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Professional Organizations: If You Want to Go Fast, Go Alone. If You Want to Go Far, Go Together.

Alex Shillingburg, PharmD BCOP
BMT Pharmacist
Clinical Coordinator
Levine Cancer Institute
Carolinas Healthcare System


Getting involved and being active at the state or national levels of a professional pharmacy organization may sound daunt- ing, perhaps not even worthwhile, but it looks good on your CV and applications, so you just do it, right? Wrong! A young pharmacy professional who gets actively involved in organizations gets so many benefits! If you go beyond just joining and become an active part of that community, you will reap the many benefits offered and be able to contribute to the organization’s cause in a very meaningful way—whether you are a new practitioner, a resident, or a student.

I, too, was skeptical at first. As a student, I had been only superficially involved in a few organizations—until I found the one that aligned with my goals as a pharmacist. Through our Student Society of Health-System Pharmacists chapter, I found that the priorities and objectives of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists were exactly what I wanted to focus on as a professional, but it was within our state-affiliate organization, the West Virginia Society of Health-System Pharmacists that I was motivated to become involved. I felt loyalty toward the patients and colleagues in my state and pride in what I could provide as a pharmacist, and this state organization gave me an avenue to implement meaningful change and enhance the unity of practitioners attempting to do the same thing across the state. After implementing a workshop on student leadership development the first year after my residency, chairing the New Practitioners Committee, and being elected as the north regional vice president in my second year, I was voted president-elect and became a member of the board of directors at age 27. Please keep in mind: I’m not some superstar pharmacist, I did not have a 4.0 GPA, I don't have a dozen research publications to my credit, and I didn’t do an administration residency. I just had a passion for improving the efforts of the organization and promoting what it does for patients and pharmacy pro- fessionals in my home state. I wanted to make things better, and I contributed the effort and dedication that the organization needed. And though this all sounds great, the professional growth I have experienced and the satisfaction of seeing the positive outcomes of those efforts have been far more valuable than anything that could be represented on my CV.

Over the course of my involvement in this organization, I’ve gained enough perspective and experience to be able to
debunk a few myths that residents or new practitioners may believe about becoming involved in a professional organization, so I’d like to share that knowledge here.

Myth 1: I’m not good enough or experienced enough to be on a committee.

Motivation and problem-solving skills are often all that are needed from a committee member. If you are willing to help achieve the goals of that committee, you will be an asset. Committees typically need more help than they have volunteers, and so a handful of people carry most of the weight.
New and ambitious young practitioners are normally welcomed and can provide a fresh perspective to a group. Years of clinical experience are not needed to organize member elections, promote upcoming meetings, or develop continuing education program agendas and secure speakers. By joining these committees, you will gain a sense of ownership in the organization’s goals and a feeling of belonging. You’ll also have a great opportunity to network with influential members of your organization all across the country.

Myth 2: I can just sign up, get the e-mails, and not really do anything but still get the benefit of involvement in the organization.

I hope you haven’t read this far and still believe this myth. Filling out the online application and paying your dues does not add anything to your growth as a phar- macy professional. Taking advantage of the opportunities to enhance your clinical knowledge with continuing education and meeting attendance, building your professional network by interacting with colleagues at numerous institutions, and developing your organizational and lead- ership skills through being involved in a committee, helping to plan or organize meetings, or serving in an elected office will provide you essential experience that may not be available to you in your job. Working with organizations also gives you the opportunity to lead change—rather than just respond to it — through advocacy efforts. You can also affect patient care on a wide scale and reach many more patients than just those who walk through your hospital or clinic doors.

Myth 3: It looks better to be in a national organization, so I won’t bother joining state organizations.

State organizations are a great place to make a difference and gain experience running committees, organizing meetings, speaking publicly, and serving in leader- ship roles. State organizations are smaller networks than national ones, so you very likely already have connections at your institution with active members or com- mittee chairs who would love to have your help. Involvement in a state organization is a great way to showcase your abilities across your state, build connections, and gain valuable experience. Most important, the effect of the changes you implement will be highly visible right in your own community.

Myth 4: It doesn’t matter which organization you choose because they’re all basically the same.

If you believe myth number 2, then sure, but if you really want to realize the full benefit of being in an organization, then this
statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Dozens and dozens of professional pharmacy organizations exist, each one with a particular vision and mission. Some organizations center on
the practice setting—for example, the American Association  of Colleges in Pharmacy (AACP), the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP), and the National Association of Chain
Drug Stores (NACDS). Some organizations focus on a particular specialty—for example, the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association (HOPA), the Pediatric Pharmacy Advocacy Group (PPAG), and the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists (CPNP). Others are multidisciplinary or even physician focused but have a pharmacy section or interest group, such as the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (ASBMT), which has a Pharmacy Special Interest Group.

Myth 5: It’s too expensive to join professional organizations.

Most of the time, membership is fairly affordable, particularly for students, residents, or new practitioners. Many organizations offer reduced rates (or sometimes even free membership). The resident rate for HOPA membership is only $60 (60% off the fee for full members), and the student rate is $40 (73% off). Which organizations you join is also important. It is much more beneficial to you (and looks better on your résumé) if you maintain membership in only a few organizations that you are able to actively contribute to and benefit from, rather than simply renewing your membership in a dozen organizations.

Myth 6: I don’t want to join an organization because I may change my mind later on or decide to practice in a different specialty.

Change is a part of life, and very few people stay in exactly the same role throughout their entire career. Even pharmacists who stay in oncology may decide along the way to focus more on other areas, such as quality, information technology, administration, or managed care. After such changes, they may find that the organizations they had chosen to join are no longer relevant or beneficial, and involvement in different organizations may become more worthwhile. That is all perfectly OK—you can join or leave organizations at any time, and the experience you gained with one may translate wonderfully to the next. Continue to be involved in the groups that matter to you and what you do.

Myth 7: I’ll be putting in a lot of work without getting any personal benefit.

The benefits to you are numerous. In addition to the benefits discussed above — Most of the time, membership is fairly affordable, particularly for students, residents, or new practitioners. Many organizations offer reduced rates (or sometimes even free membership). The resident rate for HOPA membership is only $60 (60% off the fee for full members), and the student rate is $40 (73% off). Which organiza- tions you join is also important. It is much more beneficial to you (and looks better on your résumé) if you maintain membership in only a few organizations that you are able to actively contribute to and benefit from, rather than simply renewing your membership in a dozen organizations.

Change is a part of life, and very few people stay in exactly the same role throughout their entire career. Even pharmacists who stay in oncology may decide along the way to focus more on other areas, such as quality, information technology, administration, or managed care. After such changes, they may find that the organizations they had chosen to join are no longer relevant or beneficial, and involvement in different organizations may become more worthwhile. That is all perfectly OK—you can join or leave organizations at any time, and the experience you gained with one may translate wonderfully to the next. Continue to be involved in the groups that matter to you and what you do.

The benefits to you are numerous. In addition to the benefits discussed above—leadership experience, networking opportunities, the ability to make a community impact, practice in advocacy, involvement in patient care initiatives, and personal growth—each organization offers other benefits. You can often
gain access to job postings specific to your field, attend educational sessions to prepare you for your specialty board certifications, have the opportunity to apply for scholarship awards and gain recognition of professional achievements, and learn about other specific resources available to you.

Involvement in an organization helps keep you informed about current happenings outside your hospital or clinic walls. It gives you the opportunity to be involved on the front line to make changes to improve yourself, your community, your profession, and ultimately the care that is provided to your patients and their families.

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