Friday, May 20, 2022

When Rina Shah graduated from pharmacy school, she didn’t see the need to become a business leader.

Seventeen years later, she found herself speaking to a large crowd of pharmacy students and others as a major mover and shaker in the industry, as the keynote speaker - the inaugural Floyd and Judith Domer Distinguished Visiting Lectureship -  in this year’s Zada Cooper Leadership Symposium.

Shah, PharmD, is the Group Vice President of Pharmacy Operations and Services for Walgreens. She leads a team responsible for Pharmacy operations and services across Walgreens’ more than 9,000 pharmacies.

She spoke about her passion for improving the field, in part to help make healthcare more equitable for disadvantaged people.

Rina Shah

In Chicago and the surrounding area, transportation was an issue for many during the height of the pandemic. “We had patients that sometimes took two or three busses to get to the pharmacist to get their medication. Or they couldn’t get to their job because their child was at home sick due to COVID-19 so they couldn’t go to work because they lost their job,” Shah said. “You had millions of individuals who were combating that, and they were making … grave decisions that should not be there (such as) ‘Do I take my medicine or do I decide to put food on the table for my family?’ ”

Walgreens began a pilot project in the area to deliver medications to patients for free. Shah spoke about a specific local pharmacist who was empowered by the project to help a specific patient in such a situation begin to take her medication.

The pharmacist was able to tell the working mother, Shah reported, “Let’s just deliver your medications. It’s free. Let’s set you up for 90 days (and) make sure that it’s just easy for you. It’s one less thing you need to worry about, and I will save you money by changing from one brand name medication to a generic medication.”

Shah said mentors helped her along the way to become a leader, and she was surprised how strong her passion for healthcare change became.

When she was still fresh in her career, a boss told her she would not get the immunization services director position, despite being extremely well-versed in the area. And then the boss advised her to get experiences with a variety of elements of the industry—including finding out how pharmacies are reimbursed—to “think differently” and “change the mold”.

“If you only do this one thing, how are you going to get the experiences to think differently?” she remembered being asked, before being offered a job outside her comfort zone. She accepted.

Shah told the students in the room what she wished she knew earlier: That everyone in the profession needs to lead changes in it.

“When I was graduating from pharmacy school, I assumed someone else would lead, and I wouldn’t need to do that,” Shah told the room of students, pharmacy professionals and educators, and friends of the college. “I assumed that my professors, the associations, someone, would take care of the profession. … That was the wrong assumption.”

“All of us need to engage. We need everyone to own the profession. This is our lives, this is our profession. So when you graduate, that doesn’t end.”

“I need everyone that graduates, every professional across the board to fight with us. To change what the pharmacy profession can be, so that we can improve the lives of everyone that we touch.”

The Floyd and Judith Domer Distinguished Visiting Lectureship supported Shah’s presentation at the Zada symposium.