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Pharmacy Academia Star Urges Other Women to Follow Their Passions

Sep 19, 2016

Editor’s Note: This is the third story in a series examining the growing number of women in pharmacy leadership and ASHP’s work to support them.

Marie Chisholm-Burns, Pharm.D., M.P.H., MBA, FASHP, FAST, FCCP

Marie Chisholm-Burns, Pharm.D., M.P.H., MBA, FASHP, FAST, FCCP

ONE OF THE BEST THINGS about pharmacy as a profession is the great diversity of career tracks that are available, according to Marie Chisholm-Burns, Pharm.D., M.P.H., MBA, FASHP, FAST, FCCP, Dean of the College of Pharmacy, University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Dr. Chisholm-Burns, a well-known and highly respected clinical researcher with well over 100 published articles, more than a dozen books, and many awards to her name, pursued academic pharmacy from her earliest days in the profession. After earning both her B.S. in Pharmacy and Pharm.D. at the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy, Dr. Chisholm-Burns found that she loved the academic setting and was intrigued by the role of educator.

“Although I had summer jobs in community pharmacy, worked in a hospital pharmacy during pharmacy school, and then did a residency with a practice component after pharmacy school, I always wanted to be a teacher,” she said, adding that academia allowed her to follow her passions of practicing pharmacy, pursuing scholarly endeavors, and working with students.

The most compelling aspect of her work is its variety. “There’s something new every day — new challenges, new opportunities,” she said. “Being around students, where you can ask and answer questions, is like being at a playground for someone like me.”

Dr. Chisholm-Burns’ excitement about advancing interprofessional education is a key driver in her success as a healthcare provider. As demands for advanced clinical pharmacy services in hospitals and health systems increase, the profession is being challenged to train more pharmacists who can work as part of interprofessional care teams. And, according to Dr. Chisholm-Burns, pharmacy education is where good patient care actually begins.

Creating Influence via Publishing
Dr. Chisholm-Burns is well-known as a prolific researcher and academician. She views publishing as an indispensable way to elevate the visibility of pharmacists’ patient care roles and influence others within and outside of the pharmacy profession.

“You can teach one-on-one. You can learn one-on-one. But it would be a crime to keep it to yourself. For the benefit of patients, it’s essential to publish … even though it’s a lot of work,” she added with a laugh.
Publishing increases the prominence of both the individual pharmacist and the profession as a whole. “We need to think about the best ways to inform others about what we do to improve medication use, contribute to wellness, and even save lives,” Dr. Chisholm-Burns noted. “We need to do more than just preach to the choir” and write for other pharmacists.

“We’ve got to get it out to Better Homes and Gardens, columns in local newspapers, too … To me, education is key to everything. If we don’t tell the story, who will?”

Helping Others Break the Glass Ceiling
Dr. Chisholm-Burns acknowledges that women and minorities sometimes have different challenges to become leaders. Because of this, each female and minority pharmacist in a leadership position tends to hold outsized influence for those coming up in the profession. “When you don’t see leaders who resemble you, you think it’s impossible to do,” she noted. “But if you see a woman leader, it can spark the thought, ‘I can do that too.’”

Although breaking the glass ceiling is important, Dr. Chisholm-Burns believes it is merely the first step on a long journey toward professional leadership; having mentors, sponsors, and role models along the way is a critical component of being successful. “Remember,” she added, “success is a journey, not a destination.” And along the journey, Dr. Chisholm-Burns believes in the power of giving back.

“It’s all about helping others go through that door that you helped to open” and understanding the special issues that women face, such as balancing work and family. She acknowledges that there is still disparity in terms of family roles that can make it challenging to climb the career ladder.

“A woman with three children is going to have different professional challenges than her counterparts who may not have children,” she said, acknowledging that, although the culture is changing to accommodate work-life balance, it’s changing slowly.

The concept of workforce inclusivity is a topic that also warrants more attention, according to Dr. Chisholm-Burns. Although diversity has increased in the pharmacy profession, inclusivity that ensures a clear path to leadership and that draws on the talents of all women still lags behind. “Inclusivity means asking, ‘How can I make this young parent feel like she doesn’t need to choose between family and serving on this board?’”

Dr. Chisholm-Burns recommends that pharmacy leaders take a birds-eye view of management within their organizations to understand the trends for advancement of women in pharmacy leadership. “We need to look at the higher-level jobs and see who fills them and at what age,” she said. “For years, a large percentage of graduating pharmacy classes has been women. Given this, why are there so few women hospital directors or CEOs?”

According to Dr. Chisholm-Burns, the pharmacy profession needs to begin examining the issues of inclusivity and career advancement options for women. She also believes that organizations like ASHP are in the best position to facilitate those conversations.

Follow Your Passion
Dr. Chisholm-Burns has some sage advice for student pharmacists, new practitioners, or seasoned pharmacists who may be considering a career in academia: Follow your passion. “If your passion is teaching, ask yourself ‘why?’ Is it the investigating, discovering, changing students’ lives? Is publishing something you want to do? Then academia may be the place for you,” she said.

And, in looking back at her career, Dr. Chisholm-Burns finds great value in her academic path. “I always wanted to go someplace where I’d make the biggest contribution, and academia has been that for me. It’s been a wonderful journey.”


–By Ann W. Latner, J.D.

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