New Year, New Goals: Six Keys to Surviving and Thriving
Kimberly Haverstick, PharmD, BCSCP
Assistant Director of Pharmacy, Infusion Services Manager, Cancer Institute Pharmacy
Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacy Practice
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Little Rock, AR
It may be a bit cliché, but there’s something about the new year that stirs up nostalgia for what has passed and anticipation for what lies ahead. As that time of year rolled around again, I scrolled through my social media posts from the past year. At the end of December 2019, I was reflecting on my oldest child’s upcoming 10th birthday, and appreciating all of the change that had happened in that decade. I then came across a photo of my accounting text book, with the caption, “New year, new goals!” I was excited to be starting on my MBA degree. After being out of school for over 13 years, and having four kids in the meantime, I knew that this would be a challenge, especially on top of a full-time job. But I was up for it—it was time to move forward with this monumental goal. Little did I know just how challenging 2020 would be!
Storms are Coming
As I continued scrolling through my 2020 social media feed, a photo of a beautiful sunrise caught my eye. I had captured the red and purple sky, a sure sign that storms were brewing, on my way into work one morning. My caption said, “Storms are coming, but storms can be beautiful, too!” The date was March 11, 2020. Later that day, the first presumptive case of COVID-19 was detected in my state.1 Yes, storms were coming, indeed! In an instant, life turned upside down.
In those early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, change seemed to be happening at a faster rate and on a larger scale than many of us had experienced in our lifetimes. “Unprecedented” seemed to be the most fitting word. Across the nation, schools and businesses closed while parents navigated remote learning and childcare challenges. Employees and employers struggled with the drastic impact on the workforce and the economy.
For those of us in the healthcare industry, there were added challenges; we learned to care for COVID-19 patients, strug¬gled with capacity and staffing challenges, and worried about protecting ourselves and others with a less-than-adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). We navigated the medica¬tion supply chain and educated the general public.
Surviving the Storm
In the midst of daunting obstacles, it was amazing to witness the response of so many creative, hard-working, and resilient people. Every day, I was impressed by the ingenuity and teamwork of everyone at my institu¬tion—from frontline workers all the way up to the C-suite.
Change was happening quickly; often, new policies were developed, only to be changed as more information became available. Every aspect of our jobs seemed to be under scrutiny and subject to rapid and drastic change, including scheduling and staffing, HR policies, COVID-19 treatment guidelines, infection prevention strategies, visitor policies, and daily screening practic¬es, among many other things. But with each new change, we rose to the occasion, and found creative ways to solve one problem after another, even if we had to re-solve them in a new way the next day.
How to Move from Surviving to Thriving
Looking back at the response of our institution, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences—and specifically the pharmacy department—I can pick out a handful of factors that I believe were keys to not just surviving this period of unprecedented change, but thriving through it.
First, excellent leadership. This was crucial both at the institu¬tional level and from our Chief Pharmacy Officer (CPO). Frequent communication was also key. From the beginning, our CPO set up a regular cadence of meetings with department leaders. For a peri¬od of time, we met daily to discuss every aspect of the pandemic’s impact on patient care, pharmacy and hospital operations, and our personnel. This allowed us to collaborate across the department to creatively and quickly solve and anticipate problems. The impact of COVID-19 was not uniform in all areas—for example, in oncology areas, patient care was mostly business as usual. But making sure leaders and clinicians from all areas of the department were included in the daily meetings allowed for a unique opportunity for people to volunteer time and resources to meet needs in other areas.
Additional noteworthy keys for success were flexibility, resourcefulness, teamwork, and resiliency. As pharmacists, we are accustomed to dealing with constant drug shortages, tight staff¬ing, evolving treatment guidelines, changing policies, emerging technologies, and new institutional initiatives. While this pandem¬ic stretched these challenges to the limit (and beyond), we were able to pull from past experiences, and apply lessons learned to the challenges at hand.
On a personal level, living, working, and leading through this pan¬demic has provided ample opportunity for reflection and growth. Am I leading and caring for my team (and my family) with empa¬thy? Is information timely and delivered in a way that is mean¬ingful and reassuring? How can I creatively manage resources to ensure patient care continues safely and as seamlessly as possible? Am I taking care of myself, so that I will maintain resiliency? How can I continue working toward goals—organizational, profession¬al, and personal—during these trying times?
In times of crisis, these considerations are vitally important. The reality is, however, that they were just as critical pre-pandem¬ic, and will continue to be in the future. Realizing that, I spent time reflecting on how I could leverage these lessons learned into practical tips for navigating future challenges—both large and small. Here is my own personal list:
- Be empathetic. Everyone—patients and caregivers, teammates and employees, leaders and administrators—has struggles. Empathy and kindness are crucial to building trust. Be willing to give people the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.
- Communicate regularly and effectively. Ensure that communication happens in a way that is meaningful to the recipients. Take time to listen and let people know you care. At work, consider utilizing multiple forms of communication, such as daily huddles, staff meetings, emails, bulletin boards, electronic communication boards, and whenever possible, one-on-one conversations.
- Be flexible. Volunteer to help in other areas if possible— not only will others appreciate the help, but also it can be personally invigorating. Be willing to change processes to meet new challenges. Think outside the box to solve problems creatively. Be patient with yourself and others when things do not go as planned.
- Be resourceful. Make the best use of resources (personnel, PPE, medications, etc.). Be creative in filling gaps. If possible, consider leveraging volunteers or students on rotation to help meet needs during staffing shortages. Consider cross-training and/or reallocating staff to areas of highest need. Find creative ways to conserve supplies and protective equipment. Stay on top of potential drug shortages, and explore every channel for procuring critical medications.
- Prioritize resilience. Know when to take a break. Ask for help when you need it. Spend time with loved ones. Engage in hobbies. And make it a priority to rest and relax.
- Do not lose sight of goals. During times of crisis, we often default to survival mode, which is a natural response. However, it is important not to forget about the goals you have set. Whether it be learning a new skill, furthering your education, pursuing a hobby, improving your health, or finding a new job, it is important to keep them in mind. While your time and attention might be pulled elsewhere during a true crisis, it doesn’t mean that all of your goals need to be on hold indefinitely. Consider how you might be able to continue making progress, even as you face challenges.
Though 2020 was not what any of us expected, it was an oppor¬tunity to highlight just how strong, caring and resilient we are as a profession. In spite of all of the challenges—juggling work and family concerns, starting a graduate degree program, facing many unknowns, losing loved ones—I find myself in a nostalgic frame of mind.
I am grateful for the bright spots of 2020, and I am hopeful and excited as I look toward the future, whatever it brings. I’ll take the lessons learned, and continue my own personal journey toward being the best that I can be. If there’s been any constant in my career as a pharmacist, it’s that change is inevitable. Learning to not only survive it, but also embrace it and thrive through it, is indispensable!
- Governor Hutchinson Confirms State’s First Presumptive Positive COVID-19 Case. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. https://governor.arkansas.gov/news-media/press-releases/governor-hutchinson-confirms-states-first-presumptive-positive-covid-19-cas. Published 2020. Accessed December 21, 2020.