A Pharmacist’s Perspective on Teamwork in Primary Care

What role can pharmacists play in reinventing primary care in the U.S.?

If you ask Sachin Jain, healthcare organizations can and should do more to tap into the wealth of knowledge and specific skills of pharmacists. By integrating pharmacists into healthcare models and on teams, he says, pharmacists’ expertise can be more effectively applied in real-time.

Relational Leadership Institute logoWhile integrating pharmacists into primary care is an important step in improving the care of patients and the well-being of providers, I believe there’s one additional effort needed in Sachin’s call to action — taking the time to find shared values and connect as a team beyond just applying our technical expertise.

This insight began during my most formative moment at my first Primary Care Progress Summit seven years ago. As the only pharmacy student on the University of Utah PCP Chapter and present that year at Harvard, I struggled to know what a pharmacy student was doing in primary care. The inner conflict felt uncomfortable; I feared there was little common ground to bridge between the medical students in the room and myself.

What am I doing here? Is this the experience I thought I needed?

Through an invigorating weekend of engaging with each other, by sharing our individual stories through Narrative Leadership, our Utah team uncovered our shared values, discovered what brought us into healthcare, and what made us tick. By the end, we had built bonds and friendships that served as the foundation for our PCP Chapter and student-run health clinic.

That first Summit taught me the value of diversity and different perspectives in catalyzing change. More than their technical or medical expertise, I learned to put equal value on getting to know my colleagues and peers on a personal level. Finding those shared values helped the interprofessional or technical links tie more seamlessly together. As a pharmacist, this experience built a foundation for a clearer line of sight into how my skill set can complement others on a care team, a mindset that continues to grow.

My experience at that first Summit, and with PCP over the last eight years, has opened my eyes to see what’s possible when an interprofessional group decides to set competitiveness aside to find common goals and achieve more together than we could on our own.

Bringing It All Together

When people get stuck, it’s often out of conflict or misunderstandings. Whether I’m serving as a National PCP Trainer or a mentor at the University of Utah, I often point out the difference between the story I’m telling myself and what’s really happening. It’s often easier to help find resolution and common ground if you take a step back to see other people through their experiences and get a better understanding of where they’re coming from.

Conflict is inevitable, but a care team feeling psychologically safe to surface tension and address it in healthy ways isn’t. Teams that intentionally take the time to understand how to leverage and navigate differences can rise above the prevailing challenges in healthcare today. When addressed or erased, common problems such as jockeying for position, silo-ing, and disengagement can be transformative and can empower teams to be better connected.

Understanding the core competencies of teaming during my leadership journey has transformed the way I see and move through the world. It’s all been essential in launching the first-ever Relational Leadership Institute at the University of Utah this Fall. This effort was a result of tremendous support outside and inside my institution — like the physician faculty member who became a leading local advocate of RLI. Like any high-functioning, interprofessional care team, we’re using our different backgrounds and experiences as pharmacist and physician to launch RLI together.

Looking Ahead to RLI at Utah

U of Utah Logo

Much like Sachin’s call to “unleash” the potential of pharmacists, I believe there’s an energy at the University of Utah that’s waiting to be tapped. We’re setting out to cultivate cultural ambassadors who return to their respective teams and departments and begin to lead from where they stand. We’ll only be able to make the institutional change stick if we gather those from diverse professional backgrounds and harness their experience, energy, and efforts to create change within the University.

Looking ahead to our first fall cohort, I genuinely believe we’re going to become a beacon for others who are interested in making that change happen. We’re not bashful about our ambitions for RLI at the University of Utah. We’re setting out to change the culture of academic healthcare. I’ve realized that the potential to transform healthcare and health professions education rests in showing individuals and teams how to maintain a sense of connection to their patients, peers, and purpose.

Perhaps much of the struggle facing pharmacists and primary care teams has to do with not having the common language to rally around and use together. Relational Leadership™ and RLI has taught me how to find that shared language and collective purpose needed to advance and improve healthcare. The more pharmacists and care teams have these skills, the more likely the primary care community can realize the potential of team-based care and lead the transformation of healthcare together.

Kyle Turner

Kyle Turner is an Assistant Professor (Clinical) at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy and is a practicing clinical pharmacist in a primary care clinic at University of Utah Health. Dr. Turner is active in Primary Care Progress as a trainer and coach.

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