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Pharmacy Residency Podcast

Jan 29, 2018

In this episode, we focus on a new series of the Pharmacy Leaders Podcast focused on topics related to women in pharmacy leadership. Jackie Boyle hosts Ellina Seckel, PharmD, BCACP, Associate Chief of Ambulatory and Specialty Care, Pharmacy Service at the Madison VA in Wisconsin. Ellina discusses her non-traditional path to a leadership position, how women can support each other in leadership endeavors, and the unconscious challenges she has experienced as a woman in leadership. Her focus on authenticity and integrity in leading her team has allowed her to take on many pioneering roles within the VA health-system, including oversight for > 20 primary care clinics, providing patient care, and training others across the country to adopt innovative primary care models.
Full Transcript:


Welcome to the Pharmacy Leaders Podcast with your host Tony Guerra. The Pharmacy Leaders Podcast is a member of the Pharmacy Podcast Network with interviews and advice on building your professional network brand and a purposeful second income from students, residents and innovative professionals.

Okay, so welcome to the Pharmacy Leaders Podcast. My name is Jackie Boyle from The Pharmacy Girl and I'll be hosting for the very first time today. Special series focused interviews about women in pharmacy leadership. So I'm super excited to have Dr. Elena Suckle here with us today. Elena is the associate chief of ambulatory and specialty care pharmacy services at the Madison VA in Wisconsin. She is responsible for strategic direction and oversight of ambulatory care clinical pharmacy specialists in over 20 clinics across multiple facility departments. She also maintains her own patient care practice where she acts as a provider with privileges and clinical support to two primary care teams. So, Elena welcome to the Pharmacy Leaders Podcast, so excited to have you.

Thank you so much Jackie it really is wonderful and more exciting for me to be here. So thank you so much for this opportunity.

Well thanks for coming on today. I know we're going to focus on women in leadership but I really want to hear more about you. What does, I mean look you have so many professional responsibilities tell us a little bit about what your professional life looks like.

You know, that's such an interesting question because sometimes I don't know the difference between my professional and personal life and I'll hook in trying to get intertwined and as, you know, your professional captions are life's passions and sort of become who you are and how you define yourself as an individual. So I'll maybe just talk about the stuff I do in life and hopefully that will help answer the question. So yes, I love working at the VA, serving our veterans is a huge honor for me as a fundamental vision and value and really exciting to work in an atmosphere where pharmacists are providers. So we prescribe for patients, we have our own patient appointments that we see anything that it has a medication involved as in diagnosis a chronic disease we can manage and we work within teams to do that. So it's really, I feel lucky to be part of the system that not only supports that type of practice but very much values that and sees of patient care outcomes and as far as different professional passions I love being involved in pharmacy organizations very similar to you Jackie. So involvement with ASHP with the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin have been really fulfilling for me and then through the VA there's kind of a VA version of these ASHP if you will through the clinical pharmacy practice office and they've been wonderful to engage with for opportunities to help spread practices across VA then VA across the nation, so been doing some site visits and things outside of the Madison area, so it's all very fun.

Yeah and it really sounds like your professional and personal interests have lined up in many different ways. You're doing a lot of progressive things in your practice and involved in pharmacy organizations that align with that vision as well. So I know, you know, Elena we had a great conversation at mid-year about leadership and traditional versus non-traditional path to leadership. Can you tell us a little bit about your trajectory to and continuing on and in your leadership path and maybe what makes it a little bit non-traditional?

