Episode 10: Career Paths and COVID-19

Jeremy Sasser - June 12, 2020

In this episode of OnScript with NHA, co-hosts Jessica Langley-Loep and Jeremy Sasser are joined by Susan Bonilla, the newly-appointed CEO of the California Pharmacists Association (CPhA). Starting her professional career as a high school English teacher, Susan eventually began serving the public through elected positions starting with city council and eventually being elected to the California state assembly. Susan chaired committees that oversaw the pharmacist advanced practice bill as well as the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Combining her love of education and public service make leading CPhA a great fit for Susan.

Throughout this episode, Susan discusses a few initiatives CPhA is undertaking in 2020, as well as discussing how COVID-19 has changed the healthcare landscape in CA, and what CPhA is doing to advocate for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians and their continued safety during this pandemic. The collaboration between NHA and CPhA is also highlighted and how both organizations are working to advance the practice of pharmacy technicians and advocate for more involvement and engagement between pharmacy technicians and CPhA, with a goal of more technicians taking advantage of CPhA-provided leadership training. Finally, while COVID-19 has not allowed for any travel since becoming CEO, Susan is looking forward to being able to travel around the state and have the opportunity to meet pharmacy techs across the state and find what CPhA can do to better serve them.


Read the full transcript

Jeremy Sasser: Podcast Nation. Thank you for joining us for another episode of ON-Script powered by NHA, the only podcast on Pharmacy Podcast Network dedicated to pharmacy technicians. And of course joining me today is our wonderful cohost Jessica Langley. Always radiant, always full of knowledge, always bringing her A game to this weird situation we all find ourselves in, working from home.

Jessica Langley: The radiant part might not be so accurate these days considering everyone is stay at home and so good thing we don't have the cameras rolling, let's put it that way.

Jeremy Sasser: Well we don't know what we don't know. I could be sitting in my Superman pajamas right now and nobody would know the difference, so.

Jessica Langley:

Whatever makes you feel good.

Jeremy Sasser: Indeed, so we are super excited today to have the new CEO of the California Pharmacists Association joining us. And just wanted to take a brief moment to thank all of our listeners who are absolutely working as frontline healthcare workers right now, putting yourselves in harm's way for the safety of others in your community and doing a fantastic job at it. I was just on a panel the other day and I couldn't say enough great things about the pharmacy staff that I encounter in getting my family's medications. They've been absolutely fantastic during what's been a quite often confusing, harrowing ordeal. So thank everybody out there who's working in the front lines. So Susan, welcome. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and we're super excited that you've joined CPhA and just give us a little introduction to yourself.

Susan Bonilla: Well, thank you so much Jeremy and Jessica. It's really a pleasure to be here with you today. A little background about myself, I come from being a high school English teacher many years ago. That's how I started my professional career and I still love education and still love the opportunity to interact with students when I get a chance. But from there I went into public service, a different kind of public service and that was elected office. It wasn't a plan that I ever had, I'd never anticipated that I would run for City Council or then for the County Board of Supervisors at all. It was a blind side and yet I found after running a real grassroots campaign that I actually really enjoyed it and that there was a lot of potential once you're elected to build a platform that really can help people.

Susan Bonilla: And then I ended up running for the state assembly and served for six years there and that's where I really became familiar with healthcare issues. Here in California, I chaired the committee that our advanced practice bill for pharmacists went through and that's where I began to learn their issues. I also served six years on the health committee while we were implementing the Affordable Care Act here in California. So after I termed out, I did a three year stint with a nonprofit advocating for children and education and then the opportunity to come back into the health field and begin working once again on completing the vision. Right. Implementing some of the great things that have happened here in California for pharmacy professionals was just a tremendous opportunity for me. So I really look forward to what we're going to be able to do for the profession here in this State.

Jeremy Sasser: That's great. I mean that's an extremely broad background, but one that I know brings a great wealth of experience to CPhA and really highlights the need that some roles within organization, State pharmacy organizations are probably better suited to someone with your background that can get things done and understand how legislation and perhaps lobbying and things like that work. Not necessarily needing to have a pharmacy background by training.

Susan Bonilla: And we do have a trained pharmacist on our staff that I can rely upon heavily. We have a great staff at CPhA. The team is wonderful. That's one of the things that now that I've been here six whole weeks in the CEO position, that has been a wonderful thing to understand how close the team works, how well we work together. And as you said, we're covering a lot of bases and by working together we're really able to serve the pharmacy profession much more effectively. But yes, you're right, living here in Sacramento and having many of my former colleagues still within the State Capitol has really, I think presented an opportunity for CPhA to be more collaborative, to work more closely on legislation and other issues of advocacy and frankly just to elevate the entire profession. We find that's one of our frontline goals is to help people understand what's actually happening in that pharmacy setting and the professionalism and training of our pharmacy technicians and our pharmacists as well.

