Supporting women in healthcare leadership roles

A Royal Pharmaceutical Society event encourages women in pharmacy to pursue senior leadership roles.

Women should pursue senior leadership roles in the pharmaceutical sector, says Helena Morrissey, keynote speaker at The Women in Healthcare Science Leadership Symposium hosted by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society

“Multidisciplinary barriers? They’re all in your head,” a pharmacist with 20 years’ experience in critical care told delegates at an event on women in healthcare leadership roles. “I can’t recall anyone telling me I can’t do something because I’m a pharmacist. You can be what you want to be,” said Cathrine McKenzie, consultant pharmacist for critical care at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

The Women in Healthcare Science Leadership Symposium was hosted by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society on 7 October 2014 in partnership with the Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Attendees heard personal stories and received encouragement and advice from women in senior positions in the NHS and the financial industry.

McKenzie represents pharmacy on the UK Critical Care Research Forum, which meets annually to appraise and discuss research in the field, and she is one of two pharmacists on the Critical Care Leadership Board, which promotes high-quality critical care.

Discussing her role as an intensive care unit (ICU) pharmacist and a published clinical researcher, she spoke of the importance of clinical experience and lifelong learning. “Don’t be on the hoof — stay and learn,” she told attendees. “One encounters perhaps a consultant in the same speciality as you. You think, six months into the job, I can do as good a job as them. But you can’t, because they’ve got five or ten years’ experience.”

Among McKenzie’s proudest career moments was when she was asked in April 2013 to lead the analgesia, sedation and delirium service at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. This multidisciplinary service plans the clinical care of the most challenging agitated patients in the ICU.

“For me,” McKenzie said, “this was the biggest compliment ever, because [I am] the only non-medic that leads a clinical service in the ICU.” But she made clear: “I don’t think anyone has ever mentioned, ‘You’re a pharmacist’. They just recognise that I have experience in this area, and [I am] one of the best to do it.”

Grown-up conversations

Cathy Mooney, deputy director of quality and safety at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said she learnt the “value of being treated like a grown-up” when she was a recently qualified pharmacist at Ashford District Hospital.

“Very senior pharmacists treated me like I was a very senior pharmacist — that I knew what I was talking about,” she said. “What I learnt from that is to treat people like grown-ups, even the most junior people on my team. Not to change the way you talk to people just because of where they might be in a particular hierarchy.”

Her career took her to several hospital trusts across London and culminated in her moving out of pharmacy into clinical governance.

Mooney also discussed role models for junior staff. “What I learnt is to be a swan,” she reflected, “to glide calmly and serenely on the surface, and paddle furiously underneath. Because how you appear to your staff is really important; it’s important to inspire confidence.”

Transfer your skills

When seconded to Hammersmith Hospital as clinical governance manager for two years, Mooney also learnt about the value of transferable skills. “I often say this to anybody who’s thinking of leaving pharmacy: we tend to undervalue our skills greatly in the outside world.”

This theme was explored further by Pippa Roberts, director of pharmacy and risk management at Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

She said pharmacists had “heaps” of transferable skills, including problem-solving, decision-making and data analysis, among others, and should realise how these provide opportunities to work in other roles within healthcare. Roberts also addressed the threat of austerity and NHS efficiency savings on leadership: how rather than insulating staff from outside forces, a leader should allow them to experience the “pinch of reality in order to stimulate them to adapt”.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a time when this has been more poignant than at the minute, with the national austerity measures,” she said.

“It’s got to the point where it seems that all we talk about is money, and we’ve got to hold on to the quality. Pharmacy is one of the few professions that can do cost and quality; we can support the clinical safety agenda, but also we can save money, so it’s that balance between the two.”

Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton, an investment management company, told the story of how she rose from fund manager to CEO in just seven years. In 2010, she founded the 30% Club, an initiative that aims to ensure women occupy 30% of positions on UK corporate boards by 2015.

She argued that improving gender equality in leadership positions was not just an issue for women but for men, too. “Leaders recognise that actually this is not an argument that is hard to make now. It’s become part of having a modern workplace culture.”

“It’s [about] throwing down the gauntlet,” Morrissey responded to a question about how to raise the issue of gender equality within healthcare professions. “[And] you need the buy-in of somebody really important and powerful in your sector, and often they get it, because they see the mood of the moment.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 25 October 2014, Vol 293, No 7833;293(7833):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.20066867

You may also be interested in