Definitely, so what I think is a little maybe unique maybe not for some people about the path I've been afforded is I started out really focused on ambulatory care clinical practice as a whole and did a PGY-1 focus just in that area. And then as I started thinking about what extra training I needed and wanted to pursue there were pieces of leadership that really were exciting to me. And so even though I was mostly focused on clinical I felt an administration residency would help me develop the leadership skills needed to help advance the profession forward for the betterment of patient. So I did my first year and ambulatory care completely in my second year in health system pharmacy administration and then got hired as our very first primary care program manager and sort of some unique dynamics. I moved from being a resident with preceptors to the next day being the supervisor of those same preceptors. So that I think was a unique growing experience for me and learning experience how to navigate those relationships because as, you know, so much of leadership is about trust and developing others and teamwork and it took probably about six months I think for me and my team to get comfortable with each other and really understand our intentions and be able to move forward as a cohesive group. Not that we weren't on the same page before but certainly there's some of those interpersonal dynamics that we had to work out through that time. And then as I moved through that year I had the exciting opportunity to be involved with a national award based on our practice model. And so sort of pretty quickly early on started traveling to other VA's, got to meet the VA secretary and he at the time didn't realize that pharmacists could prescribe even though we had nearly 4,000 pharmacists prescribing just in primary care across the VA. And so to have the opportunity to engage with him and share with him what pharmacists are capable of that was really impactful because then he started advocating for advancing pharmacists roles. And so that afforded both myself and our profession as a whole continued leadership growth opportunities that we really wouldn't have if it was just pharmacists advocating for ourselves. So in my second year post that moved into the associate chief role over are all of our clinics and has been able to stay engaged both locally, nationally since then.

Yeah so it's not super common that one would pursue PGY almost PGY-3, right? Three years of residency training and also be in a unique position where you were once, you know, colleague and then an authority position overseeing and supervising the individuals that you were working with probably the day before. What do you think helped you navigate that challenge because you're very successful in what you do, right? So how did you, what are some skills that you think that helped you get through that time?

That's an interesting question and I'm not sure that there are skills per se that I can think of. I just remember being very honest and transparent and genuine in my attentions and that my goal was really truly to help them, succeed their success is my success and success for patients and success for the profession and so I think for me just focusing on being who I am, you know, not trying to be somebody that I'm not and continually expressing both verbally and through actions that my goal is to be a support to our team and to help them advance so that we can all help patients and advance the profession together.

So it sounds like authenticity is important.

Definitely, definitely.

Great, alright so I know we want to talk about women in leadership but broadly what do you think are some misconceptions about leadership and what makes a good leader?

I really love this question because I think I have and had very different conceptions or misperceptions of what a leader really is throughout my career and growth thus far. So for me I am 5 foot tall and small female and I don't dress in blazers or suits. I kind of have a maybe a weird style and I think the misconception I had is that you need to kind of be that prominent looking put together pressed leader in order to make an impact and I kind of tried to do that actually at one point. I did try to like okay, maybe I need to fit this mold in order to be effective and what I found is that I was really unhappy and I felt bad about myself because I wasn't able to be authentic like you mentioned who I am and so I think through kind of working through that misconception and realizing that I can't be anybody else than who I am has given me additional comfort and confidence in my style now. That's definitely to tested, you know, I've run into situations where leadership outside of our department, you know, has said things like oh well, you know, we're going to have director B at this meeting because, you know, you're just less experienced or, you know, maybe you need to be more seasoned and so being young, small and female I think sometimes lends itself to misconceptions that may make you want to think you need to fit a different mold. But then realizing that it just doesn't work you just have to be who you are and, you know, there are definitely successes in being who you are and so focusing on those rather than maybe the times that there's, you know, misconceptions from others it's been important.

Girl I hear you and I remember when we first met here it was so exciting so if any of listeners don't know us in person yet Elena and I are short and small. So, I hear you though and there actually is an in business literature more so there is literature that shows that most CEOs are over 6 foot tall which is really fascinating to me. Just the visual perception of perhaps what makes a great leader or what doesn't is a really interesting concept to think about.

Yeah and you hear things sometimes like oh wow, well you seem, you know, really confident, kind of like, well, what am I supposed to, you know, so it's like, they don't expect their, people maybe don't expect visually what they get from working with you and I know that you probably experienced some similar things because you have a very vibrant personality and maybe there's unfortunate biases before people get to know you, you know.

Could be, I know my grandma always told me good things come in small packages so I'm sticking with it. Alright so, let's focus in on then women in leadership. What challenges do you see for women leaders in pharmacy?

