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The Need for C-Suite Pharmacists

Dec 18, 2009

THE INCREASING COMPLEXITY and rapidly rising costs of today’s drug therapies require new levels of expertise to ensure positive patient outcomes. And pharmacists are in a unique position to provide that leadership, according to the new ASHP Statement on the Roles and Responsibilities of the Pharmacy Executive.

The statement, which supports the development of a pharmacy executive position within hospitals and health systems to oversee the design, operation, and improvement of the medication-use process, was recently approved by the ASHP Board of Directors and House of Delegates.

Pharmacists who currently serve in “C-Suite” roles serve as powerful examples of a pharmacy executive’s ability to ensure safe and effective medication use.

Mark Todd, Pharm.D., FASHP, assistant vice president and chief pharmacy officer, University of Alabama Hospital at Birmingham, said that the key difference between his current position and his previous role as director of pharmacy is the ability to influence medication-use policies.

“I now report directly to the CEO and serve as a member of his executive team. I have a significant voice in the decision-making process, which has elevated the profession of pharmacy within our entire health system,” Todd said.

William Greene, Pharm.D., BCPS, FASHP, chief pharmacy officer, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, directs and oversees all pharmaceutical services for the hospital. St. Jude’s research mission and academic structure helped facilitate the addition of a pharmacy executive to the staff, according to Greene. The fact that a pharmacist, William Evans, serves as St. Jude’s chief executive officer also helped make the case.

Regardless of setting, Greene feels that every institution can benefit from the skills and insights of a pharmacy executive, adding that he or she must possess initiative and vision.

“If you’re not at the table, I guarantee that you’ll be left out,” he said. “Don’t wait to be invited to meetings or to serve on committees. Make sure that everyone who needs to know understands that the presence of a pharmacist will ensure optimal drug therapy outcomes.”

The ASHP statement highlights the importance of a pharmacy executive’s ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with peers. Pharmacy executives should:

• Be involved in the organization’s strategic planning related to the medication-use process,
• Report directly to the organization’s principal executive,
• Have a title internally consistent with others reporting at that organizational  level (i.e., chief financial officer or chief nursing officer), and
• Be a member of the medical executive committee or its equivalent.

Because many hospitals or health systems may not yet be ready—politically, financially, or culturally—to create a pharmacy executive position, Todd suggests developing the role over time.

“I recommend working to have the existing director of pharmacy report directly to the chief executive officer or chief operating officer, a change that doesn’t cost a dime,” he said.

Additionally, when proposing a pharmacy executive position to hospital administration, Todd believes that patient safety should be the primary message.

“Medications touch every patient who comes into the hospital,” he said. “To be a safe, cost-effective organization, medication-management issues must be at the top of any CEO’s list.”

Greene agreed, saying that pharmacy leaders must be “assertive; identify the roles that they need to be involved in; and have a vision and make sure that that vision gets carried out.”

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