By Adaobi Uchenna Mosanya
“Blacksmith, either do your job or get off the bench,” goes a Spanish adage. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Professional excellence is to be extremely good at one’s job. It is not about how much but how well. A professional in any occupation is recognised by his excellence, which marks him out among his peers. Excellence is never an accident but attained in professional life over a long period. One cannot be an excellent academic pharmacist in one day.
Excellence is a habit, not an act. As the famous Philosopher, Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” The path to professional excellence is an arduous one and many have fallen out because of its demands. Nevertheless, it is always important to strive for it.
Who is an academic pharmacist? A pharmacist in academia is one who is employed usually full-time in an educational institute, whose role involves teaching student pharmacists and engaging in scholarly work or research. They are also known as research-based academicians.
Pharmacy practitioners in other settings apart from the academic institutions can be adjunct academic pharmacists. These practice-based pharmacists are part-time faculty members who give lectures, as well as serve as mentors for the professional training of pharmacy students, especially in hospitals and community settings.
Some of the research areas for academic pharmacist are: drug discovery, manufacturing, and formulation, improvement in pharmacy practice, as well as enhancing therapeutic and health outcomes. The hours adding up to excellence are long but they are necessary to utilise available occasions for advancement and impact in society. Before advancing, one has to enter into the university, first as a lecturer, then become a senior lecturer, reader, and finally a professor. A pharmacist can be promoted in an academic career by acquiring international reputation and roles, especially in research (Hensley, 2017).
Pharmacists who desire to work with students, as well as carry out research are usually attracted to practice in academia. It inspires them to see young people interested in one’s profession. And for them, it is a privilege to prepare the next generation of pharmacists.
Apart from the already mentioned roles of pharmacists in academia, others are indispensable to achieve professional excellence. They include: publishing impactful papers in reputable peer-reviewed journals, attending and speaking at conferences, as well as volunteering to serve as external examiners and other service activities.
Path to excellence
A career in academia offers a high level of job security and opportunities for professional advancement. There is no excuse for failure to strive for excellence. To succeed, one should realise what the expectations are. For every profession, there are excellent standards. Some of the expectations for the academic pharmacist are: appropriate postgraduate education and training, board certification, commitment to a practice or research area, a good understanding of the evaluation and promotion processes, etc. The attributes of 7-star pharmacists apply as well to academic pharmacists. These are: compassionate caregiver, decision-maker, active communicator, lifelong learner, good manager, possesses good leadership qualities and can be a teacher and a researcher (Azhar et al., 2009)
Where there are no clear expectations, one can become anxious and confused (Rigoni & Nelson, 2016). A good grasp of the expectations enables one to define one’s expectations. Balancing expectations in teaching, research and service is crucial. These include seeking and finding a good, willing and senior faculty mentor, documentation of one’s achievements, seeking feedback and being open to criticism. It follows that the academician implements and tracks corrective measures early in his career.
Role of mentorship
A scholar can only become a good mentor in the future after struggling to be a good mentee as a young career fellow. One should avail oneself of the blended learning techniques. Striving for excellence means looking for how to improve. A mentee can learn from a mentor how to apply scientific knowledge in teaching, research or providing expertise, as well as the ability to solve problems. Decision-making and problem-solving skills are two sides of a coin. They lead to professionalism and prestige, which invariably bring about autonomy, another attractive characteristic of the career in academia. A sense of responsibility, self-discipline, and initiative come with autonomy. Without these traits, it is impossible to achieve professional excellence.
One can learn, besides, how to create new knowledge by conducting research and how to disseminate the results through appropriate media. Other skills that could be learnt from mentors are the ability to balance career and personal life. That is, to create time in one’s schedule for leisure, family obligations, social and religious responsibilities, and commitments. Achieving this balance prevents burnout.
Independence, self-motivation and collaborative spirit are what a good mentor should bring about in their mentees. Despotic and domineering as well as indulgent and spoon-feeding attitudes are two extremes to be avoided to bring about in a mentee a constant striving for professional excellence. Virtue is in the middle, according to the famous Saint Thomas Aquinas. To find a good mentor is to find a treasure.
