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Week 4: Strategic Planning by Justin Bioc
Week 4: Strategic Planning
September 30, 2013 - October 4, 2013
This week was an exciting week for me as well as AACP, because the AACP President-elect, Patricia Chase, School of Pharmacy Dean at West Virginia University, and the AACP Board of Directors Strategic Planning Committee came to Washington, D.C. from all the around the country to discuss the AACP strategic plan for the upcoming year. It was humbling to be in the presence of so many leaders of the academic community, and I really appreciated the opportunity to get the scoop on what was happening behind the scenes of the academic arena. As Dean Chase had put it, “Students never get to see this;” additionally, it was my perception that even faculty rarely get such an opportunity.
The strategic planning meeting was a two day, round table discussion that encompassed both housekeeping items, as well as, overarching goals that apply to the scoop of AACP’s mission.  The first part of the meeting included just Dean Chase and the AACP staff. This initial meeting was a chance for the staff to hear what Dean Chase hoped to accomplish during her presidency while providing feedback; in essence, we discussed what mark she wanted to leave on the organization and academic pharmacy and what theme would encompass her presidency. The next two thirds of the meeting were spent with the Strategic Planning Committee. There were a lot of issues discussed, but there were three items that really stood out to me:
1. Gaming – Using technology and gaming as a teaching tool is where innovation in teaching seems to be shifting. One of the important distinctions made was that gaming was different from “simulation,” which is a teaching model already applied to today’s teaching environment. Gaming adds another dimension to learning that can’t be brought into the classroom any other way; in my opinion, it actually is not that novel of a notion even though the use of gaming is quite innovative. Games aren’t just great because they are fun, but they create a sense of investment. There is a community based solely around games, particularly video games, which draws in all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. This is another reason why gaming is a particularly suited vehicle for interprofessional collaboration and education. I was even lucky enough to be able to contribute in a very small way to the conversation by introducing Reddit, an online forum riddled with strong opinions, and gaming personalities, an umbrella term to describe how players actually play games.
2. Rankings – Being very interested in assessment in education particularly, this was a very interesting topic to me. The US News and World Report rankings of pharmacy schools are an important advertising factor, especially for the top 25 schools. To the consumer, rankings are one of the most important metrics that drive application decisions and career goals, yet there is no metric to measure the applicability or quality of these rankings. Amongst academics, the ratings are not meaningful and do not represent the schools objectively. The US News and World Report ranking are based solely on subjective peer assessment surveys that rate a school’s program from 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding). Objective criteria are not addressed at all. It was particularly interesting to me because I’ve always thought about the value of an “A” and how much grades affect your future opportunities. The prevalence of “A” grades continues to grow every year as the prevalence of “C” grades drop; getting a “C” grade no longer carries its “satisfactory” meaning and is more synonymous to “inadequate.” Soon, grades as a metric for success won’t allow those with academic achievement to shine, but simply marginalize those who don’t perform exceptionally in the classroom. Unfortunately, with all ranking systems, overthrowing the norm is controversial and must be led by someone who has benefited from the flawed system to begin with.  If someone who has not benefitted from the system tries to address it, they can appear as if their motive for change is due to their poor ranking.
3. Change of Scenery in the Academic Environment– There was a particular part of the discussion that talked about what AACP does and what it might need to stop doing. It so much easier to create a new program, expand existing ones, and formulate new goals than to let go of one that has or is in the process of being developed. Thinking about the dynamic academic environment, strategic planning is a way for the organization to keep up; while some programs where applicable at the time, they may no longer be applicable in the current climate. At the same time, there was discussion about how those in the academic work force are so specialized that there is such a lack of people who are generalized enough to move into new positions. For example, there was is a lack of interest in those seeking Department Chair positions even though there are positions available. Department Chairs are administrative staff that take a look at the big picture of their department to help achieve the goals of the school. Because of specialization, faculty may not have the skills developed to become a Department Chair or may not be willing to step out of the practice they have worked so many years to specialize in. The workforce environment has changed, and now there is need for support to help those who have specialized to transition into new roles. It’s a striking parallel that I’ve never put together myself.
After these meetings were over, I was also able to sit in on a finance board meeting. As with any business, money plays a key role in the vitality of the organization; as the AACP Senior Director of Finance always says, cash is king (or queen). It was interesting to see where all the revenue of the organization stems from as well as how AACP invests its money for the long term, which is necessary for the long term stability of the organization. As is not uncommon in association management, human resources were the bulk of costs.
Thinking about all these things really pushed me to reflect on my current rotation. Up until this point, I’ve just been thinking that association management possibly wasn’t for me. The thought of  having to sit down all day at a desk where my interactions were based mostly on phone conversations and people saying hello as they scurried to the bathroom did not appeal to me. I don’t particularly like sitting in meetings for hours on end either. There is also a lack of instant gratification that comes with association work that I’ve come to long for in clinical practice settings. You can spend months and months on a project until you start seeing results. So many things about academia and management are observed over and over again before change is actually implemented. Yet, this board strategic planning meeting really changed my perspective.
Here were deans and faculty of schools of pharmacy that are playing a pretty significant management role in AACP without all the strings being attached to an office space. Their experiences in the field were brought to the table and provided real-time context to real situations in academia. It is also worth noting that they were very warm and inviting people, a welcomed surprise as I picture most board of directors to be neurotic and impersonal. The whole experience had reopened my mind to a career having to do with administrative pharmacy and management, if not association management particularly.
While I know I want to be a pharmacy faculty and researcher and possibly work my way to administration, the path is still not as clear. I really need to focus on keeping my options open as I let the experiences soak in. Just as AACP has relied on those from the outside, I’ve got to go out and seek more help on what I should do next on top of doing my own research. There are so many people that I know already that are faculty members or are on their way to becoming one. They have been through the process and have probably thought through the same questions that I have now. They are people can I go to for advice and provide me with questions that I haven’t thought of yet.
I’m also going to let uncertainty into the equation. A lot of time goes into planning things, but anything can happen; adjusting and adapting to a dynamic environment could mean the difference between success and failure. Uncertainty can come in many forms, whether it is illness, natural disaster, or just a day not going my way. Perhaps things just don’t go as I plan. Allowing uncertainty into my thinking and planning will force me to be flexible and cognizant of having a backup plan; in other words, I won’t be sticking all my eggs into one basket. I will focus on being flexible with my budget and managing my time in the most effective way so that if things weren’t to go as I had initially planned, I can still move forward comfortably with another plan and hopefully come back to where I wanted to be in the first place.
Justin Bioc
Northeastern University
Pharmacy Student | Class of 2014


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