Cynthia Watchmaker, MEd, MBA

Associate Dean, Student Affairs – UCSF School of Pharmacy San Francisco, California

I applied LDI for two reasons. First, as an opportunity to learn more about leadership development in pharmacy — with the explicit goal of using that perspective to enhance the experience of UCSF student pharmacists as they prepare for their future leadership roles.  Second, because I am admittedly game for any chance to be a student exploring the concept of leadership given the extent to which it is intertwined with who we are and what we value on a personal and professional level.

As Associate Dean of Student Affairs, my objective as an educator is to create and support an environment and opportunities in which our students to realize their potential as learners, as professionals and as people. Central to this approach is a broad view of leadership and leader development – I believe that each student has the capacity for leadership and I have come to recognize I have the importance of cultivating this as we prepare students to be the custodians of pharmacy’s future.

And, on a personal level? LDI offered me the chance to immerse myself in a new approach to leadership development as a learner. Our development as leaders is never over – there is always more to learn and new perspectives and insight to gain. For me, the opportunity to integrate an experience that would be inspiring for me with benefits for our students represented a classic win-win.

My LDI project centers on the concept of resilience and wellness as an essential foundation of a healthy and productive life as a professional and as a leader. In my role as Associate Dean of Student Affairs at UCSF, I work with tremendously talented and passionate students who illustrate every day that the future of pharmacy is bright and is in good hands.  These students are creative, driven and care deeply about making a difference in healthcare.

They also grapple with the stress of an environment characterized by rapid change, financial pressure and a plethora of messages about achievement as they envision a future in which their values in the personal and professional realm are aligned. Programmed to achieve from a young age, they have high expectations of themselves in an increasingly competitive world.  Student stress – about grades, finances, postgraduate plans and more – runs high.

Students need tools for balancing the stress in their life and models for making choices about how to align the personal and professional dimensions of the life they want. I believe we can help by creating a culture that teaches and reinforces resilience and wellness as a key to success and satisfaction personally and professionally.

To accomplish this, my project launches a wellness initiative focused on life balance to model how to make wellness and balance a part of daily life. Students often comment that their stress will be greatly reduced – or eliminated – once school ends and their career begins.  Given the reality that balance is an ongoing goal, my goal is that this initiative supports students to develop tools applicable to Pharmacy school and beyond.

This initiative will address student stress through programming to highlight strategies and tools for self-care and resilience and stories from practitioners within the faculty and alumni community. By putting key topics such as coping strategies, perfectionism and work/life choices in the open, students will be supported as they navigate the demands of school and decisions about their future. With more tools to manage personal and professional pressures, I hope students will feel they are in greater control over their life and better equipped to meet the challenges they will face in their future roles.

I am working with a committee of students and faculty, and we plan to engage alumni in this initiative. The combination of programming, key messaging and individual support has touched a nerve within our community and enthusiasm for the opportunities this represents. We are also working to engage external partners such as Berkeley’s Good Life Institute to support this programming.

Why is this important for today’s students – and pharmacy’s future leaders? Because the world of healthcare and the demands are becoming more complex and will be met by pharmacists who are resilient in the face of pressure. Pharmacists who are attuned to the extent to which their capacity to lead and care for others is made stronger by balancing what is important to them professionally and personally. It makes good sense to do what we can to help the talent in the pharmacy pipeline prepare themselves to face the challenges ahead with the resilience and balance needed to thrive and succeed.

It has been a pleasure to meet, listen and learn from the LDI facilitators and participants. The honest sharing of perspectives, the mutual desire to both learn from and support colleagues and the rich discussion of individual hopes and desires provides an excellent forum for reflection and growth. I applaud each person who has been part of this experience. There are few opportunities to engage with others in this way and the LDI has created a valuable forum to cultivate leadership and community.

The most valuable and timely aspect of the institute has been examination of the concept of response-ability. We are all familiar with the adage that the most constant part of life can be the degree to which it changes and I have experienced this recently in both the professional and personal realms of my life. The concepts of humility and acceptance as well as the idea of agency in response to change has been a valuable one. The facilitators have done an outstanding job of modeling how honest reflection is an essential part of the leadership journey and I am grateful for their humility and humanity leading us to embrace our past, present and future.