Jessica Langley: Susan you hit the nail on the head there when you talk about the overall mission of CPhA being around elevating the entire profession. And that's really what got, I think CPhA and NHA together to form this amazing partnership that we have had. And I want to echo Jeremy's initial comments around just the work that the organization has been doing, especially under your leadership. I'm sure you could have never imagined that when you took this job that you would be faced with what you're facing today in terms of a health crisis and a pandemic. But your team has done incredible work at providing education, training, resources, tools, updates to just everything that's happening in light of the current health state, not only in California, but having resources that are available for anyone to use. So we can move right into talking a little bit I know a lot of your time and resources have been put into really combating the coronavirus and doing what you can to help support the pharmacy profession.

Jessica Langley: And you can certainly talk a little bit about those initiatives as well, but what are some other things that are top of mind to CPhA? If you think about, hey, within the first year, these are some big things that we want to try and accomplish.

Susan Bonilla: Well, let me start first with the COVID-19 pandemic that we find ourselves in the middle of. Because as you said, that's something that we needed to really respond to very rapidly because our members have all found themselves in positions where what we are most concerned about is their personal health and safety. And so in terms of our number one issue around COVID-19 it is PPE, it's the personal protective gear that all of our members need. And member or not every pharmacy tech and pharmacists in the State of California, needs to have adequate protection. And so that has certainly been the one issue that we have pushed upon really hard, because here in California what we are wanting is that our profession would be identified as frontline health providers. We are in that health provider field and we collaborate with our health provider partners, but we need to make sure that we're getting that proper protection for all of our memberships.

Susan Bonilla: So we've been encouraged to see that CDC just adopted some new guidelines that actually reflect what we've been doing here in California. In terms of pressure and making statements and really working on that protection issue along with our national partners. So this is a nationwide effort and we are very thankful for our partnerships with NHA and our other national organizations pressing on the federal level and then here in California working really diligently to make sure that the pharmacy profession is not overlooked as everyone is so laser focused on the emergency status. So we have a lot of resources on our webpage. We want to invite everyone to take a look at them. I have to highlight one because I think it's pretty unique and that is we actually developed an infographic about how to take care of your pets and during the crisis. And it is one that we sent to every single County animal shelter in the State of California and we got great feedback.

Susan Bonilla: And a lot of people are like, was wondering about my pet and how to take care of my dog and cat in this situation. And there have been questions that we were able to answer about the virus and pets as well. So that one was kind of fun to work on and we got great feedback on it. Excuse me. But you asked also about the goals for the year and we just adopted a brand new strategic plan. And in June at our next board meeting we're going to be really digging into the elements of that plan and the plan focuses on collaboration and it focuses on engagement with our members and of course it also focuses on our advocacy efforts. And I think that is one of our most important roles is that we are advocating for the profession in front of the legislature to make sure that no harm is done and that rather there are benefits and improvements throughout the profession of pharmacy.

Jessica Langley: That's great. And I know in my role currently with NHA I work a lot with your regulatory and advocacy folks and they've always been very supportive of that. And as we know, California is typically on the forefront, right, of pushing the envelope and moving a bit faster than maybe some other States across the country. And other States tend to look at California as to what they're doing in a proactive way. So it's great to be partnering with you all to think about that I know technician's specific and it's even more important nowadays to see with this pandemic is one issue that I know actively being talked about in legislation is the advancement and the expansion of pharmacy technician roles. As the pharmacists start to gain provider status and potentially get reimbursed for their services, they need more time to spend with the patients and to care for the patients.

Jessica Langley: And so some of their typical duties may be taken over by pharmacy technician. So that's a great collaborative effort that I know that we're working on and that CPhA supports. And hopefully we'll get exciting advancement in that throughout the next year or so. I would love to get your perspective just in the few weeks that you have been there about your initial reaction to the partnership with NHA and how you feel like we're benefiting technicians. Because I know that's been a focus for CPhA is really increasing the engagement of technicians within your membership.

Susan Bonilla: Technicians are absolutely essential and we really at CPhA are a team organization, team focused and we look at the profession as a team as well. There is no one person that can go out and really carry out their role without the team that is there with them. And the pharmacy technicians fulfill such an important and valuable role within the pharmacy and to the patients who are coming there. And frequently, they are the first face, they are the one interacting directly with the patients. And so there's a number of things that we do want to do in partnership with NHA and for our pharmacy techs around continuing education. And I'll say that one of the opportunities here in this crisis situation we find ourselves is, how are we going to do things differently? Everything's been shaken up.

