By Nimit Jindal
As I have noted in friendly conversations, formal presentations, and in writing, when it comes to your “calling,” you already know what it is. Your calling is what your passion is. If you are like me, you might also be interested in what “calling” means to today’s pharmacy leaders.
For Lawrence Brown, PharmD, FAPhA, Associate Dean of Students and Professor at the Chapman University School of Pharmacy, calling means: “Something in your life that you enjoy doing so much, and that really is about benefiting others rather than benefiting you.” I think that is perfect and a true representation of my presidential theme “Embrace Your Calling.”
I recently had the honor of interviewing Dr. Brown for this issue of Student Pharmacist. We had such an enlightening chat that I decided to interview several more trailblazers in the profession. I hope you enjoy the wise words of wisdom from Dr. Brown and stay tuned for more Q&A’s in the next few issues of the magazine.
Nimit Jindal (NJ): Tell us some more about having a true calling.
Lawrence Brown (LB): When you have a true calling, at the core of it, it has to be about making the community, the world, the profession a better place. It has to be about improving things and will largely benefit others. The other unique component about a calling is that it’s something you would rather do, than other stuff that other people will find enjoyment from. If you have a calling, you will be working on it on the weekends or in the evenings. Or instead of going on vacation, you will be doing something to further your calling. That’s not to say that you don’t need balance. But if you have something that is a calling, if it’s between something like watching another episode of Netflix or doing something that furthers your calling, you will do the thing that furthers your calling.
NJ: I think a lot of student pharmacists, myself included, often struggle with the question of what is my calling. Often times there’s a pressure to find your purpose, and so everybody becomes worried if they are making the right decision or not. When did you find your calling, and how did you know you had found it?
LB: I have had multiple callings through the course of my life. What I mean by that is, when I was in high school, my calling was band. I was a band guy. I was a leader in the band, and so at that time my calling was all about the music and helping the band get better. After high school, I went to the military, and my calling was literally the protection of the United States and its citizens. As a pharm tech in the Air Force it, was about the safety and well-being of the patients I served. When I left the Air Force, I started working for Kaiser in pharmacy operations on their computer systems, and I was all about improving the system, training people how to use it, and working the help desk. At that point I really loved Kaiser, and so the work I was doing there was my calling. I literally had planned on working as an outpatient pharmacist at Kaiser and working my way up the management track within Kaiser.
But I later had a conversation with a professor from Minnesota at APhA1999, a couple of months before I was due to graduate. I already had a job with Kaiser lined up, and that was my plan. But he asked me during our conversation the question, 'What do you want to do with the rest of your life?' Nobody had ever asked me a broad question like that. Because of all the leadership activities I had been involved with as a student pharmacist, I said I want to be at the big table where decisions are being made about pharmacists’ roles in health care and how they can better benefit patients, patient outcome, and patient safety. He told me to complete a PhD with him in Pharmacoeconomics and Health Policy. That’s what really changed me.
I then went to graduate school, got my PhD. And while I was there, I did a lot of research on the perception of pharmacists and looking at what could be done to improve that perception. That’s where I got my current calling: to change consumer perception of pharmacists. Working on that got me invited to a lot of tables. After graduating with my PhD, I got on a CMS panel on chronic care management. Around that table, I was the only pharmacist and nobody understood why you would want a pharmacist involved in chronic care management. There I was able to educate them about the role of the pharmacist and I was able to change the view of CMS. My calling really became doing what I could to improve the role of pharmacists in health care.
I advance my calling in many different ways. One of them is through the leadership positions I have served as APhA–ASP Speaker of the House, APhA Speaker of the House, APhA Board of Trustees member, and APhA President. Being at those tables allowed me to have input and impact on policy issues coming up. And then working in academia, I have been able to help shape the minds of students in the program, and even some students before they come into pharmacy school, and well after they have graduated.
NJ: Are there still moments that once you have found your calling, you are still afraid of making decisions and the outcomes that might result from them?
LB: I figured out very early on in pharmacy school that while I could go about this journey by myself, and while I could figure it out by myself, I didn’t have to. I had a ton of mentors throughout my time in pharmacy school, graduate school, and academia. Those mentors helped minimize the fear that I might have because I was able to bounce things off of them and get their perspective. By having a mentor, you have someone who is there not only as a coach, but also as a supporter. Having advisors can really minimize this type of fear.
