Pharmacy Leader Amy Lamb: "Creating safe spaces for my patients to heal has been my primary goal."
By Pharmacy U
University of Saskatchewan, Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy
Professional Compounding Centers of America: Certified Hormone Replacement Specialist
Institute for Functional Medicine: Functional Medicine Consultant
Owner/Consultant: Lamb and Sage Personalized Health Solutions
Director, Staff/Consultant Pharmacist: WillowGrove Pharmacy, Prince Albert, SK
What excites you about being a pharmacist?
The potential diversity of the role of a pharmacist really excites me. The complexity of human and community health is incredible, and it intersects with both business and health industries on multiple levels. I have become deeply involved in advocacy for my profession and the patients I serve. As pharmacists, we have the privilege of the trust and funding of the publicly paid systems. I consider it my responsibility to review the true underlying causes of health disparity, and innovate solutions that facilitate the time and resources to solve them. With each new perspective of the problems, I attempt to design sustainable, accessible, and personalized solutions (even for whole communities). I don’t always succeed, but with each new idea, new program, or new interaction, the effectiveness of my interventions, and the breadth of my scope, increases. Pharmacists have many hats, and your personal strengths and motivations help you leverage these diverse roles into meaningful careers. The role I will serve today may be vastly different from the role I serve next year, and certainly 10 years from now. The problems are endless, but the solutions, and subsequent opportunities for pharmacists, are as well.
How has your career evolved since you first started in the profession?
Your first couple of years as a pharmacist are spent learning about the operations of the pharmacy practice you are a part of. You discover as a professional, the efficiencies, and the limitations, of the system. As a patient with severe health issues at this time, I had a unique view of the limitations of the health system, especially its failures. In the process of my own healing, I came to better understand the true underpinnings of health issues, and the limitations of medical care. I needed a bigger toolkit, one that had expanded resources to slow or stop disease progression, even before medical therapy was needed. I needed to understand how to coach and motivate individuals to find their own healthy rituals. I studied hormones, nutrition, functional medicine, natural medicines, and most recently, traditional medicines and community healing. I realized that the enacting of this complete toolkit required time, and that my own reach was limited to those I could work with personally. For the past 2 years I have been developing pharmacy programming and videography to increase the access to this knowledge, both for my patients and for other healthcare professionals. It has helped me serve remote communities, and create sustainable growth of a clinical practice that has consistently improved patient outcomes.
How would you describe a great day at work?
A great day at work has personal work-life balance, diverse and interesting roles, and lots of meaningful patient and practitioner interactions. Let me describe my week: Today I am working from my family cabin, completing personalized health reports for the clientele I saw last week. I am also tailoring some operational pharmacy programs for some community pharmacies that are practice consultant clients. I will spend the rest of the day with my daughter, exploring the surrounding forest and harvesting rose hips. I intend to gift these to my Indigenous clients, and I will develop some videography about the process of collecting and using natural and local medicines. Tomorrow I will be heading to one of the remote Indigenous communities that we serve. We will be attending a community gathering and representing our pharmacy. Forming trusting relationships is a cornerstone in truly understanding the disparities in human health, so non-clinical interactions are a foundation to respecting the partnerships we have with these communities. The rest of the week will be in the dispensary. I am a director and staff pharmacist with a newly opened pharmacy, and we are in the midst of developing some operational and training procedures to ensure that our vision, and intentions, can be translated effectively and be quality controlled. I have several privately paid consultations scheduled, and my pro-bono “Women’s Health Wednesday” clients to meet with. We recently hired a new pharmacy manager, so I will make sure to sit down with her and ask her about her vision and passions for this pharmacy and the community. I rely heavily on the team dynamic in any organization, and ensuring that our team has aligned intentions, shared strengths, and clear motivations is a challenge that I enjoy and revisit often.
What is (or has been) your greatest challenge as a leader in pharmacy?
The greatest challenge as a leader in pharmacy has been the systems in which we operate. The disrupters, the regulations, the third-party requirements, and the indignities of the patients we serve, tend to weigh heavily on our collective enthusiasm and ability to enact change. I attended a health innovations conference which stated that the “most highly regulated professions are the least able to innovate” and subsequently we are at highest risk for disruption, especially for our dispensing function. Having said that, it is not the loss of pharmacy dispensing practice that worries me, but the unsustainability of systems that do not adequately adapt and address the growing disparities in our communities. Since the discovery of approximately 6,000 children in graves within a previous systemic design, I have become increasingly impatient with the restrictions that limit health-care professionals from offering innovations and adaptations that increase access to all factors involved in health. Addictions and mental health crises come from stress; deep, inequitable, and existential stresses that ripple throughout communities and fall upon the limited resources of our public sectors. Creating safe spaces for my patients to heal has been my primary goal, and yet, there are leagues of red tape and restrictions that can be a barrier to the actualization of my hopes for my communities. The challenge, as I have attempted to manage, is to adapt, adapt, and then adapt again. Every failure is a lesson, every inefficacy requires recalibration, and all that is unsustainable requires a renewed business model. The systems in which we operate make adaptations for appropriate patient care very difficult. I believe, above all else, that I am a patient advocate, because I believe that patients are the only stakeholders in this industry who truly matter. When I adapt, when I push too hard, when I take risks, it is for them. It is for the children we can save now, those who deserve safety, full bellies, and hope. Systemic problems most often seem too big, or too complex, to have a meaningful influence on. What I can say is that I care deeply. The moment that I realized that this connection with others, my community, and my planet, was not a burden, but a gift, was when my perspective changed. I can care enough to move mountains. I think every woman (and most of the men) in this industry have that power, and that gives me immense hope.