Susan Bonilla: And so we do believe that there are opportunities here to change the way we've been doing things in the past and listen to our membership, be highly adaptable as an association to meet their needs. So we really want to hear from our technicians also and then begin to implement directly what it is they need. So we know some of that is in the continuing education field, but very strongly, I think it's in relationship building, it's in collaboration within that pharmacy setting. And it's bringing the technician and the pharmacist together for opportunities to really understand each other's roles and to build a very strong professional, collaborative spirit. And I think that's one of the most important things that we are able to do. Sometimes within professions, you can get a situation where you're not in a collaborative environment and that just frustrates everybody.

Susan Bonilla: And so I think if there's one primary goal that we have, it's to really do whatever we can through our conferences. And I have to say, we would be right now at our Western Pharmacy Exchange today if this hadn't happened. And we're very sad that we're not able to be there altogether because the networking, the time spent together with the professions actually, not only visiting with one another, but learning together, making decisions together is extremely valuable to I think the optimal work environment and the optimal professional environment. And the more we're functioning at that optimal level with our technicians, the more the profession itself will succeed here in California. So the techs play a very important role. So we want to be able to facilitate improved communication between our pharmacy techs and our pharmacists. We want to see our pharmacy techs move into leadership positions.

Susan Bonilla: They play such an important role. And so there are a number of areas that we really can begin to implement and we have been, continue our implementation of actually working with our techs. And the big one of course is around our advocacy and the legislature. Frequently if you do not have a voice in the California State Legislature, bad things are going to happen to you. Because it's not necessarily always intentional, but there are so many bills moving all the time that it is very easy for a negative effect to happen. And so our association is really laser focused on making sure that not only is there no harm done, but that we're actually promoting positive things for the entire pharmacy setting. And then again, in front of the State board, we have a very rigorous regulatory oversight structure here in California. So our voice there united together is very important and it makes for powerful change.

Jessica Langley: That's great assets for technicians and pharmacists and other pharmacy professionals within your State to have that. You mentioned that we would be currently at the Western Pharmacy Exchange meeting this weekend. And I want to highlight on Saturday of that event, we, NHA hosts a pharmacy technician continuing education day where we typically offer four different educational sessions. So that is one way that CPhA is supporting technicians. And I know and we can talk a little bit about this, that those educational sessions in the near future are going to be or still be available for technicians to get access to. Is that correct?

Susan Bonilla: Yes, we are. We are actually recording the sessions and making them available. We're hopeful by the end of May to have a bulk of the continuing education that we were going to be offering there recorded and available for the membership. Yes.

Jessica Langley: That's great. And then I wanted you to talk just a little bit about you guys host a leadership forum and I think a lot of members think that that's just for pharmacists. But I know in a previous conversation that I was having with Dr Thai who's the president of CPhA, he really encouraged us to share that information out to technicians to take advantage of that. Can you talk a little bit more about what that program entails?

Susan Bonilla: Yeah, it was started by our members and it's about a three year track of leadership development. And it started with year one of course and then as that group continued to add additional years of leadership training and in July, and we're hoping our fingers are crossed that we're going to be able to actually hold our leadership weekend. So they come together a couple times a year. And what we put before our leadership team is, hey, here's a problem, can you help us solve it? So it's not just sitting around talking about how to be a leader. We actually use this leadership training opportunity to activate our membership. And pharmacy technicians are extremely welcome and their voice would be really valued in that setting. Because as we agree upon, hey, here's an issue that the profession is facing, you're a leadership group, so help us. Be the thinkers, bring your ideas, be creative, help us to see this from a lot of different angles so that we can actually have solutions to put into place.

Susan Bonilla: So I think it's something that, for personal growth and development, for career growth and development and just to build that stronger sense of connection and relationship, it would be very valuable for technicians to take part in the leadership program.

Jessica Langley: And then you also mentioned before that having a voice within the State is vitally important. And one way that technicians can do that is through participating in your special interest groups. And you have a technician specific interest group that is actually led by this year's pharmacy technician of the year, our by Mr. Paul Sabatini who's a great asset and voice for pharmacy technicians in the State of California. But how can they get engaged in a group like that?

