Written By: Abigail Klutts and Jordan Paavola, Third-Year Student Pharmacists

In June, we had the opportunity to travel to Oklahoma City to meet with 22 student pharmacists from across the country for a week-long symposium on leadership development during the Oklahoma University Summer Symposium on Leadership (SSL), sponsored by CVS Health. Now in its second year, the SSL is overseen by Michael Smith, PhD, assistant dean for Tulsa Operations at the University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy (OU COP), and Jane Wilson, PhD, associate dean for student affairs at OU COP.

Conference Kick-Off

Similar to the pathways available in the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program, the PharmD program at OU COP features a leadership track that students can pursue. Because not all students have the opportunity to learn about leadership development at their schools, the SSL brings this important topic directly to students without the need for a dedicated leadership track. We were invited to represent the School of Pharmacy this year thanks to Natalie D. Eddington, PhD, FCP, FAAPS, dean and professor of the School, who served as an advisor to Dr. Smith during his time in the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy’s (AACP) Academic Leadership Fellows Program.

To help us better understand how our individual personalities could affect our leadership styles, the symposium kicked off with an activity known as the “Power of Self.” During this activity, we had an opportunity to analyze our Clifton StrengthsFinder and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator results before progressing through two additional activities — the “Power of Team” and “Whole-istic Power” — during which we analyzed our conflict resolution styles and learned how to effectively interact with others who might have different personalities and approaches to conflict resolution.

Abby’s Reflections

I enjoyed having an opportunity to attend the symposium and meet students from backgrounds different than my own. In just one week, the leadership and team-building activities that we participated in helped me connect with these individuals on a deeper level than I have with other people I’ve known for years. Perhaps my favorite memory was participating in “Trapped OKC,” working together with my teammates to escape a locked room within one hour by collecting a series of clues. Although we were seconds away from exiting, we ultimately failed to escape, though we later learned that no team escaped. We were all relieved that nobody had bragging rights for the remainder of our time together.

Jordan’s Reflections

My favorite part of the symposium was learning about the practice of mindfulness — a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings and thoughts.  Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, while increasing well-being and happiness.  With the crazy lives that we live as student pharmacists, I think it is safe to say that this practice will really benefit us.

Final Thoughts

This experience went beyond an average lecture on leadership. The experiences and discussions in which we participated truly helped us to better understand each other and foster connections with local leaders in the profession. To further our professional development after learning about our different communication styles, we role played a discussion that we might have in Pharmacy Hall to better understand how our unique styles interact. We found that our words and body language matched the recommendations for how we should interact – perhaps that’s why we get along so well! This example brought the lessons that we had learned to life and helped us understand how we might be perceived by different people. Creating a welcoming and open environment gave us numerous opportunities to speak up with questions, examples, and insight to help further our learning as well as the learning of others participating in the symposium.

At the end of the week, we learned that our teams would keep in touch throughout the year to hold each other accountable for our goals. Each team was assigned a faculty advisor from the symposium who will keep us on track and help us achieve our goals. In addition, although CVS Health has agreed to help fund the symposium for a finite time, we hope to see it last indefinitely, as the people we met and lessons we learned are truly invaluable and could benefit generations of students to come.

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