizing that at some point. Nevertheless, it’s times like these you can feel lonely. But create your own support system and practice self-love and you will persevere. 

Can you discuss your experience managing a team of over 30 pharmacists?

One of my favorite challenges about the position I’m in is being responsible for a growing team of people in a fast-paced environment and having to use foresight about peoples’ strengths and what new opportunities might come up in the future where I can leverage those people and their strengths. Currently, my team is strictly pharmacists. Pharmacists as a minimum are highly trained and educated. Technically, any pharmacist has the skills to perform the duties my team is responsible for. 

What i take a lot of pride in is how focused I am on the collaborative culture of our team. When I’m selecting new team members, I strive to identify candidates who have similar values about work ethic and collaboration while bringing diversity to our team as well. I believe this approach is transferable to any industry. In most cases, a person who went through the training will be skilled enough. But my recommendation to hiring managers is to think about the culture you want to create and structure your interviewing, onboarding, and training to consider this as much as you consider skill-building. 

When I think about the variety of people and size of the team I have, it simply makes me smile to know how well they mesh and how many friendships have been formed amongst them. Culture matters. Regarding foresight, I must have a good read on people because sometimes they don’t realize aspects about their potential. I also have to glean insight from my leadership team about organization goals so I can understand what projects may be on the horizon. I meet with my direct reports frequently and have established a management expectation of other managers on my team to do the same. 

This allows us to understand as much as possible about our team members. It’s been so rewarding to have grown a team of staff level pharmacists to a structure that includes managers, supervisors, senior pharmacists, and seasoned clinical pharmacists. As much as I have a passion for mentorship I’m also drawn to workforce planning so I can say it’s been fun to realize a goal from senior leadership, think about the impact to my team and how we can contribute, reflect on the attributes of someone on my team who I think would be a good fit for a project related to that goal, provide them the resources to be successful, and then watch them flourish as they work through this new responsibility. 

Can you discuss your approach to diversity and inclusion within your team?

One of the most important mindsets that has factored into managing with values of diversity and inclusion is realizing not only will a team of people produce better results when you ensure everyone has a chance to contribute but you get exposed to so many alternate ways of looking at a situation when you have different perspectives to share. 

In healthcare, diversity in important in caring for patients who span a range of diseases, biochemical compositions, geographic regions, and socioeconomic circumstances. Patients engage better when they see or hear their healthcare provider might possess similar characteristics or experiences as them. At the very least our patients want to be treated with empathy and compassion and want to be heard. 

My team is best able to practice pharmacy this way if they are are also treated with empathy, compassion, and feel like they are heard. Inclusion is of utmost importance when I interact with people whether it’s the team I manage, or a handful of attendees in a meeting I’m dialed into, or working with just a couple people on a project. I help to ensure the space we’re in is one where everyone is comfortable to share their voice. This might come from my own experiences in the past of feeling talked over because of my quiet nature, being left out of an activity because the extroverts were selected in preference, and even being doubted because of having ideas too outside of the box for healthcare. 

I simply don’t want others to feel these things I have in the past. Different personalities and backgrounds and ways of thinking is how I’ve seen teams make progress! I also try to create different modes of communication within my team as I appreciate and welcome different communication and learning styles. Some people have thoughts in the moment so I provide an open forum in meetings. Some people would rather talk to their manager one-on-one. Some people would rather provide feedback through written surveys. 

The bottom line is I want people to feel empowered to be their best selves, as themselves. Too often do people find themselves having to adapt to predetermined criteria, which at minimum can make someone look less capable and at the extreme end can be biased. I always consider opportunities to enhance a process before I assume the person is the root cause. Seeing and treating your team members as individuals leads to more engaged employees who produce high quality results, which for me is high quality healthcare. 

How do you maintain a positive and productive work environment for your team?

When I think about what makes me most productive it’s when I understand why I’m doing the task I was assigned. I have also realized when I understand even generally why the task is assigned, I get a greater sense of purpose out of my job. When I had my first opportunity to lead others I wanted to test this theory as a leadership style. This was when I was a professor and overall I noticed more successful outcomes when explaining more about the “why” to my students. 

As I took on more roles in people-managing where I’d work with interns, pharmacy technicians, and other pharmacists I continued to test my theory that “why” is as important in task execution as “what”. I kept seeing examples of my team meeting and even exceeding expectations. To this day I provide as much explanation as possible to my staff about why we do what we do. In addition to providing insight about why a job function exists I also believe transparency is important to productivity. I share as much as is appropriate to my team about department initiatives and operational metrics. 

I have seen how much better they are able to navigate their projects when they have a little more information about the bigger picture. My management team and I are transparent with each team member about their individual progress too. Information is powerful and I don’t believe in hoarding it. A knowledgeable team of diverse individuals who are empowered to contribute within a positive work culture upheld by their management team directly correlates to productivity and meeting business goals! 

You might also enjoy..

Join the discussion!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *