Pharmacy U

Pharmacy Leader of the week: Rita Egan – “We cannot underestimate the resilience it takes to lead.”

Rita Egan AstraZeneca

Rita Egan


-Education BSc University of Toronto

-Current role National Pharmacy Relations AstraZeneca


What excites you about working with pharmacists?

One of my early memories as a child was visiting the new pharmacy that opened in the new plaza in our neighbourhood.  I remember the pharmacist well; he became a pillar in the community, always helping the young families in this new subdivision, especially when life events happened and they needed his support. It left an impression; he ran an innovative successful business, critically important to our community, our pharmacist truly cared and wanted to help our families. Today, through COVID-19, watching the leadership mobilize can echo how awesome pharmacists have been, never closed, at personal risk; pharmacists rise to the challenge on behalf of each community today, witnessing the frontline caring efforts.

As someone from the pharmaceutical industry, my connections with pharmacists started over 30 years ago and grew deeper as a medical science liaison at Upjohn working more closely with pharmacists in research and practice aligned to oncology and women’s health.  When I joined Kenral-AltiMed brand generic division, that was my first exposure to the matrix of both the practice and business of community pharmacy. Now at AstraZenea, as National Pharmacy Relations, it has been my pleasure to collaborate with pharmacist leaders for almost 20 years.  What excites me is witnessing the evolution of the role of the pharmacist, payers and patients embracing that role, seeing the translation of that realized value into innovative business solutions and health policy that ultimately improves the health of Canadians.

As a leader in pharmacy, what continues to drive you?

Working with the pharmacy leaders in business, associations and foundation boards, on committees collaborating on priorities, managing issues and risks has been an important driver in contributing to make a difference.  Admittedly over the years, my exposure to these awesome passionate leaders who mentored my personal growth, happens when actively listening to diverse insights from CEO/VPs, owners, educators, researchers and community pharmacists which translates to driving synergies for better outcomes. It’s very rewarding to see the impact pharmacy leaders have had on policy, evidence generation, innovative business solutions and the health of Canadians.

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

Over the decades, like all businesses, we see some change, presently at AstraZeneca we have a woman pharmacist as our CEO in Canada, half our executive team VPs are female, a woman leading our Europe-Canada Global region, women and pharmacists contribute across all sectors of our organization in lead strategic decision influencing roles.  In addition, diversity and inclusion is not a stand-alone initiative at AstraZeneca, it is embedded in our values. Certainly in pharmacy, will call out some pharmacist leaders who made a difference and forged a path on the road for others like Virginia Cirocco, Rita Winn, Margaret Wing, Erin MacKenzie, Sandra Alyward, Deb Saltmarche, Lori McCallum, Tracy Phillips, Christine Hrudka, Sandra Hanna, Bobbi Reinholdt, Sherry Piester, Jeannette Wang, Linda Sparrow, Iris Krawchenko, Jen Baker, Mona Sabharwal, Allison Bodnar, Carole McKiee, and so many more women champions of change.

We have seen it, so what’s changed?  When looking at these names we all recognize their passion, their willingness to invest their time, but also they embraced the opportunity to lead, despite risk and tremendous challenge ahead.  We cannot under estimate the resilience it takes to lead.  There is an obligation to invest, to reach back to bring others forward, through mentoring with development programs providing opportunities to lead projects, programs and business initiatives,  but to also ground people in the development skills on how to be an awesome leader.

What do you think needs to happen to have more women in executive roles across various sectors in the profession?

Not so long ago, pharmacy had its own lane, pharmacists ran the business, but more these days pharmacy is part of a broader organization, often no longer led by Pharmacist executives.   Inclusion and diversity strategies need to be purpose driven and measured to close any gap by taking steps for personal development, identifying learning experience opportunities and tracking impact. Recognizing where the gaps exist is a start; yes a focus on developing women pharmacy senior executives is a start, but equally, in parallel recognizing the mosaic that represents Canada, also needs representation, including under represented indigenous and diverse communities.  More can be done today, with inclusion and diversity initiatives, to grow women executive pharmacist leaders within 2, 5 and sustained 10 years from now.

What advice would you give to new female pharmacy graduates?

Start by getting involved in your future, support your pharmacist & professional associations, seek experience on working groups, committees and charities where you can volunteer your efforts and your voice. Through speaking up, with active steps for inclusion and diversity, change can happen. The exposure to participating with leaders and mentors while finding solutions, will start you down a path of huge reward and personal growth. Expand your learning to better understand the issues and your role in driving priorities relative to your passion, purpose, practice and business.  Identify important sages in your life, pharmacist executives and leaders to gain diverse guidance and wise insights. Sometimes the hardest and most challenging times teach us more; as a woman, you are investing in your own future, your inclusive voice is critical in defining what diverse pharmacist leadership can be, that path ahead is not easy, but certainly rewarding and attainable, it starts with you.