I met Chesca in 2012 while on 4th year rotations at Children’s. I began my first job as a Pharmacist working under her leadership in the fall of 2012. For me personally, her knowledge and leadership in the practice of pediatric pharmacy has been an invaluable resource throughout my career.
Chesca has a high “Pharmacy Practice IQ”, and can tell you various pieces of information about pharmacy practice at an instant. Her vast knowledge, leadership, and background have made her an important contributor to the Practice of Pharmacy in the state of Alabama.
It is an honor to have her answer a few questions for the “Profiles in Pharmacy
” series. I am grateful that she has granted the readers an opportunity to gain more insight about her knowledge, background, and career.
- I met you while on my last rotation in 2012. Over the years I’ve learned about your background, and to me you have a fascinating biography. Can you tell the readers about your personal journey towards earning a Doctor of Pharmacy, and your initial experiences as a practicing Pharmacist. How has your journey impacted your approach to providing patient care?
My journey definitely has twists and turns. I had always dreamed of being an astronaut. From the age of 6 to the age of 21 when I was told I couldn’t fly at the USAFA, Since I was dead set on being an astronaut what a difficult situation to deal with at a young adult age. When I started my active military duty I was assigned to be a pharmacy technician at Langley AFB and I discovered this whole industry of pharmacy. The pharmacist I worked with encouraged me and I was lucky enough to have a pharmacy school in my hometown, The University of Toledo.
After I got a medical discharge thanks to a motorcycle accident that left me with a broken pelvis that did not fuse correctly, I applied to the University of Toledo School of Pharmacy. I returned to school as a divorced single mom who lived in a motel for a year.
After 6 years of pre-pharm and pharmacy school, I emerged from the University of Toledo as a full fledged Doctor of Pharmacy. Reflecting back, my school experience was a very positive one. The College of Pharmacy staff was very supportive and helpful. They really did help me to make good decisions that prepared me to be a proactive member of a healthcare team. I think this foundation as well as the experience I received from the military and internships in different environments (hospital, retail and long term care) gave me a great base to start my career.
- You have the personality in which you don’t meet strangers. Did this initially translate to your pharmacy practice? Did you always feel this confident when you first started practicing; or have you gained more and more confidence with each year of practice?
I think being what is considered a nontraditional student and an older student definitely impacted my approach to health care. Having needed ongoing healthcare due to my broken pelvis, being a mom of a child who had asthma and then later having one with a bleeding disorder, my experiences with various aspects of health care helped shaped my attitude towards performing as a pharmacist. I knew before I finished school that I wanted to be a pediatric pharmacist and I tried to get as much experience as I could while in school. I also had an incredible mentor Dr. Cindy Dusik whose passion for pediatric pharmacy was extremely contagious. She made it very clear to me that the path I had chosen — I would need to tread very carefully and I would need to have the utmost attention to detail.
Thank goodness the “military way” of doing pharmacy helped prepare me for this as well. Passion, commitment, and determination were all in my DNA. These aligned with the main pillars of pharmacy. To ethically and responsibly serve those who are in need of our help and our compassion.
As you know, I never really meet strangers, just someone that I have to find the line of commonality with. I think it becomes easier with experience. I think the military definitely helps with this as there is always someone new to get to know so you get plenty of practice. My confidence in my ability to find the right answer definitely grew with experience. I was lucky that I had the military experience because technicians in the military dispense which is reserved for pharmacists in the civilian sector; so as a young pharmacist, I definitely had a little more confidence, but since I was taking care of pediatric patients that confidence was always tempered with cautiousness. I was told that as a pediatric pharmacist it would take a year to become familiar and 5 years to be good and that’s pretty much the case. Even now, I am grateful that I have a great team that I work with that helps to make sure I am making the best decision. Experience truly helps you appreciate having a team that is all moving in the same direction.
- You’ve practiced pharmacy in both the hospital and retail pharmacy settings; how has your life circumstances, background, and education helped you navigate the in’s and out’s of both pharmacy leadership and effectively formulating rationale clinical recommendations to pharmacy peers, physicians, and nurses?
I had the opportunity to serve as Supervisor of Operations for several years at the hospital I currently work at. In order to help the department go through several transitions, I had to use all the tools I had in my toolbox and learn some new ones.
I was challenged to learn how to negotiate, understand and compromise over and over again. I had to take a few classes in order to hone these skills. It did not always come easily. I had to work with several different teams that had different sets of goals and I often had to teach others how the pharmacy department would fit into those processes.
Within the department we had to establish new processes and of course change is always difficult. I had to learn how to work with the team in order to make sure all needs were being met. I had to use what I learned about leading from USAFA, UofT, the military and life. Every life lesson that you learned will be challenged when you are trying to get things done with a team of people. You will find there may be multiple ways to get to an endpoint, but you can only work with the resources that you have. You learn to be flexible and adaptable and at the end of the day, you win as long as the whole team gets to the goal safely. One thing I always focused on was the people. It was important to me to make sure my staff understood that they were important and that we supported them. Work life balance was very important. When working with a multigenerational staff, it was important to understand the different requirements of the different age groups from the standpoint of the personnel that were chosen. I always had an open door policy and I made it clear that they had access to me whenever they needed it. I was extremely devoted to my staff and in return I had a staff that performed well.
- What advice would you give new grads in helping them earn the trust and respect of both their patients and peers? What things can they do to remain relevant and stay confident in their pharmacy practice?
