Sunday, October 14, 2018

Women in STEM | Erin's Story

And the Women in STEM series continues! This time, we are spending a little bit of time with Erin. Erin is a pharmacy manager. She's a Filipino-American currently living in New York City, United States. Read our interview with if you really want to know the importance of creating work/life boundaries and the secret to excelling as a pharmacist!

What do you do, and for how long have you been doing it?
I’m a pharmacy manager of a healthcare system and have been for two years. Specifically, I'm responsible for building pharmacy roles in clinics that are part of the healthcare system I work in. My role combines my science background with my healthcare administration training to manage people and projects.

How did you pick your career path?
If I’m honest, a big reason I went into healthcare was because of my immigrant parents. My father is a university professor with a PhD, and my mother is a high school and community college teacher with a Masters Degree. Both teach and do research in science. While part of me believes I chose my path, I know it was also heavily influenced by their example. They were firm in their belief that education and post-graduate degrees were the keys to success in a career, so that's what I did.

I picked and finalised my path to pharmacy after getting a job as a pharmacy technician at a retail store. What I loved most was the ability to combine my science background and help people face-to-face. Once I got into pharmacy school I learned even more about the diversity of career paths including drug development, inpatient care, community/retail, and healthcare leadership. It was then I realised that my choices were much more vast than I ever thought. Ultimately, I decided to specialize in healthcare administration and pursue a residency training program for this. Through leadership and influence in my field, I seek to optimise systems and empower others to do the best they can for patients.

What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them? 
The biggest challenge was the training itself with four years for my university degree, four years of pharmacy school, and a two-year residency training program that had a concurrent Masters Degree component. In training, I experienced burnout, depression, and anxiety. During this time, I lost my identity. Though maybe, I just never had a chance to explore it because I was always trying to get through the next few years before the next training chapter. My life was imbalanced and I had no boundaries with work. I felt that I had no choice because I was beholden to my teachers and preceptors, and finally getting a job. I was competing with my colleagues for invisible trophies like leadership titles, first in and last out of the hospital, and saying yes to every opportunity that presented itself.

In addition to mental health challenges, the administrative component to my training was where I experienced sexism in the workplace. Whilst pharmacy in the United States is pretty well balanced with genders, it's not the case in its leadership. Most managers, directors, system vice-presidents, etc. are men. And training to be a leader as a women in a "man's club" came with its own challenges. I felt that I was at a disadvantage by default. I had to work harder than my male counterparts on things like executive presence, assertiveness, and managing those in older generations. It was during this time I initially realized how much I internalized sexism throughout my life. I still continue breaking down these barriers today.

In order to overcome these challenges I hung on for dear life to my support system, and did an incredible amount of self-reflection. With self-reflection, I learned how to take feedback. At first, any feedback I received would crush my confidence and take a village to build back up. But now I consider who is giving the feedback, what their intentions are, and apply feedback in relation to where I believe I am, and want to be.

I also learned to align my surroundings with values that fit with my own. I sought to work where I felt the organisation valued diversity, and in a pharmacy department that had both men and women in leadership positions. As a result, I work where diversity is a core value of their strategic plan, and my direct supervisor is a woman. This is the opposite of where I trained, and as such I recognize the benefits of the environment I am now.

Finally, I learned to set boundaries. At the end of the day, I cannot change another person but I can control what I choose to tolerate. To promote resilience and good mental health, I set time rules of responding to emails and working at home. I schedule 'microadventures' on work nights and weekends to ensure I maintain better balance at my life. And I solidified my personal and professional values to help guide my future decisions. Gone are the days that my career is the highest priority in my life. It's now my relationships with my partner, friends, and family which I'm sad to say wasn't always the case because I didn't have the confidence to set boundaries.

What's your advice for other women in the industry, or those wanting to join?
Specifically for pharmacy, my advice would be to develop your network. It's your network that will propel your career and help you land that first job, or your next one. I count every interaction as a potential network opportunity. But in order for your network to be strong, you must also be genuine and collaborative.

No matter your career path, you may run into those who believe that you may not have the right to be there, or that you are taking space they feel entitled to. Do not listen to these voices. You are worthy and you are entitled to what you desire. When you walk into a room, don't sit on the sidelines. Take your seat at the table.  

What book are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading two books! First is Kintsugi Wellness: The Japanese Art of Nourishing Mind, Body, and Spirit by Candice Kumai. This book combines principles from her Japanese heritage with her culinary training to create a comprehensive wellness guide from the inside out. It includes delicious recipes that help make Japanese flavors more accessible to every kitchen. It also explores concepts like continuous improvement (kaizen), being perfectly imperfect (wabi sabi), and the art of filling your cracks with golden lacquer to make you even more precious and valuable (kintsugi). Candice wrote this book with her mom over more than three years and it makes me want to dig deeper into my own Filipino heritage.

The second book I’m currently reading is Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, edited by Roxane Gay. I've been a fan of Roxane Gay's writing for years now and have some of her other books including Bad Feminist and Hunger. With Not That Bad, she curated a collection of stories from actors, writers, and activists to share what it means to live in a world where women face awful experiences for speaking out on their sexual assaults and rape. As women's empowerment continues to get stronger, and the accused start experiencing consequences for their actions, Not That Bad couldn't be a more timely and important read.

Isn't Erin just marvellous? I loved what she had to say about seeking out organisations with diversity at their core. What about you?

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  1. What a fascinating woman! Her role sounds very impressive, particularly after such a hard period of training to reach that goal; battling depression, burnout and anxiety throughout that time must have been so, so difficult. Good for her! x

    1. She really is Gabrielle, and she has taught me a lot. Not only that, I'm moved by her honesty.

  2. Wonder woman you are Erin. I love her honesty about how she picked her career path. With a great parents like that, I would have been influenced too. Ha!
    Great interview sis.

    1. Hehe! Wouldn't we all Missy! I'm moved by her honesty too!

  3. Very inspiring! Loved the piece about accepting feedback and the advice to women especially in the same field (which applies everywhere else). Well done, Erin! Through it all, you persevered and overcame!

    1. Yeah, her advice can definitely transcend different industries. But I feel as women we should endeavour to seek out equality and diversity.

  4. Great interview. I really like her honesty and thoroughness on her challenges and how she overcome them. I learned so much from her experience and her advice is so applicable to anyone working. Great read.

    1. I think her honesty has been very humbling all round. Yes her advice transcends all industries!


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