Susan Bonilla: Well, right now we're all on Zoom and so it's actually much less of a barrier to join in. And so anyone that's interested, just shoot us an email at CPhA and we'll connect you directly with Paul, with the special interest group. And this is one of the unique things about the profession and I think this is where pharmacy techs really play such an important role as well. Because this isn't a profession where everyone's all doing one thing, there are such a variety and so many different settings that our techs are working in. And so it makes it more important that we actually have that opportunity to get together around the special work that is being done and really be able to drill in on that. And so that's the opportunity there to be part of the special interest group and it's very valuable.

Susan Bonilla: And then what we work as an association is to bring together all of those priorities from our many special interest groups, from the compounders or the doctors working in hospitals or nursing home settings, our independent pharmacists. We have a lot of different special interest groups. And one of the key roles the association plays is, now, how are we going to function in a unified and powerful manner for the entire profession? So we really see ourselves as playing that very important role of unity, blending everyone together, to be that much more powerful and a strong voice for the profession.

Jeremy Sasser: That's fantastic. It's really, I love when organizations like yours take such a proactive role to involving pharmacy technicians. And now it's really on us as pharmacy technicians to really push each other to join and participate. I know practicing, gosh, I don't want to age myself, a while back in Arizona. It was a real challenge to get a lot of technicians to think about being involved in any professional organizations. Because I think even at that time, a lot of technicians were struggling with identifying themselves as being in a profession and not just a stepping stone or a temporary job to another career. Unfortunately, I think as time has gone on and scope of practice has broadened for both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, that mindset has changed. And I think more technicians are getting into this as a profession that they want to stay in, grow in. And as a profession we have to support that and provide a way for them to grow. So that's fantastic.

Jessica Langley: Susan, we definitely want to thank you so much for taking time out of the busy schedule, especially in a situation where we're all rushing to deal with the current environment in healthcare. And again, I know CPhA has done an amazing job of just saying thank you to all of our frontline healthcare workers, including pharmacists and pharmacy technicians that are helping care for our loved ones. And I love the messages that are all out there on social media of how different individuals and groups and organizations across the country are saying thank you to the millions, literally millions of healthcare professionals that are out there risking their lives to just care for our loved ones and others within their communities. We wish you the best of luck at CPhA. We are excited to work with you in that partnership and are there any other closing remarks that you would like to say to pharmacist or technician members about their engagement with CPhA?

Susan Bonilla: Well, I am really looking forward to meeting with Paul and our other pharmacy technicians as soon as possible. That's one thing that really got disrupted with the crisis, is that my calendar, I was going to be flying all over the State for the first few months meeting people face to face. And I haven't been able to do that, but certainly that's top of my list is to get together with our technicians and really talk about membership in CPhA. And how we can meet their needs and then how we can reach out to the many thousands of technicians in California. And show them the power of being part of this association and really know exactly what it is they are looking for and be that resource for them, for professional development, for networking, for their career. That's the role we want to play for them and we want to be their voice in California.

Susan Bonilla: So I certainly look forward to those opportunities to meet with our pharmacy techs and get to know them better. And one thing I want to say is, hey, any pharmacy tech listening to me in California, please send me an email and I'd be happy to chat with you just that way as well and then really looking forward to that face to face introduction and getting to know you. So thanks so much Jeremy and Jessica, I appreciate this opportunity and I look forward to working with NHA as well and it's a great partnership and so appreciate everything that you're doing for the profession.

Jessica Langley: You got it. So if any of you listeners want to learn more about CPhA and their membership, just go to cpha.com. You can also find their information through NHA and our website about our partnerships nhanow.com. And Jeremy tell them how they can also access ON-Script as well.

Jeremy Sasser: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, always feel free to send us an email as well at onscript@nhanow.com we'd always love to hear from you. We do have all of our podcasts on our blog at www.nhanow.com/learning-leading. There's a tab that says, on demand and you can find all of our podcast recordings there. And of course you can also find us on Apple under ON-Script as part of the Pharmacy Podcast Nation. So just to echo what Susan and Jessica said, if you are a technician practicing in the State of California and you are not currently a member of CPhA, I would strongly encourage you to go check them out, take a look. You get a lot of things, a lot of resources, and just better connect to your peers and everyone in the profession. It's a win, win, win situation. So I definitely encourage you to check that out. Until we have our next episode, I hope everyone out there stays safe, good luck navigating. Those of you working from home, it can oftentimes feel like a unknown jungle that we're navigating. Things are changing rapidly, but we'll all get through it together.

Jeremy Sasser: So those of you who are practicing in pharmacies, please continue to stay safe and know that we support and thank you for all of your efforts. And until we are back on the air, take care of everybody.