Flexibility and diversity
An attractive aspect of the work in academia is flexibility and a variety of activities. So, there is never a dull moment. In other words, the academician must embrace diversity to progress. With all these plethoras of activities and responsibilities, it invariably means that an academic pharmacist has to be multi-tasking. Multi-tasking does not mean biting more than one can chew; it means having a plan, a schedule for the multiple tasks to carry them out at the appropriate time and place.
Weekly calendar, noting what to do when to do and how is important to schedule. It means focusing on what one is doing at each point in time, without worrying about other pending or undone tasks. It does not mean fretting about and having several unfinished tasks; it means accomplishing each task very well to the last detail, adding the finishing touches which are a mark of excellence.
To succeed, one needs to be organised. An added trait to those who multi-task effectively is delegation. It is the ability to share jobs, to count on others and have a healthy form of dependence because nobody is a super being.
Innovative thinking and continuous development
As a researcher who seeks out new solutions for new problems while relying on previously useful solutions, innovative thinking is of utmost importance. Innovative solutions and thinking about pharmacy issues lead to new ideas in general pharmacy practice, as well as in the academic setting. It, therefore, means that academic pharmacists need to be in touch with their fellow pharmacists in practice field for synergy.
What does it profit a pharmacist in academia and the society at large, a research that is far removed from real-time? What good is research that has no relevance to the patient in today’s world? Networking and collaboration with colleagues in academia and practice/industrial teams help to prevent that kind of situation from occurring. Working in isolation is not acceptable. Openness to new ideas is crucial to evolve and grow. The need for both national and international teambuilding for an academic pharmacist can never be overemphasised.
Mediocrity is the fungus of the mind. It is also the sepulchre of excellence. An academic pharmacist who asks for his name to be included as an author of a manuscript without making any contribution to it is mediocre. And one who accepts to add such a name is worse off. The secret of joy in work is excellence, and knowing how to do something well is to enjoy it.
To build excellence in one’s chosen area(s), the academic pharmacist needs continuous professional development through workshops and seminars, enrolling in online courses, etc, because excellence is the unlimited ability to improve the quality of what one has to offer. After the learning process follows the application of the knowledge acquired, for example, effective use of technology in teaching, research writing skills, research conducting skills together with a good knowledge of statistical analysis. Excellence is a way of life. Hard work and dedication are virtues necessary for a successful lifestyle.
Professional excellence is to be extremely good at one’s job. It is not the same as perfectionism. Perfectionism is focused on ‘doing the thing right’, on how things appear, and if others think it’s done right (Winn, 2013). While excellence is about ‘doing the right thing’. It is focused on the reason for the task and the results. Excellence is trying to do one’s best. Lecturers need to choose an area they are passionate about, to be creative when pitching. However, commitment is much more important.
Academia is not an easy option for pharmacists. Some of the challenges are failure to get grants, or one’s research might not go as expected. However, successes are often.
An unappealing aspect of a career in academia is low salaries. Money should not be the most important factor in making a decision but rather future job satisfaction. Delayed gratification today for something great tomorrow is key. Nevertheless, funding is a necessity for achieving excellence. Undoubtedly, it is a challenge to find funding but one must not lose heart. Lecturers are expected to fundraise and form their research teams. They are usually promoted because of their fundraising and impactful research abilities.
Academicians should be able to seek legitimate outside sources of income (e.g. through consulting projects) to supplement their faculty salary. They can set up spin-off companies related to their work. Applying and getting grants, as well as winning awards can make pharmacists stand out among their peers. Launching a related business helps to take care of the economic responsibilities needed to successfully conclude the research.
For this to be a reality, they need to collaborate initially with people who complement their skills and have the same goals. Besides, it pays to do so with people with a good reputation. Patience is an important virtue to succeed in academia because the impact of research might need many years before it is palpable.
Kurt Tucholsky once said, “The will to win, the desire to succeed and the urge to reach your potentials will unlock the door to personal excellence.” These words can be used as keys by academic pharmacists who wish to unlock the door to professional excellence. On their path towards professional excellence, academic pharmacists will have ups and downs. It is a path of roses with thorns. It is expected that they acquire the ability to handle with equanimity both failures and successes.
