Young Leader in Pharmacy Anisha Kaur Sandhu: "...keeping busy and productive keeps me motivated and drives me to do better."
I firmly believe that to lead a purposeful life we need to have the humility to keep learning, the resilience to keep adapting and the passion to keep improving.
By Pharmacy U
BPharm (Hons.), PGDipClinPharm, MMedSci (In progress), MMedEd (In progress)
Assistant Lecturer (School of Pharmacy, Monash University, Malaysia)
ECPG Liaison, AcPS Communication & Collaboration Working Group Member (International Pharmaceutical Federation)
MAEMHS Strategic Task Force Member (Malaysian Association of Education in Medical and Health Sciences)
What excites you about being a pharmacist?
Pharmacy is a career full of versatility. There are many career pathways that one can pursue based on individual strengths and interests, whether in patient-facing roles in the community or clinical settings; research, corporate or regulatory roles in the pharmaceutical industry; or research and education in academia. Exciting new avenues in specialist or niche areas such as astro-pharmacy or pharmacogenomics are being studied while pharmacy graduates are also now highly sought after to collaborate interprofessionally to address healthcare system needs in policy-making roles or areas like digital health. There is large scope and breadth in pharmacy for a graduate to push boundaries and grow their career beyond the traditional capacities that we were once recognized for.
When you graduated, what did you envision for your future?
In the summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to complete a student exchange at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in the United States. That was an enriching experience for me as I gained great insight into the difference a clinical pharmacist could make within the healthcare team. So, my main focus for the future was to increase my clinical knowledge and experience to work as a clinical pharmacist in a hospital setting. I never, however, envisioned the many changes that would take place in my career or expect that one day, I would be educating and molding the next generation of pharmacy graduates.
How has your career evolved since your graduation?
My career has evolved tremendously as I began working as a community pharmacist initially in New Zealand upon graduation. At the time, we had just started to embrace the introduction of clinical patient-centred services within the community setting so it was an exciting time to work in community pharmacy as warfarin testing pilots, long-term/chronic condition management and medicines reviews were championed. I realized then how much I enjoyed the clinical aspect of pharmacy and shifted to work in the hospital setting as a clinical pharmacist. It was a fantastic experience to be a part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team managing our patients' conditions and medication-related problems. I was rotated to experience working in a variety of specialties such gynaecology & maternity, stroke, surgical, gastrointestinal, paediatrics before settling on growing a career within the geriatrics teams. Life has its curveballs however, and after a few years, I moved back to my home country of Malaysia. Being a former lecturer, my mother encouraged me to explore the world of academia. I have now worked as a teaching & research academic with Monash University for 5 years and I can say that I have truly found my passion. Academia is dynamic and health professions education is gaining wide traction as a rewarding career pathway. Since joining academia, no two semesters that I have taught have been the same. We have weathered dealing with numerous challenges during the pandemic with rapid shifts to online learning, and post-pandemic learning to make the best of hybrid education. I also feel like I have the freedom to grow my career in the direction and journey I want, whether by identifying fields of interest for research or introducing innovative teaching efforts. From a policy standpoint, the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) leads impactful work in prioritizing the development and transformation of the future pharmacy workforce so I have enjoyed being an active contributor within their Early Career Pharmaceutical Group (ECPG), Workforce Development Hub (WDH) and Academic Pharmacy (AcPS) sections.
How would you describe a great day at work?
A great day at work is when I have been able to tick off ~50% of the items on my to-do checklist. However, the life of an academic is so busy that as soon as I complete a task, I will likely have already added many other tasks that require completion on the to-do list. So, it never ends! But keeping busy and productive keeps me motivated and drives me to do better. As they say, time flies when you're having fun.
How important is mentoring in your career?
Mentoring has made a huge impact in my career. Though there is a larger emphasis on cultivating professional and transferable skills in pharmacy curricula and early career pharmaceutical organizations these days, I did not realize the importance of conflict resolution, negotiation, resilience, self-regulation or networking at the start of my career. I am grateful to have been guided by many wise mentors in developing these skills which contribute a great deal in maintaining wellbeing and professional collegial relationships in the workplace. My mentors have also been a huge source of support for me to learn more in fields such as education (theories & pedagogy), or research (pharmacoeconomics, and interprofessional education/practice). Having a nurturing network of mentors has given me greater confidence in my abilities and I value their perspective and trust their judgment and advice when I encounter challenges, or new experiences through work.
Was there an “aha” moment for you, when you realized the impact of the difference you’re making?
I've had several aha moments in my journey thus far. In community pharmacy, having regular clients who would articulate the difference our pharmacy team made in their health journey was humbling. As a clinical pharmacist working on-call, I helped the emergency department health professionals with a patient who had suffered from lead poisoning. They thanked me then, telling me that I had helped in saving a life. I took the initiative as well to audit prescribing practices in the maternity ward of the hospital I was working in to promote safe prescribing. Presenting my findings to a department full of consultants, doctors, midwives and nurses who acknowledged and accepted the changes that needed to take place made me realize the large role we could play as pharmacists in ensuring quality and safety in patient care. As an educator, I am grateful to receive heartwarming messages from students who appreciate my teaching. Seeing them grow in skill and confidence from first-year students to pharmacy interns is always rewarding. Actioning change via education research and presenting findings in the form of publications or conferences also emphasizes how purposeful my career journey is. Perhaps the aspect of my career which I feel has been most impactful so far, however, is in being part of the International Pharmaceutical Federation. I am grateful to have been a speaker and moderator for many FIP Digital Events, and to contribute in several policy and framework drafting working groups with the most recent being the FIP International Pharmaceutical Federation Global Competency Framework for Educators and Trainers in Pharmacy (FIP-GCFE) further described here.
As a dynamic leader in the profession, what continues to drive you?
I firmly believe that to lead a purposeful life we need to have the humility to keep learning, the resilience to keep adapting and the passion to keep improving. While it is impossible to always perform at peak capacity and often life can get in the way of best laid plans, being resilient to challenges, and accepting it as part of growth can lead one to greater heights. In today's hyper-connected world, it is also easy to succumb to the pressure of comparing one's journey with a fellow peer and to feel lesser. But having faith in oneself, and developing your career at your own pace through reflective practice and SMART action plans will help greatly. For other early career pharmaceutical professionals, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the FIP-Young Pharmacists Group Career Development Toolkit that describes these useful tools to guide career growth.
What advice would you give to new pharmacy graduates?
Be open to being a lifelong learner, as we are part of an ever-evolving profession. Reflect, reflect, reflect – learning from experiences and situations you face will only help you grow to become a better healthcare professional. If you are working in a patient-facing role especially, try putting yourself in your patients' shoes – how would you like to be treated if you were they? Empathy and compassion make a world of difference in healthcare. Finally, embrace change. The only constant in life is change.