R.Ph.s are proving their worth in new roles

October 24, 2005

Early in his pharmacy career Victor Perini, R.Ph., hadn't planned on becoming a hospital executive. But as he reflects on his current position as VP of operations at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis, Perini attributes his rise in the executive ranks to a combination of taking advantage of the right opportunities when they came along and the comprehensive training that he received in pharmacy school at the University of Wisconsin.

Early in his pharmacy career Victor Perini, R.Ph., hadn't planned on becoming a hospital executive. But as he reflects on his current position as VP of operations at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis, Perini attributes his rise in the executive ranks to a combination of taking advantage of the right opportunities when they came along and the comprehensive training that he received in pharmacy school at the University of Wisconsin.

These days, more and more health-system R.Ph.s seem to be following in Perini's footsteps as there is an increasing number of pharmacists being redeployed to nontraditional healthcare areas.

Industry insiders believe that the movement of pharmacists into new areas is not surprising. "Pharmacists are leaders, and they have a very good handle on the clinical, operational, and financial aspects of healthcare management," said Doug Scheckelhoff, director of pharmacy practice sections for ASHP. Pharmacists, especially pharmacy directors, he said, have a unique set of skills that qualifies them for a wide range of positions in a healthcare system. In many cases, pharmacists have been given leadership opportunities and have been able to show how they can pull together multidisciplinary teams and work as leaders from a quality and safety perspective.

As a former director of pharmacy at Methodist University Hospital, Perini has experience in strategic planning, technology assessment, and financial planning. "Someone like myself has credibility not only with the hospital administration but also with the medical staff. That's been a key to my success," he said. He contended that his pharmacy training has allowed him to partner with physicians and establish credibility with them as an administrator because they respect him as a clinician and as a pharmacist.

While it's important to have the right training and skill sets, pharmacists who aspire to move into new areas also need to be given the opportunities to prove their worth. And, according to Mary Inguanti, R.Ph., and VP of operations, St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, that means having support from senior management. "I was allowed to build our pharmacy service beyond the confines of St. Francis. Over the course of the six years that I was director, I had been able to get us into other forums where we are now pharmacy providers at other centers."

Inguanti, who has a master's degree in public health, said that because she demonstrated that she could think beyond her role as an inpatient pharmacy director, part of her reward was being empowered to do other things. "I was allowed to make as much as I wanted to out of my position."

Although it's hard to track an actual trend of pharmacists redeploying to other areas within the health system, pharmacy experts report that there is enough empirical evidence to substantiate that these professionals are moving into new job categories. Scheckelhoff believes that the fact that pharmacists are choosing alternative routes is a natural evolution of health-system pharmacy.

Inguanti has noticed a trend in Connecticut for R.Ph.s in larger hospitals to move into executive positions. "It speaks to the training, the broad thinking, and the problem-solving capability that pharmacists have," she said.

Perini expects the redeployment trend to continue, especially for pharmacists with business training. "What I and many of my colleagues have is skills and abilities in clinical, operational, and financial management that are very valuable to any hospital." He said that he would encourage redeployment for pharmacists who are willing to get out of their comfort zone.

Another factor that may be contributing to R.Ph. redeployment is that many hospitals are paying closer attention to succession planning. "They're trying to look at how they can develop people internally for future leadership roles," said Scheckelhoff. For instance, some hospitals now have staffers in training in case there is a turnover in their executive ranks. "We are seeing a lot of pharmacy leaders who are being groomed in that capacity, and this will continue to happen in the future."