My advice to new grads is simple, first find a place that fits who you are and do the type of pharmacy that you want to do. Then find a place where the people hold the same principles. The work is the work, at the end of the day; it’s the people you work with that usually make a workplace great.
When starting a job, acknowledge that you are a rookie pharmacist. You have a few tools in your toolbag but you need so many more in order to perform your job well. Listen and learn. There is something to learn in every encounter. Keep performing self evaluations to check your personal progress.
Take advantage of learning opportunities and make sure you always position yourself for success. Network and talk to people who are doing the things you want to do. This is important to make sure you are moving in the direction you truly want to go. Pharmacy is a very close knit industry. Everyone knows everyone and news travels extremely fast so make sure you protect your “brand”.
- You’ve taught multiple pharmacy technician courses throughout your career. You’ve helped countless young men and women enter the pharmacy technician profession. How has educating pharmacy technicians helped you develop a greater understanding of the profession? Do you foresee pharmacy technicians gaining a greater role in pharmacy practices across the United States?
The work of the pharmacy technician is extremely important in this industry. I think because of starting as a technician, this aspect of the industry is personal. When I got the opportunity to teach the pharmacy technician program at a local community college 11 years ago, I definitely thought it was a great and important opportunity. I understand that a technician makes or breaks a pharmacy. So my hope was to those who were interested in this industry, I wanted to be a positive influence and work hard to make sure they understood the requirements of the industry and what this profession could do for them personally. Because I have worn so many hats personally and professionally, and I am truly interested in helping people be the best versions of themselves, I try to bring a perspective that lets them know, I see them as a person and let’s work together to help you meet your goals.
The role of the technician is becoming more technical across the states. More is being required of technicians so that they can fulfill the changing requirements. Teaching technicians forces me to stay abreast of industry trends and changes. I see the changes as a good impact. The changes bring different opportunities for technicians to work in different aspects on the team. Giving them more responsibility is going to help the pharmacy be more efficient. The industry is recognizing that a well trained technician is a truly valuable part of the team. There are more requirements for education and certification. I am a huge proponent of growing the role so that it is more of a terminal job.
- As a person that’s been in the seat of hiring and firing. What skills do pharmacy students need to focus on while in pharmacy school to separate themselves from the pack? With the decrease in demand for Pharmacists in the market, what suggestions would you give to both new grads and recently laid off Pharmacists that are looking for jobs in this tight market?
That’s a great question. I think the new grads definitely have to be more strategic and flexible in their job planning. They may have to look at locations that do not have a pharmacy school in order to gain the experience they desire to have. I would also suggest that they take advantage of the new educational opportunities like dual PharmD and MBA or JD programs.
Also make sure they are networking and taking the time to meet people that are in decision making roles during their rotations. Talk to the classes that have recently graduated and ask them for their input as to the industry and what would they do differently to prepare. I have met several pharmacists after working in one aspect of industry and have decided to make changes.
This can be very challenging. I think industry wide, it is difficult to get a hospital position after working for years in retail. I think it’s important to stay current on what changes are going on in the other parts of the industry. Earning certificates in the aspect of pharmacy you are interested in will definitely speak to your dedication and determination to stay current. Take advantage of opportunities to network. Join your local organizations. Don’t give up. It may be difficult but keep working to find the change that you need for your life.
- You’ve helped thousands of patients throughout your years of practice. What has been your ultimate goal in your practice of pharmacy? What keeps you pressing forward during the tough days at the pharmacy?
This year marks thirty years that I have worked in this industry. It doesn’t feel that long but the numbers don’t lie unfortunately. I have seen many changes in the industry and I am excited about the changes that are coming. Watching our industry get more technological has been a lot of fun. I have always liked gadgets and tech so this aspect has been a lot of fun.
Even though I have been in the industry for a while, I never think that I am near the end of my career. I enjoy seeing the changes, the breakthroughs, the advancements. There is always a new aspect to learn or work through. It also fits my personality. I like solving problems and helping people so it makes sense to me.
I still look at the industry with awe and wonder. It challenges me and it has afforded me a great career and allowed me to do some really cool things personally. I’ve enjoyed working in different aspects of the industry. I have gotten to teach, speak, supervise and even review a couple of new gadgets. I’ve gotten to work and meet some really great people and I like to think that I have helped a few folks along the way. That’s what keeps me going forward. To whom much is given, much is required, and I still have a lot to do.
- You are a world traveler. Do you geek out over pharmacy memorabilia during your travels? How has travelling affected your outlook on pharmacy practice back here in the United States.
I love to travel. I have visited a few pharmacies as I’ve traveled, sometimes out of necessity. Luckily generic names are very similar everywhere. I don’t necessarily collect pharmacy memorabilia but I have grabbed a mortar and pestle or two. The pharmacy industry is highly regulated here in the states so as far as practice goes, we are in a great place. Some other places have been more aggressive at incorporating technology in their operations, however, we are starting to change here when the technology definitely adds layers of safety to our practice.
- Anything else you have to add for the readers? Freestyle questions and/or statements.
After all these years, I still see pharmacy as a good career choice. There are a lot of opportunities that are afforded working in this industry. Direct practice, research, academia, IT etc…..I have been blessed to have formed a great team and great relationships that make serving in this industry very rewarding.
Sam Blakemore is the Pharmacy Manager of Peds Rx Pharmacy Solutions. Connect with him via: LinkedIn