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Karen McConnell – Management Pharmacist

What makes your career path unique?

I started out as a clinical pharmacy specialist in cardiology at Kaiser Permanente Colorado (KPCO). I was able to directly care for patients under protocol, starting in 2001. This was before other most pharmacists from around the country were able to do so.

After 15 years at KPCO, I was recruited by Cardinal Health to be a clinical director, which meant that I was consulting for large IDNs. I was at Cardinal Health for 2.5 years when Catholic Health initiatives (CHI) recruited me to be their system director of clinical pharmacy services. CHI has over 100 hospitals in 19 states in their system, so by taking this job, I am able to have a substantial impact on pharmacy practice across the nation.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

Typically, my workday consists of meetings, planning, and responding to email.

In my role, I must plan for where I think healthcare will be going as it pertains to pharmacy and health systems. This requires that I meet with clinicians from across the hospital system (pharmacists, physicians, nurses, etc.), with senior leaders in pharmacy, nursing, medicine, radiology, and supply chain to ensure we are aligned with our visions, and with pharmaceutical companies to discuss clinical attributes of medications and contracting.

In addition to meetings, I also answer many emails daily to ensure transparent communication.

Describe the most rewarding day of your career.

I think the most rewarding day of my career was when I was able to present a day-long seminar in Dubai, UAE.

I was asked by the American College of Clinical Pharmacy to speak in Dubai on updates in cardiology guidelines. During that trip, I was able to expand my cultural knowledge, as well as teach others.

It was rewarding to speak with the people there and to learn their culture. Of all the presentations I’ve done, that was the most memorable.

Describe the most challenging day of your career.

The most challenging day in my career occurred when I had been a pharmacist for about five years. A supervisor position became available, and I knew that I wanted to be a leader. So, I applied for that position, and did not get it. I was heartbroken.

That said, I learned from that experience, and took in all the feedback I was given. I decided which feedback I felt was most valuable and incorporated it in my behavior.

Eleven years later, I was recruited for a system director position. So, even though I was not given the news I wanted that day, the feedback I received help me become the leader I am today.

What most attracted you to pharmacy over other healthcare professions?

For years, pharmacists have been one of the most trusted professions in America. That attribute attracted me because I had seen the frustrations my parents faced in dealing with the healthcare system.

Also, pharmacists have such a wide variety of jobs they can do, from clinical, to operations, to management, to drug information, to regulatory, to consulting, and beyond. Customizing a career path is a huge positive for any profession. Additionally, I had a strong passion for chemistry and working with people, which both play well for pharmacists. A combination of these three things is what attracted me to a career in pharmacy.

What steps did you take to enter into this career path?

I was the first person in my family to go to college, so it was not easy to get where I am.

I worked hard to be the valedictorian of my high school class. This ensured that I could afford to go to college, because I knew that my parents were unable to help me.

I was accepted into pharmacy school right out of high school. During pharmacy school, my class was the last to choose to get either a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy or a doctorate degree in pharmacy (PharmD). I was one of the few students who choose to pursue a PharmD.

During the time that I was graduating from pharmacy school, there was a shortage in retail pharmacists. This meant that retail pharmacy was paying very good money. But, despite the money, I chose to complete two residencies instead—this was when very few PharmDs chose that route. I am grateful that I made that decision, because it allowed me to pursue clinical practice.

After I became a clinical pharmacy specialist, I not only worked very hard at my job, I also got my name out into the field by presenting and publishing. That helped recruiters find me, which created career advancement opportunities.

Going above and beyond consistently has helped me get to where I am today.

What advice would you give to a student entering pharmacy school?

For students entering pharmacy school, I would recommend first and foremost that they focus on their studies. It’s important to understand what they are learning in order to advance.

Second, I’d advise them to find some time to work in a pharmacy, be in retail, or practice in a hospital. There is no substitute for real-life experience.

Third, I’d suggest that they be actively engaged in their college life. This means interacting with their fellow students, volunteering, and socializing. College is a great place to network and meet future colleagues.

Fourth, pharmacy students should always go above and beyond. They should a paper to publish, participate in research, and collaborate with others. In other words, they should work diligently to put experiences on their resumes/CVs. This effort will help them to stand out so they can earn a residency, which will provide them with the experiences needed to kick-start a successful career.

And finally, pharmacy students shouldn’t be afraid to work hard. I promise, it will pay off!