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How Can We Be Healthcare Leaders Right Now?


Pharmaceutical Executive

Brenda Gleason discusses the current health policy landscape and how future pharmacists can be healthcare leaders during a lecture at University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

At the invitation of Jon Easter, the director of the Center for Medication Optimization through Practice and Policy (CMOPP) and a professor at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy, I was recently a guest lecturer for a talented group of pharmacy students. The session was called “Current Health Policy Landscape,” and was part of a required course on The U.S. Healthcare System.

While I have been facilitating class discussions with students for nearly a decade, I found this particular session challenging, but also inspiring. There were the typical issues with covering a complicated topic in a short amount of time, encouraging student engagement and simply making sure the technology in the room worked, but there was also the important issue of balance. I strive every day, with every client and with every interaction, to strike a balance between opposing values and viewpoints. In the current political environment, this seems more important than ever, in part because balance and openness is how you encourage the broadest range of participation. In a classroom especially, we are all learners, but in order to learn, we have to be exposed to something we haven’t seen or heard before.

We only had two hours in the class, so my goal was to help class members learn how to think about health policy problems, not what to think about them. Let’s face it, two hours isn’t enough to cover the current system, even less the tumultuous health policy landscape today.

The students mentioned that while they were training to be pharmacists, not policy analysts, friends, family, and colleagues often asked them to weigh in on the health policy issues of the moment. I asked the students what they thought about how without being health policy experts, they could still be health leaders in the current political environment? Their recommendations are helpful guideposts for all of us. To be a health leader, you can be:

  • more specific

  • a better listener

  • a source of legitimate information

Be more specific

While we discussed how to tackle health policy issues, and the students worked in small groups on the case study I brought to class, it became apparent that certain words were being used to signal big concepts. Yes, in health care we want better quality, lower costs, higher efficiency, more equality, improved access-but each of these concepts needs additional clarification. We can be leaders by encouraging conversations that are more precise. Ask clarifying questions. For example, “When you say, ‘health care is a right,’ what do you mean by that?” or “When you say, ‘get the government out of health care,’ can you give me an example of what that looks like?”

We should follow our own advice, as well. You can be a health leader by trying to use specific terms in discussions and clarifying what you mean if another person asks for clarification. Which leads to the class’ second recommendation.

Be a better listener

Near the end of our two hours together, after the students had been both talking and listening, they had learned for themselves that listening more was a key path to understanding. In this class session, I set a parameter that different points of view were not just welcome, but encouraged (the case study involved groups defending a range of health systems from all government-run to no government involvement at all). In order to fully participate, students needed to listen to each other carefully and ask probing questions. Near the end of the class, a consensus said that they had learned something new about our current health care system that day, and they had learned it by listening to each other.

The class recommended listening more once they left the classroom, whether in formal discussions with work colleagues, or less formal conversations with friends or family. Listening more is a great way to be a health care leader every day.

Be a source of legitimate information (even if it has a bias)

The last recommendation from the students was to be a source of legitimate information-even if the source has a stated bias. In health policy, there is a range of legitimate information sources, from government publications to peer-reviewed journals, to materials published by trusted entities such as disease associations, foundation-funded research organizations, think tanks, or health advocacy groups. While no single source is likely sufficient to inform a health policy, some sources are better than others, and some sources are simply bogus and should not be relied upon.

We can serve as health leaders by encouraging reliance on facts and policy points-of-view, even if they have a clearly stated bias.

From the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy students, I learned some great ideas for how each of us can be a health care leader. What are your thoughts on how to be a health care leader right now?


Brenda L. Gleason is the Founder and CEO of M2 Health Care Consulting. M2 provides strategic advice on state health policy issues to a wide range of health care companies.



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