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A Pharmacy Association Management Fellow’s Path to Pharmacy

There are so many different types of careers within the field of pharmacy—from research and drug development to pharmacy informatics! To highlight some of the more unique career settings in the industry, we’re introducing a page on our website—Novel Pharmacy Practice Settings—where you can explore these unique career pathways.

In addition to learning more about unique pathways on our new webpage, we’ll also be featuring pharmacists who work in these unique settings on our blog. Today we’re excited to spotlight Sharmi Patel, PharmD, MBA!

Dr. Patel is an Executive Fellow at the Iowa Pharmacy Association. The following is a look into how Sharmi started on her path to pharmacy association management.

From what institution did you earn your professional pharmacy degree (e.g., Pharm.D.)?

Drake University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

Please describe your novel practice setting. What makes your career path unique?

Iowa Pharmacy Association represents a unified voice for the pharmacy profession, aiming to preserve and advance the profession’s interests and serve the professional needs of all pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and students practicing in the state. 

An association management fellowship provides an exceptional learning experience for a pharmacist interested in being a leader and prepares individuals well for a well-rounded, high-level position in the profession of pharmacy and health care.

This career path is incredibly unique because it allows you to gain exposure to various areas within association management, including leadership development, grassroots advocacy, professional affairs, problem-solving and more.

What led you to this career path? What steps did you take?

While in pharmacy school, I knew I had an interest in a non-traditional pharmacy setting, which is why I decided to pursue an MBA degree in addition to my PharmD. I appreciated the expanded set of skills and critical thinking that I developed during my MBA courses and quickly realized that I’ve always wanted to be involved with a higher level of patient care. I also had an interest in the administrative and strategic work of healthcare organizations to advance the profession while also improving the health outcomes of patients.

During my last year of pharmacy school, while on rotations, I aimed to gain exposure to different pharmacy practice settings and network with individuals across various areas to determine where my interests lay. I knew I wanted to gain additional training and leadership development experience before diving into a specific industry. So, when a colleague recommended that I pursue the IPA fellowship, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up!

What does a typical workday look like for you?

Something I love about the fellowship is that there’s no typical workday. Some days I have back-to-back meetings all day, and on other days I spend most of my time catching up on emails and projects.

Overall, my week often includes listening and learning from educational webinars, planning IPA events for our members, collaborating with various state and national stakeholders, working with pharmacies to implement clinical initiatives, addressing member issues, networking with pharmacy professionals, precepting fourth-year pharmacy students, and much more!

Describe the most exciting or rewarding aspect of your novel practice role.

The most exciting aspect of my role is making a high-level, valuable impact on the profession through the many initiatives I’ve been able to take the lead on. Knowing that the work that I am doing independently and within my team will directly result in advancing the role of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and students is incredibly satisfying.   

Describe the most challenging aspect of your role.

The most challenging aspect of my role right now is that I cannot attend in-person meetings and events and make even greater personal connections with everyone I’ve been fortunate to meet so far.

My team often talks about the “water cooler” chats that are associated with each meeting. It’s a disappointing feeling to have missed out on additional opportunities to get to know my colleagues and pharmacy professionals in a more individualized way.

Although I’ve been able to reach more individuals through virtual calls and meetings, there’s a difference in the value of a face-to-face meeting. I’m hoping to get opportunities to attend in-person meetings before my fellowship ends, pending the COVID-19 pandemic!

How can someone learn more about this unique practice setting and the career opportunities it presents for pharmacists?

No matter the state, pharmacy associations play a pivotal role in advancing the pharmacy profession. State pharmacy associations work incredibly hard to advocate for pharmacists, technicians, and students. Many associations—state and national—offer executive internships, fellowships, and residencies to help new graduates learn more about association management. 

Beyond pharmacy school, state associations also provide opportunities for pharmacists to get involved within committees, grassroots advocacy, event planning, and more.

I’d recommend that student pharmacists reach out to their respective state pharmacy associations to determine where their expertise can be the most valuable.

What advice would you give to a current student pharmacist who is interested in pursuing a similar type of practice role in the future?

For students interested in pursuing association management, I’d recommend they network with pharmacy leaders, get involved with advancing their state associations’ legislative priorities, and pursue internships or rotations that are focused on association management and/or have a legislative or regulatory focus.

What general advice would you give to a high school or college student who is interested in pursuing a pharmacy career?

I’d recommend that students keep an open mind and remember that pharmacists do more than just put pills into a bottle. It’s a good idea to get involved in unique opportunities in high school, undergraduate, or graduate studies to differentiate themselves and gain well-rounded experiences. 

If they’re looking to make a lasting impact on patients and healthcare, pharmacy school will prepare them well for the clinical knowledge needed for the several paths they can take after graduating. They should be sure to step outside of their comfort zones to find what areas they’re most interested in and then explore those areas further through internships, shadowing opportunities, and job prospects.

Share a brief story about a time you had a positive impact on a patient, population, or community in your role as a pharmacist.

Throughout my fellowship, I’ve been able to work with our team to implement new policies involving diversity, equity, and inclusion. We continue to have educational opportunities within our own team and have made it a priority to have the conversation about racial injustice in hopes that by the association taking such stands, the pharmacy profession in Iowa can continually foster a just and inclusive healthcare system and society.

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