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New Practitioners Network
Ask For Advice

by Mary Lacy, PharmD, PGY-2 Health-System Pharmacy Administration Resident, University of Illinois at Chicago

“Asking people for advice makes you appear more competent, not less.”

An experienced pharmacy director explained this to me at the most recent ASHP Conference for Pharmacy Leaders. The annual conference is designed to attract current and future pharmacy leaders in all practice settings. The conference focuses on different areas of leadership and practice management, such as organizational alignment, achieving service excellence, and effective communication. What I enjoyed most about the conference was the opportunity to network with and learn from pharmacy leaders from across the country. By the end of the conference, I realized that even seasoned pharmacists seek mentorship.

I took away three key lessons from the conference:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Many times you find yourself challenged by responsibilities and tasks for which you feel unprepared. As a student you are naturally guided through these challenges by a number of mentors, including professors, advisors, and bosses. As you transition from student to new practitioner, it can be difficult to determine when you should or should not ask for advice. We often avoid asking for advice for a number of reasons. Often it is because we fear to seem incompetent or because we do not want to take up someone else’s time. However, asking for advice does not decrease your credibility. In fact, people are flattered when you seek their advice, and they are typically more than willing to help you succeed.

One of the biggest oversights of new practitioners is the failure to recognize the importance of seeking out mentorship. Mentorship is the opportunity to learn from someone else’s successes as well as their mistakes. A good mentor can make the difference between learning lessons the hard way or easily sidestepping mistakes throughout your career. Not only can mentors help you think through complicated problems, but they can also help you identify your goals and introduce you to potential key players in your future career.

2. Having multiple mentors can be beneficial.

Many new practitioners do not think about having more than one mentor. Mentors come in all different forms, and they serve different purposes. You should have at least three mentors at any given time: (1) a more experienced professional who can give you big picture career advice, (2) a colleague or peer mentor who can relate to your current situation, and (3) someone who can provide insight on how a career move might affect your personal life. Depending on the situation at hand, you may seek advice from only one of your mentors, or it may be beneficial to seek advice from each of your mentors to gain their individual perspectives.

3. Mentorship doesn’t have to be formal.
Another misconception among new practitioners is that only experienced pharmacists can serve as mentors. All pharmacists have leadership responsibilities, whether they hold official leadership positions or not. As Sara White discusses in her “Leadership: Successful alchemy” article, there are two types of leaders – “big L” and “little L” leaders.1 “Big L” leaders are those in formal leadership positions, such as pharmacy directors, managers, and supervisors. Yet every pharmacist is a “little L”, guiding pharmacy technicians, pharmacy students, and even fellow pharmacists.

You may already act as a mentor without even realizing it. Mentorship does not need to exist solely in a formal setting. Each time you provide guidance or feedback to a colleague, you are adopting a mentor’s role. As you progress throughout your career, your role as a mentor will naturally grow and expand. Reflect on how the mentors in your life impart their wisdom and determine how you can provide the best guidance to others as you progress through your career. Think about the things you wish you would have known as a student starting rotation, a new resident, or a new practitioner, and pass them along to others seeking your advice.

Mentorship is key to career success, and you will never outgrow the benefits gained while being a mentee. No matter how long you have been practicing, there will always be uncharted territories and challenges that arise. The key is to have the foresight and humility to ask for guidance. Lastly, remember that your mentors’ time is just as valuable as yours. Take it upon yourself to add value for your mentors by trying to teach them something new. After all, preceptors and mentors love to learn from their students and mentees. In doing so, you will ensure that you get the most out of the mentorship and find success in your career.

1. White SJ. Leadership: successful alchemy. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2006 Aug 15;63(16):1497-503.

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