I think something that's unique. Well, first of all, I think there's been a lot of focus on this topic recently which is very good and necessary. I think sometimes that what's striking to me is as that focus grows some of the unique perspectives that might come out of that from others, you know, I even heard at our state level oh well, you know, find the national succeed on that but we don't have that problem here, we don't have that problem in our state. I was like well, I might like the differ, so I think that there's a lack of understanding or acceptance from some groups on that there are disparities even though, you know, despite the fact that the vast majority of the pharmacy profession is now women there's still a disparity in the leadership ratios. You look at management teams and they're still predominantly male even though our proportions of pharmacists are much more prominently female. So I think those challenges and misperceptions and maybe misunderstanding of even the issues that are there and then, you know, some of the things you talked about with making sure women support other women. And so it's not, you know, it's not necessarily a male-female issue it's all of us accepting that there's something that needs to be addressed and supporting each other in helping improve those issues. So it's unique but I'm glad that the topic is up for discussion and could really be, you know, transferred not just to women in leadership but women of color in leadership or different ethnicities in at large. So, I think there's a lot there that could be a healthy spin off of some of these conversations as well.

Yeah and I'm really glad that you brought up the, well maybe this isn't our problem kind of thing but, you know, having open conversations like this one where we can talk about what are those issues and who is at the table, who's not at the table and who do we need to bring to the table is extremely important because if we're not having those conversations that there's a lot of information that could just be unknown about those groups that you mentioned as well. Oh go ahead.

I'm just going to add piggy back of what you're saying with being and having the right people at the table because it's just natural human nature that you don't have the experiences that other people have and so making sure that there's appropriate diversity at the table to represent their respective groups is really critical I think and making sure everybody has a cohesive voice and were able to move effectively forward together.

Agreed and there's a lot of organization evidence to show that the more diverse the group is how the more effective the operation is as a whole so.

Exactly, exactly and really have you seen the show, Shark Tank?


So you know Kevin O' Larry, I think is his name. I don't know if you've seen the articles that he is come out and very publically stated that the companies he's invested money in on Shark Tank all of the ones that are making a profit or run by women. Which I thought was really unique and he was like it's not that I don't invest in companies that have male leaders, they're just not the ones making a profit. And so he's become very outspoken in his support of having female leaders in these positions and he says it's not really a gender thing for me I'm just looking at the companies that are making me money. He's pretty pragmatic about these.

Right, right and there's not a lot of pharmacy literature out there I think and hopefully with the attention that's being drawn to this topic that will come but these are all things we should we should also look at to see do pharmacists follow these trends or do they not? I don't know. There's nothing out there specific to pharmacy, you know, we have some healthcare literature or even articles that have been published in HBR but not a ton in pharmacy yet. So anyone looking to publish things this is wide open. So, you know, you touched a little bit on this in your challenges talk but what other opportunities of money do you see for women in pharmacy leadership?

I think truly the possibilities are endless and I would love to see more women in pharmacy leadership as well as men in pharmacy leadership move into non-traditional leadership roles within medical centers. Director roles, associate director roles, chief financial officers where we can really start to affect change and I know that there are some people that have done that and that's I think very commendable and really an opportunity to help change not just the profession of pharmacy but healthcare direction as a whole. But I do I think we have a unique skill set within pharmacy that we get to see the clinical side and the business side and that we understand both and we tend to be pretty high performers and there's a lot of really organized pharmacy leaders that are even, you can see it in frontline staff that are seeing patients each day. And so I think there's a talent and a unique skill set that we bring and I would love to see us expand further into these non-traditional leadership roles.

Yeah, the type A can really be helpful in advancing, you know, organization goals, working towards different objectives. So I completely agree with you there. Alright so let's take a step back and say let's flashback to Elena at seven years old. What would you have told yourself now having, you know, gone through life, gone through school, residency training in your first couple of positions. What you do wish you could have told yourself at that point about your future career or even advice you would have given to yourself at that point?