The other thing is in regard to the calculations that these students are going through. If your primary focus is ‘what’s best for me,’ then there is going to be a lot more conflict involved in those decisions. However, if your primary focus is 'what would make me best prepared to take care of patients,' then you can really identify the skills you need to help focus on your calling.
NK: Where did you find your passion for health policy and leadership? How did your calling move you to the area of academia?
LB: APhA1999 pulled me into health policy, but I had already been involved in leadership since high school. I was 24, staff sergeant rank, a pharmacy technician, and both my Officer-in-Charge (OIC) pharmacists and pharmacy technician sergeant were leaving to go back to the United States, but their replacements weren’t set to come in for 4 to 5 months. The OIC put me in charge of the pharmacy while he was gone. Imagine a pharmacy tech in charge of a pharmacy without a pharmacist there! Beyond that, I had two higher ranking staff sergeants that I was chosen over. So that process was incredibly scary. At 24, responsible for the dispensing of more than 200 prescriptions every day, without any pharmacist oversight.
In terms of academia, when I got into the PhD program, I learned there were two main areas where people with my background would go into: the pharmaceutical industry and academia. It was an easy choice for me. I loved the academic environment and the ability to shape young minds and help them grow and succeed. For me with my calling, it was all about how can pharmacists do more to help patients, and the industry didn’t speak to me in the same way as academia did. Being in academia also gives you freedom to do a lot of the things you couldn’t do in the pharmaceutical industry. Academia gives you the time and support to go to professional meetings and serve in leadership positions.
NJ: How has embracing your calling helped you in your life?
LB: In a lot of different ways. One example is that for me, I don’t have a hump day. I don’t have a ‘Thank God it’s Friday’ or 'Oh no, it’s Monday.’ Ninety percent of the days of the year, I wake up energized and excited for my day to get going. I remember growing up, my dad was a truck driver and then got a job as a camera man for a television station in Chicago. He went back to school, got a degree, and became assistant director. And he told me there is nothing better than a career that you enjoy and that you would do for no pay. Having a job you didn’t dread going to was worth more than anything else in the world.
If you are spending 40 hours a week being miserable at work, and then are miserable at home to decompress, and then miserable the next morning in anticipation of going to work, that’s a horrible way to live. Following my calling has allowed me to have a better quality of life, since I enjoy every minute of it. It makes my time enjoyable and has provided me with so many opportunities.
NJ: What would you say to those student pharmacists who are pulled to something different than what everybody else around them is doing?
LB: You really have to follow your heart. Following other people toward their calling is not a recipe for success. Students should ask themselves where would they get the most joy. When you look at residency versus non-residency versus postgraduate degrees, students should really ask themselves where they would get the most joy. If they enjoy providing clinical care for the most complex patients in the hospital or ambulatory setting, then they should go the residency route. If they want to use their clinical skills in the more community setting and get to know their patients and help them on a monthly basis, then the community route is the way to go. Then there’s people who want to have impact at a higher level, and that’s where going into academia or fellowships come in. You also want students to look at their skill set.
For example, if a student really enjoys public speaking, then they might want to work for a non-profit group to use their pharmacy knowledge and public speaking skills to talk to patient groups. If you have somebody who is all about local policy, they might be better at working for an insurance company or state Medicaid agency. Students have to look at what they enjoy doing.
NJ: Do you think your calling will change? How do you anticipate you will allow your calling to guide you in your future?
LB: I have learned to say never say never that something will happen. I want to be open to possibilities. It’s possible that my calling might change, but rather than change, it might narrow based on my role. I may eventually become dean of a pharmacy school, so my calling would change in that regard. But regardless, I would still have my calling to help improve the profession.
When you have your calling, you want to be open to other opportunities, but don’t be distracted by them. I have been offered to apply for dean positions for several years now, and it would have been easy for me to jump at those opportunities, if my calling was about me. But since I was clear about my calling, I turned down those opportunities at that time. Now I might get to a point where a dean’s position would make sense, but for right now, I am focused on what I can do to benefit the profession in my current position.
The way that I have always thought about it is something I read a while ago: What do you want written on your tombstone? For me, what I want written on my tombstone is that I helped the pharmacy profession be better than the way I found it, and I have helped others succeed in life. I think it is important to have a positive impact on the pharmacy profession and on the pharmacists who are providing care to patients and keeping them safe from harm.