Pharmacy Leader Nardine Nakhla: "You must step outside your comfort zone and take risks."
By Pharmacy U
Nardine Nakhla, Clinical Lecturer, University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy
Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (2007)
Clinical Lecturer, University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy
Community pharmacist at Ash Medical Pharmacy
Independent pharmacy owner
Columnist, Pharmacy Practice + Business
Nardine was recognized with the Excellence in Pharmacy Teaching Award in 2019 and received the University of Waterloo’s Excellence in Science Teaching Award in 2020.
As a faculty member at the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy, she has spent the past 12 years designing, delivering, and overseeing curricular content on the assessment of self-treating patients, minor ailments, and self-care using non-prescription agents in both the lecture and practical laboratory setting. She has also taught at the University of Toronto Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, where she developed and coordinated several minor ailment management programs and courses in the undergraduate (PharmD) and graduate (IPG, CPD) programs.
When you graduated, what did you envision for your future? How has your career evolved since you first started in the profession?
Before graduating pharmacy school, I was determined to continue working in hospital practice. I had spent the majority of my time as a pharmacy student working at the SUNY Upstate University Hospital, where I was blessed with incredible mentors who gave me inexhaustible opportunities for learning, research, and leadership. I was especially interested in renal disease and thus invested a great deal of time managing dialysis patients both at Upstate hospital and the Albany Dialysis Center, the site of my early patient-oriented care rotation. However, upon graduating, Eckerd (now Rite Aid) Pharmacy surprised me with an offer I could not refuse, and so my journey in and love for community pharmacy began.
I was entrusted to manage a small community pharmacy and encouraged to practise to my optimal scope, caring for the most delightful patients I have ever come across. A couple months later, I found myself interviewing for a second job: a casual position at Syracuse University Health Service Pharmacy, where I provided students with a wide selection of health and wellness supplies, prescriptions, and counselling. Throughout my time there, I held several educational events and thoroughly enjoyed speaking with students about their health, medications, and self-care decisions. These two positions, coupled with eye-opening placements (including a holistic pharmacy embedded within Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in California) in my final year of pharmacy school laid the foundation for my current role as a community pharmacist and academic specializing in minor ailments and self-care.
Was there an “aha” moment for you, when you realized the impact of the difference you’re making?
Almost a decade ago when I was instructing on the standards of practice (SOP) and code of ethics (COE) in my professional practice 1 course, I found myself going off on a tangent that lasted close to three hours. …I began sharing many stories from practice – including mistakes I’ve made, lives I’ve saved, near misses, and funny encounters – and found that it enlivened students, made them feel safe to share their own experiences, and ultimately led to more active engagement with the course content. I was so surprised by the overwhelmingly positive feedback I received from students after that session that I decided to intentionally build in a 3-hour SOP and COE open discussion into every iteration of the course since then. It was definitely my “aha” moment. Up until that point, it had always been my goal to impart as much knowledge as possible to prepare students for pharmacy practice, even if it meant rushing through content and leaving students with a lot of superficial knowledge and little in-depth understanding. But it was this honest session – one which required the least preparation and simply relied on my ability to communicate my own practical experiences – that resonated the most with students and helped them better relate to and understand the information they were required to learn. Since then, I have recognized the powerful pedagogical tool that is storytelling and have used it as a method to enhance student engagement and foster meaningful learning.
As Madeleine L’Engle once said, “Why does anybody tell a story? It does indeed have something to do with faith. Faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”
Of note, this was also the moment where I realized that my view of leadership in pharmacy was limited, as some of my most impactful opportunities to lead were often found by empowering individuals – students, patients, family members, colleagues – in their own health and well-being as a professor, friend, mother, legislatively within our profession, and within my own independent business. You do not have to carry the title of CEO or manager to lead!
Looking at your career, what are you the proudest of?
As a practising pharmacist, faculty member, columnist and researcher, I have footprints in not one, but many facets of the industry: I teach students training to be pharmacists in the academic arena; I educate adult learners and practising pharmacists already in the field; I conduct relevant research on self-care and minor ailment programs in order to facilitate change at the policy level, which in turn, gives me the evidence I need to support my ideas, methodologies, teachings and convictions. Of all these professionally fulfilling roles and responsibilities, I am most pleased by commitment to teach and my focus on the meaningful learning of my students. However, what makes me the proudest is my students. Nothing brings me as much joy as sharing in a student’s excitement over the positive impact they had on a patient’s life, a coveted job, a residency offer, or their pride in a published manuscript. My students challenge me daily with insightful questions, energize me with their inspirational ideas, humour me with their hilarious remarks, and give my life a whole new meaning.
What do you think needs to happen to have more women in executive roles across various sectors in the profession?
There is currently a substantial gender gap when it comes to leadership and executive positions both nationally and internationally. To break down this gender gap, I believe we need to invest in continued education, training, and career progression opportunities for women. I’m thankful to work at an institution (University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy) which recognizes this and has taken the first step to being part of the solution by creation of the Women in Pharmacy Leadership Fund. With this fund, our school aims to deliver opportunities that inspire talented young women to aim high and ask, “why not me?”
What advice would you give to new female pharmacy graduates?
My advice would be similar to the sentiment expressed by Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, when reflecting on her own career: “Growth and comfort do not co-exist.” This means that in addition to working hard, you must step outside your comfort zone and take risks (e.g., moving from behind the counter to meet patients in the OTC aisle). This will differentiate you from others and provide you the opportunity to make even more of an impact. It’s also important to recognize that the work we do as pharmacy professionals can be physically and emotionally exhausting, so you must balance this with adequate rest, exercise, proper nutrition, and attention to both your physical and mental health. In other words, you must practise self-care! Never underestimate its importance to your well-being; prioritize self-care and see your wellness as an act of both power and perseverance – both of which are integral to your success.