Seven years old, I didn’t have a lot to say.

That was a random age to pick, sorry.

That's good, that's good.

Let's say 10, let's say 10.


How about that?

Okay, that's good, that's good. You know, I think I would have told myself not to worry and to just be confident on the path and I think I would have also told myself to get involved with pharmacy organizations sooner. I really as a student was pretty uninvolved. I haven't really been exposed to much. I've done a lot with implementing medication therapy management program at the community pharmacy I worked at but I didn't have as much exposure or network within pharmacy organizations. And I wish I would have done that sooner just because it's so valuable to me now and I feel so passionately about it. That's a piece, you know, I just the earlier you start with it the larger your network is and the bigger impact you can have with helping influence others positively and giving them opportunities too. So I guess those would be the two pieces if I'm thinking from a pharmacy related standpoint.

Yeah that's really great advice to former self and actually I was thinking about the career pearl session from med-year clinical meeting and I think one thing that I heard consistently, did you go to that session?


One thing I heard consistently was those who were later in their career they reflected back in said, you know what, I could have never predicted the way that my career was going to end up and pharmacists were control, we want to know ,right?


We want to have step-by-step, we want to have this checklist that says I'm going to do PGY-1 and then 2 and then this is going to be my job and this is what's going to happen but in reality like I can tell you and both of us, you know, we're kind of a few years out now like I could have never predicted what was going to happen even in these first couple of years. So I have a feeling hearing that consistent theme will probably be the rest of my career I don't know what's going to happen. So just trust them, trust in the process and don't worry.

Right, trust in the process and be excited for a little bit of unknown, you know, that it's okay to not know exactly where it's going to go and that leaves some room for creativity and maybe a different approach or path that you didn't have room to think of before.


And I think I just also want to acknowledge that I feel like you're the epitome of getting involved early and how much that can help shape opportunities for the profession and your ability to help influence others positively. So for those listening definitely ask Jackie about her experiences as well. She's the perfect example.

Thank you and I will echo the organization involvement has really been an exciting part and not, you know, paid but very exciting part of my career and I know has impacted yours as well Ellina. So I know you're in a leadership position now and it sounds like the switch kind of happened quickly for you so, you know, when that offer came across, you know, what made you say, let's do this? You know, what drove you to say, I'm going to take this new position?

That's a great question and it kind of happened a little bit differently for me. So it was FCE that eventually got approved with some contribution from the residency project that I had done as a PGY-2 and of course there's a whole team of people involved and lots of advocacy and groundwork that was laid prior to that. So didn't just happen because of that but in part and at that time I think the vision was for that position to be programmatic oversight but not necessarily have supervisory responsibilities, But I really wanted that. For me having that supervisory component gives me my best ability to impact and support others and that's something that is an incredibly important value to me. And so I asked for it I said, you know, this position seems really interesting I would love to stay for it but I want to have the supervisory component and that was added and so I think I bring it up because so many times I think we might be afraid to ask for what we want or feel like we're not qualified or not ready to take on a role. And I mean I don't think I was necessarily fully equipped and ready I mean I certainly have done an admin residency for one year but certainly I'm learning everyday still new things about how to be a good leader and how to be a good supervisor. But I think it's important that when you have a passion for something and an opportunity might be there its okay to ask for really what you want and what you feel is important to you, so yeah.

Yes, I heard kind of a couple of things in there so it sounds like impostor complex is something that we all, me every day I mean, you know, face and deal with but also putting yourself outside of your comfort zone helps you to grow and gain that experience which you certainly did and extends your impact beyond what you could possibly have done on your own. Which is really exciting to, you know, have the impact on others who are taking care of even more patients than you could have ever seen as an individual person, very exciting.

Exactly, exactly and isn't that the most fulfilling part when you can have a team or when you're all working as a part of a team you can have so much more of an impact than any one of us can do on our own. So you're exactly right.