How important was mentoring in your career?
Mentoring has been the foundation of my career diversity. I would not have found the expanded clinical offerings, and my own improved health, were it not for the mentoring of hormone and functional medicine clinicians. I have worked very closely with other pharmacy business and practice consultants and I owe my favourite word ‘sustainability’ to their tutelage. I have attended every pharmacy conference physically and financially practical, and thrive off the innovation and inspiration that they provide. I spent years on the board of directors for the Pharmacy Association of Saskatchewan under the mentorship of pharmacy advocates and entrepreneurs. The more I understand about this industry, the successes and failures of businesses and systems, the greater my ability to adapt solutions. Mentoring and exposure has catalyzed that understanding. I recently signed up to be a mentor for University of Saskatchewan students, and I always encourage student placements, in the attempt to take these privileges and pay it forward!
As a leader in pharmacy, what continues to drive you?
Patient outcomes and community health are my big drivers for my practice decisions. My own values align with humanitarian and environmental outcomes, especially finding ways to support those outcomes while ensuring sustainability of a publicly paid system and its resources. I hope to provide some effective examples that serve the above to improve pharmacy practice, and patient outcomes, on a broad scale. I want to help foster a change to our delivery of pharmaceutical care into more clinical interactions that are personalized and sustainable. I have invested time and partnerships into determining operational efficiencies that support community pharmacies, aiming to decrease the growing burden of transactional quality control of drug distribution. I have seen first-hand the immense value in getting to know the patient I am working with. To truly help someone change their health, you have to understand them. I continue to find ways to facilitate important discussions with my patients, including what is accessible/affordable for them, and what motivates them. It is a meaningful process to sit with someone as they reflect on the powerful moments in their own life that have shaped their health changes, good or bad. Finding ways to create time for caring professionals to understand, coach, and support their clients is the driving force behind all that I do. Every patient needs to eat healthy, stress less, rest adequately, and engage in movement. It doesn’t take my specialized training to know that. If you can find paired sales, services, funding, or partnerships that can support the discovery of that with your patient, then you get to share in the motivation that comes from helping someone find a better quality of life. There’s nothing better than that!
Looking at your career, what are you the proudest of?
I am most proud of the deep connections I have formed with my patients. Many of whom are people who have had health conditions disappear, symptoms resolve, and improvements in quality of life due to our interactions. I have had the privilege to speak at many pharmacy and health conferences, and it was a real treat to share my passions and experiences with my colleagues. I loved serving as a pharmacy advocate, especially for CAPSI and the Pharmacy Association of Saskatchewan. I was recently awarded the University of Saskatchewan “One to Watch” Alumni award, which was a very humbling and motivating experience.
What legacy would you like to leave to the pharmacy profession?
I truly believe that there are innovations in health-care (and all public service) that could turn a ‘cost’ to this system into economic growth for our nation. I wish to create circular renewable economies and social enterprises instead of overburdening our publicly paid systems. I believe the methods required to save health-care dollars require- that we return dignity to our patients. Even before we can coach on healthy rituals, our collective systems must determine how to keep people safe, fed, employed and sheltered. These are not the conventional roles of health-care professionals, but it is critical to the sustainability of our own funding that we discover, and contribute to, comprehensive solutions. I want to continue to develop operational efficiencies for pharmacies and adapt them to create space for pharmacy clinicians and coaches. I want to leave a legacy of sustainability, and through that, hope.
How are women paving the way for changes in the pharmacy profession?
Most of the female pharmacy leaders I have encountered are deeply interested in empowering other women. It is a false understanding that there are limited seats in advanced roles and leadership positions for women. Consultant pharmacists are teaching others. Pharmacy advocates are advocating for equality. Female business owners are creating employment that focuses on healthy families. Women are leading the question “WHY” are things broken, asking deeper questions, and connecting on a personal level with those they serve.
What advice would you give to new female pharmacy graduates?
Create space for yourself and your own healing. Your formal education is an incredibly difficult journey, and the survival mechanisms that erupted in your physiology need some rest and recovery. Your fulfillment as a professional, and as a woman, will require growth and presence of mind that exists beyond ‘survival mode’. The biggest lesson I learned was the importance of reflection, on self, on values, and the needs of the community being served. Often in health-care we are so inundated with the pressures of the system, that we reside in a state of ‘crisis’. Without time to reflect on your own strengths, and the opportunities that exist around you, it is extremely difficult to find a meaningful and productive purpose in these systems. You need to find some time to process the stresses of your education, and the upcoming stresses of a budding career. Consider important memories in your life, moments and people that have shaped you, community and pharmacy leaders that inspire you. Do this often. Knowing your foundations, and honing and practicing your strengths, will guide you towards actualizing a career that could change the world!