Pharmacy Leader Aska Patel - "I get excited when I see my patients lead healthy lives."
By Pharmacy U
Education: BSc.Phm., University of Waterloo, 2012; PharmD, University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy, 2016.
Current role: Consultant pharmacist with the Central West LHIN for over four years.
I do provide relief coverage on a casual basis in a community setting. During the pandemic, I decided to explore entrepreneurship and launched my own venture, Acuvise Consultancy Inc. I am proud to note that I serve as a pharmacy adviser for MedMe Health. I have also been fortunate to have had opportunities to participate on various committees with the Ontario College of Pharmacists and Ontario Pharmacists Association.
What excites you about being a pharmacist?
As a pharmacist, I get excited when I see my patients lead healthy lives. I enjoy the interactions I have with my patients and their circle of care. The ability to build new relationships and to have such a tremendous impact on someone’s life, is what gets me excited about my work on a daily basis. The versatility that our profession offers has provided me with an ability to explore various roles in my career of over eight years. I am not limited to a particular role or setting. I have the ability to create a path if it does not exist. In recent years, I have seen our profession evolve and adapt to the many highs and lows that have come our way. This adaptability and perseverance is what makes me confident and excited about the future possibilities that await us as a profession.
How has your career evolved since you first started in the profession?
When I graduated, I saw myself as a community pharmacist. However, after practicing as a community pharmacist for over three years, I realized that I was not finding the professional satisfaction out of the work I was doing. In pharmacy school, we were taught to apply our clinical skills, as pharmacists, for the betterment of our patients. I felt the need to explore other opportunities which can provide a clinical environment of practice. I decided to go back to pharmacy school and complete my PharmD, which truly did open the doors for me as I was able to secure a position as a hospital pharmacist and then moved on to my current role of that of a consultant pharmacist. Through this journey, I have also connected with great mentors, colleagues and peers, who helped me navigate my next steps, and support my ambitions by aligning me with opportunities that support the vision.
What is (or has been) your greatest challenge as a leader in pharmacy?
Till early 2020, my greatest challenge had been to recognize the leader within me. I was learning various skills over the years and solidifying my foundations to ensure that I can be a compassionate leader. But it was my own internal hesitations and fears which stopped me from pursuing my ambitions and sharing my aspirations with my peers and colleagues to seek support. I was hesitant and fearful of judgement. I am constantly in an inner conflict with myself of whether what I am doing or about to do is considered appropriate. I believe this is a challenge a lot of women resonate with. This social conditioning and personal reservations were the greatest challenge that I had to overcome to emerge as a leader. I am just beginning my journey and very grateful for the supportive network that I have around me who believe in me and encourage me to succeed.
How important was mentoring in your career?
Mentoring is critical for my success! Early on in my career, I was reserved and did not seek support and mentorship. However, it all changed, based on an advice that I received during the inaugural Women in Pharmacy Conference in 2019 by the Canadian Pharmacists Association. I understood that we have to have our own board of directors for your personal and professional life, who can guide us as we progress on our journey. This advice truly changed my life, as I started to seek mentors who can support my aspirations and ambitions. Just like a good job fit, we need mentors who can understand your goals and aspirations, and have experienced the journey we are about to begin. From the very beginning, I have had some great mentors in my life and career, without whom I would not be where I am today. And trust me, people are willing to help, we just have to ask!
Was there an “aha” moment for you, when you realized the impact of the difference you’re making?
I am still awaiting my “aha” moment, to be honest. And I hope that moment is in the distant future, so that I can channel my drive and desire to continue to explore my potential and creativity to tread the path less trodden.
As a leader in pharmacy, what continues to drive you?
My vision for the profession of pharmacy is for pharmacy professionals to become an indispensable and integral part of the Canadian and global healthcare system. I truly believe that we are just scratching the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to the profession of pharmacy. Pharmacists and pharmacy professionals have so much potential that is yet to be explored. I envision our roles supporting outcomes-based care with new reimbursement models. I get excited when I see the creativity in business models, reimbursement models, practice settings, and collaborative practices. And we are just realizing the potential digital health and it’s one of the areas which will truly transform the next 10 to 15 years of pharmacy. As a woman and a digital health enthusiast, I wish to see more women enter the start-up space and lead companies from the ground up.
Looking at your career, what are you the proudest of? What have been some of the highlights of your career?
My career highlight would have to be the research survey that I completed on my own in 2020, to help understand the perceptions of pharmacists in implementing COVID-19 testing in community pharmacies. It was a contentious topic, and as with anything in this pandemic, we were exploring and discussing the topic of COVID-19 testing in community pharmacies with very limited information and research. My only intention was to advocate for our profession and as pharmacists, we were and are dealing with issues of decreasing wages, reduced staffing levels, and working conditions that do not provide sufficient time to pharmacists to provide new services. I decided to do the survey on my own time without any financial assistance, because I felt that it was important to bring forth the polarizing dialogues, and highlight the opportunities and barriers that exist so that we can address those gap.
What legacy would you like to leave to the pharmacy profession?
I wish to leave a legacy of inclusivity, equity, and unity within our profession. For years, we have kept ourselves segregated based on our practice, however, this pandemic has shown us that we are all together. I wish to leave a legacy where we are not having discussions about systemic racism, or gender inequality. I know that these are ambitious goals, but achievable because we are addressing it and working on it. I wish to truly commend our profession as it's doing its part in filling the gaps.
Do you feel there is a glass ceiling for women in pharmacy?
Yes, however I do see that ceiling, slowly but surely breaking away. As a first-generation immigrant and a woman of colour, I wondered many times if I was not being considered for opportunities because of my background. However, I chose to see the positive in all instances when things didn't work out. I routinely introspect and work on gaining a variety of experiences and skills sets, so that the next time a similar opportunity comes about, I will be the perfect candidate for the position.
What do you think needs to happen to have more women in executive roles across various sectors in the profession?
I truly believe that we, as women, need to first understand and appreciate the leader within us. This often involves introspection and the difficult work of understanding and removing layers of social conditioning from generations of the past. Reflecting on my own journey, I wish to thank Christine Hrudka for taking the lead and creating the Women in Pharmacy Conference. I truly wish that the important work she started will continue on a national and provincial level as we need a network for women to connect. This network can serve as a hub for mentorship, opportunities, support and dialogue on common challenges we are facing as a collective. It is something I am very passionate about and see myself getting involved in the near future. I will also advocate that we need to have such discussions in the open, instead of in silos. Open discussion helps the society at large to understand the challenges we face, and can help them become our allies. I also wish to recognize leaders such as yourself, Sheriff and Justin Bates amongst many others, who recognize women in pharmacy leadership and provide a platform to have our work showcased. I am confident that we are making progress, and with continued efforts we will achieve an equitable and inclusive profession for all.