Pharmacy U

Pharmacy Leader profile: Nancy Lum-Wilson – “Leadership is not about making the most noise or the most money.”



-Education: B.Sc.Phm from UofT; MBA from Western University

-Current role: CEO and Registrar of the Ontario College of Pharmacists


-What excites you about being a pharmacist?

The most exciting part of being a pharmacist is the doors that my education has opened for me. Opportunities in all areas of healthcare, from front-line provider to innovation and policy, have been available to me.  Theoretical knowledge was only a first step to discovering where and how this knowledge would form a strong foundation for continuous learning to take my career in any number of directions.


-When you graduated, what did you envision for your future?

I never had a specific goal for my future other than a very strong passion to make a difference. My only goal was to do my part to leave the world a little better than when I came into it. At the time, I thought that the best way to make a difference was to join the pharmaceutical industry to make innovative medications available to the world.


-How has your career evolved since you first started in the profession? 

In my pursuit to make a difference, I spent the early part of my career in hospital pharmacy and the pharmaceutical industry.  I discovered that in order to make a bigger impact, I needed to become involved in policy development. In hospital pharmacy, I was impacting one patient at a time; in the pharmaceutical industry, the goal of better patient care becomes lost in the profit goals for any publicly traded company.  While the years that I spent in hospital pharmacy and the pharmaceutical industry provided a strong foundation in the pharmacy sector, market access and medication distribution, I also came to realize that focusing only on pharmacy did not give me a deep enough understanding of the entire healthcare system to utilize all of the levers at our disposal to make a difference. This was a turning point in my thinking – I went back to university to complete my MBA and joined the public service with a strong focus on policy development in the broader healthcare system. I spent a number of years with the government and the regional health networks, where I was involved in the development of drug policy, as well as policy and planning for mental health care, primary care, and home and community care.  I came back to pharmacy in my current role with a goal to better align and integrate pharmacy with the broader healthcare system to better impact on measurable system and patient outcomes.


-What is (or has been) your greatest challenge as a leader in pharmacy?

As a regulator, our duty is to serve and protect the public interest. We are tasked with enforcing laws, but we are also tasked with developing and maintaining programs and standards to promote competence and improvement to ensure the quality of care and reputation of the profession is maintained.  The media often measures us by discipline cases and competency assessments, but what the public does not realize is that over 95% of our pharmacy professionals never come before the College with compliance or competence issues.  But because this is what they always hear about, the profession often thinks of the College in an adversarial role. As a result, our message of aligned goals between the profession and the College, of better patient and system outcomes, is often lost. It is a long road to change the conversation, and we are now only beginning to use system focused data and quality indicators to align pharmacy with the rest of the healthcare system. We need to reach that 95% of professionals to work with us to raise the bar across the entire profession, and only measurement, evidence and collaboration will help us to get there. I have often said that it will take 5-10 years before the profession realizes and understands what the College is doing for it.


-What legacy would you like to leave to the pharmacy profession?  

The legacy that I would like to leave for the profession is to establish the profession as a partner with the rest of the healthcare system so they and all other healthcare professionals and stakeholders around them can measure and truly understand the value that they bring to patient and system outcomes.


-Do you feel there is a glass ceiling for women in pharmacy? 

When I think about the percentage of women in pharmacy and I compare it to women in leadership roles and the C-suite in pharmacy organizations, I would say that a glass ceiling still exists. I am only the second female CEO/Registrar of the College in Ontario and the first female of minority descent; and very recently, a woman took over the leadership of McKesson Canada. While these are very positive developments that reflect increasing permeability of the glass ceiling, I can count on one hand the number of women at the head of pharmacy organizations in Ontario. I would never want to be given a role unless I was the best person for the role, but I fail to believe that there are not enough competent women to better balance the leadership roles in pharmacy.


-What advice would you give to new female pharmacy graduates?

Leadership is not about making the most noise or the most money. It’s about stepping up to make a difference for the right reasons, for a higher purpose.