APhA chief of staff: A journey
On my first day of pharmacy school, someone said to me, “Membership and active participation in a professional organization is the rent you pay for the space you take up in the profession.” Perhaps I took that more seriously than most, as I became that person in my class; the one who feels the need to participate in everything and run for office in every organization they belong to. To that end, I served my APhA–ASP Chapter, where I learned so much about APhA and the breadth and depth of opportunities available to me as a pharmacist. Fast forward to 2020, when the opportunity arose for me to serve as APhA’s chief of staff, a newly created position.
A nontraditional path
There are two predominant models for a chief of staff. The first resembles a high-level assistant to the CEO who prepares speeches, presentations, and talking points for a consistent and precise message for the organization. The second is a person who organizes the staff, manages strategic initiatives, creates efficiency in communications, and holds individuals accountable for achieving results throughout the organization on behalf of the CEO. My role resembles more of the latter and is still being defined.
The path I took to get here was not a traditional one. Throughout pharmacy school, my interests varied from pediatric pharmacy, cardiology, and compounding to pharmacy administration. In fact, the only consistency throughout pharmacy school was my involvement in professional organizations and the continual building of my network. It was through this network that the best fit was revealed.
An added benefit to professional organization involvement and networking was the connections I made with veterans of the profession, who became the mentors who guided me at critical junctures in my career. Their advice, perspective, and professional guidance helped me achieve my own personal successes. Mentors have played a key role in every professional career decision I have made, including decisions to work internationally, take promotions, and most recently, leave a familiar practice setting and enter the world of association management.
A labor of love
For those of you exploring whether pharmacy administration is right for you, leadership within a health care field is a labor of love very much like direct patient care: It should be patient-centered and focused on the betterment of their condition. Developing a solid vision for patients, fighting for resources and the ability to provide services, ensuring the well-being of your staff, and leading the charge for change or improvements will be your life’s work, no matter what setting you encounter. Since being hired at APhA in September, I have discovered that this perspective of leadership is amplified within the association world.
APhA is seen by many as the voice for the profession, so we focus our attention on a wide variety of topics. As chief of staff, I endeavor to keep us focused on the strategic topics agreed upon by our Board of Trustees and by Scott Knoer, PharmD, FASHP, our CEO and executive vice president. Doing my job well often requires my combined experience in leadership and management, the thoughtful and well-placed advice from mentors, and outreach to my professional network.
Your career journey can be as unpredictable as life itself. Establishing a strong network and mentorship base through involvement in professional organizations can provide the tools and resources you need to navigate unfamiliar terrain throughout your journey. Whether you choose a career filled with consistent and rewarding patient care experiences or unpredictable daily schedules and outcomes, investing in and building these basic tenets of a well-rounded career should be a priority.
Rafael Saenz, PharmD, MS, FASHP, is APhA chief of staff in Washington, DC.