Failures should be considered as a spur to aim higher. Failures are not the end of the world, although they are experienced as setbacks. As a famous scientist, Thomas Edison in his experiments exclaimed after 999 failures that he had succeeded in eliminating 999 ways of not inventing the electric bulb. It is human to make mistakes, and such should be understood as part of the learning process.
The great scientists and thinkers that ever existed since the beginning of mankind made mistakes. One distinguishing mark of all is the ability to learn, thereby adding to the existing knowledge. This led to the mastering of their work which is the foundation of lasting self-confidence and self-esteem.
Handling leadership and interpersonal relationships
It has also been recognised that one of the least appealing aspects of the career of a pharmacist in academia is management and administration. However, readiness to take up, at the right time, some managerial roles as dean, department head, exam officers, etc is necessary. Therefore, it is required that we invest adequate resources in developing our inherent leadership potentials.
Workloads can be heavy but we cannot shy away from greater responsibilities. As the saying goes, the reward for good work is more work. But it is equally healthy to know when to say “yes” or “no”.
To enjoy all the roles of an academician and carry them out effectively, self-management skills are needed. Leadership begins with the leadership of oneself, which is called self-leadership, personal effectiveness or self-management. One cannot give what one does not have, it is as simple as that. What can we make of a leader who is not punctual, for instance, to meetings?
Self-discipline is paramount to teach with authority through one’s lifestyle. What about emotional intelligence? This is often a neglected but important aspect of personality development. How we handle our emotions and other people’s emotions is essential.
Interpersonal relationships are fundamental in academia. No man is an island. The professional ambiance found in academic institutions demands its etiquette. In such an environment, there is always an established hierarchy that ought to be respected and fostered. There is also a diversity of persons from different backgrounds and cultures. Cultural awareness or sensitivity is the first step towards cultural competency. It is the recognition that differences between cultures exist and are based on many factors, including religion, race, ethnicity, gender, education, nationality, politics and geographic origin (Matsumoto, 2007; Alsharif et al., 2019).
We cannot afford to overlook certain social etiquette, which simply means, consideration for the other person. Consideration in terms of beliefs, preferences, position, etc. Professional ethics are equally important. It is defined as the personal and corporate rules that govern behaviour within the context of a particular profession. Lack of familiarity with the principles of ethics in this noble profession can cause irreparable damage to the career ambitions of the person involved as well as to the society (Kholghipour et al., 2018).
In conclusion, the assurance that pharmacists are competent falls at the feet of educators and the public’s health is better off. They are perceived as prestigious members of the community. It flows as a natural consequence that if academic pharmacists strive for excellence, then they will produce competent pharmacists in various fields of practice. Public health also could be better ensured by expecting a better working relationship between the agencies and academic institutions through improvements to advisory committee recruitment.
Alsharif, N. Z., Brennan, L., Abrons, J. P., & Chahine, E. B. (2019). Introduction to cultural sensitivity and global pharmacy engagement. Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 83 (4) Article 7221.
Azhar, S., Hassali, M. A., Izham, M., Ibrahim, M., Ahmad, M., Masood, I., & Shafie, A. A. (2009). Human Resources for Health The role of pharmacists in developing countries : the current scenario in Pakistan. 6, 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1186/1478-4491-7-54
Hensley, S. (2017). The role of academic pharmacists in science and research. The pharmaceutical journal, 298 Article 7898, online. DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20202159
Kholghipour, H., Dehshahri, A., Mahmoudian, H., & Nabeici, P. (2018). Shiraz pharmaceutical students’ knowledge about pharmacy professional ethics. Journal of Medical Education, 17 (3): 168-174Matsumoto D. (2007). Culture, context and behaviour. J. Personality, 75(6):1285-1319
Rigoni, B., & Nelson, B. (2016). “Do employees really know what’s expected of them?” Gallup Business Journal, https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/195803/employees-really-know-expected.aspx.
Winn, M. (2013) Perfectionism Vs Excellence. Available at http://theviewinside.me/perfectionism-vs-excellence/ accessed March 14, 2020
Adaobi Uchenna Mosanya wrote from the Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmacy Management, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. University of Nigeria, Nsukka, PMB 410001, Enugu State. firstname.lastname@example.org Telephone: +234 8054570666