So, I want to dive in, we probably should do a whole maybe we could do it upside-down impostor complex because that phenomenon fascinates me but I know we need to wrap up soon. A couple more questions. So we talked about women leaders needing to support each other. What do you think or how are some ways that we could best do that?

Yes, I agree with you 100%. It's something that we need to focus on and I think we need to talk about it. So for me being exposed to other women that support each other seeing that has been an incredibly important example and it inspires me to do the same for others. And I think having an open dialogue about how sometimes it can be uncomfortable because you might feel like you're giving up an opportunity that you had to fight for yourself but reframing that into again we're all stronger together and the most important thing that we can do is support each other. And so acknowledging that it's okay to feel that discomfort that that's normal and natural like that does that make you a bad person but then framing that as okay well remember, we're all stronger together and we have to help each other and, you know, it brings us all joy to support each other. So I guess mechanically for me that means when opportunities come up I think of all the people that I can, that might be good for that or might enjoy it and try to send them that way or promote them when I have the opportunity to other leaders so that they can have additional opportunities. I feel like you Jackie are doing that for me with this podcast and so I think just continuing to show those examples and continuing to support each other is important for all of us together.

Yeah I think, you know, sponsoring and what you're talking about is something that women might not do as naturally. And I know Tony and I have talked about this before but men do it all the time, you know, they put each other in promotion positions or highlight each other's accomplishments and we just we're very good at mentoring and nurturing but sponsoring sometimes doesn't come very naturally to us. So I think having those opportunities to do that and put other women in the spotlight is really fulfilling and is something that is a skill that we can we can practice with each other, so.

And on that same note that there really is enough opportunity for all of us. So if you ever, you know, sort of start to feel that twinge remember giving somebody else an opportunity does not take away future opportunities for you. So there really is enough for everyone.

Yes, that's a great point too Elena because of the disparity in, you know, even upper administration sometimes it may seem like well there's only one woman on this administrative board so why would there ever be more than one, you know. But maybe those dynamics and demographics will change over time and that would change the perception that there isn't enough room for, you know, equality or even just more diversity so very good point. So I know we're going to wrap up here I want to think about, you know, our listeners here who are saying how can we, you know, how can we take all of this leadership advice and thoughts in consideration and think about the future leaders of pharmacy in our students or residents, new practitioners, practitioners who are in their career right now who want to learn more and discuss about leadership. How can we pay it forward to them as they're in their leadership journey right now?

Well for me I think the first thing we have to do is look inwardly and really self reflect and make sure that we, what we're doing each day we're doing for the right reasons and that they align with our values. And once you gain comfort with your value system and being confident in your intentions I think you can then much more confidently and easily promote and sponsor other people. And that means giving your best self to students and to residents and to new practitioners and those who need that support. Because we all need that regardless of where we're at in our career we, none of us to do anything alone, we all have people that have supported us or have given us advice or have maybe put a bug in our ear that then makes us make a decision one way or another taking opportunity or not. And so I think, first making sure we're doing things for the right reasons and have right intentions and then really committing to a purpose, a life purpose not just a professional purpose but in life doing the right thing for others, promoting others and really giving what we can to help other people in the pursuit of doing the right thing for patients.

Thank you Elena. That was a great way to wrap everything up in a nice authentic way because that really was what the message that I heard was from you that authenticity is most important and I really appreciate your time today, thank you for being my very first guest with not a lot of time or preparation. So thank you again for joining us on the Pharmacy Leaders Podcast.

And thank you so much Jackie for the opportunity not just to be on the podcast.

Hey everyone now that you've listened to the podcast I'd love for you to come over to my blog at where you can learn more about personal and professional development with a focus on women in leadership.

Support for this episode comes from the audiobook Memorizing Pharmacology. A relaxed approach with over 9,000 sales in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, it's the go-to resource to ease the pharmacology challenge. Available on Audible, iTunes and in print eBook and audio book. Thank you for listening to the  Pharmacy Leaders Podcast with your host Tony Guerra. Be sure to share the show with the hash tag hash pharmacy leaders.