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Tiffany Khieu
Pharm.D. Candidate, Class of 2021
Marshall B. Ketchum University, College of Pharmacy

Leadership skills are essential for professional development of student pharmacists.1-2  For the majority of my early student life, honing leadership skills was unfamiliar ground. My old views of a leader were similar to one’s views of a superhero at first glance -- naturally talented, gifted, and impenetrable. I didn’t fit into these categories in any shape or form, but I realized my potential after engaging in the subjects that I loved most: science and diversity.

As an undergraduate, I volunteered at a cardiac stem cell research laboratory to help fellows and post-graduates discover regenerative properties in damaged hearts. At the same time, I was the Academic Coordinator for the Asian Pacific Student Alliance and organized a high school conference for three-hundred low-income students to encourage the pursuit of higher education. Both positions were challenging and demanding, but I found two environments that cultivated personal growth and leadership skills. Moreover, I genuinely enjoyed these challenges, given the benefits that they had on science and underserved communities. I grasped what it meant to become a leader, and I was ready for the next step.

In the fall of 2017 I started my new journey as a student pharmacist. At this point in time, leadership was finally familiar territory and I was confident in assuming positions to develop my skills. I learned how to manage finances by becoming my Class Treasurer; I organized large-scale events with my committee as the University Extracurricular Chair; and I promoted inter-professionalism between my University’s programs to advance the future of healthcare as the Student Association President. Additionally, I applied my animal model translational research experience as a volunteer at a fly laboratory, where I studied addiction and polished my benchwork skills. I also worked as a pharmacy intern at my local hospital to gain experience in hospital pharmacy operations. With each position, I encountered countless challenges that tested my patience, growth, and knowledge. Nonetheless, my aspiration for shaping the future of the pharmacy profession motivated me to overcome steep learning curves to develop myself as a professional and continuing leader.

My passion for psychiatric pharmacy led me to look into starting a CPNP student chapter at my College of Pharmacy (COP). To meet this goal, I sought advice from and built a relationship with one of the local chapters at another COP. Participating in their events showed me how the chapters give back not only locally at their institutions, but also within the communities they serve. Armed with ideas, I reached out to the psychiatric pharmacy faculty member at my COP to see if she would serve as the faculty advisor for a CPNP student chapter. I then took steps to prepare the chapter application. I interviewed with students who were interested in psychiatric pharmacy and presented them with the opportunity to lead the organization as chapter board members. We presented our chapter proposal to the Student Association at my university and were unanimously approved. We look forward to submitting our chapter application to CPNP for review and approval.

With the leadership skills that I have acquired through the majority of my student pharmacist career, my vision of becoming a leader has flourished from being impossible to being limitless. I look forward to the future and opportunities to positively change the pharmacy profession as a psychiatric pharmacy leader.

I believe there are opportunities for leadership for everyone. The earlier you take advantage of such opportunities, the more leadership experience you compound over time. Yet, it is never too late to develop yourself personally and professionally. The key is perspective: Are you pursuing leadership for yourself, for another entity, or both? If you answered yourself, is it to help you short-term or long-term? Whatever your answer may be, recognition is the first step in pursuing leadership honestly, intuitively, and transparently. Subsequent steps should come more easily. Leadership did not come easily for me, but advice that I’ve been given over time assisted me in seeking opportunities for growth.

How can you cultivate your leadership skills as a student pharmacist?

Key characteristics of pharmacy student leaders include communication, passion, time management, and ability to delegate.1

  • Communication: Communication is one of the most important aspects of being an effective leader. Practice with public speaking and email etiquette can go a long way.  
  • Passion: What are you passionate about? Is it serving a specific population (e.g., patients living with mental illness) and/or practicing in a certain setting in the future (e.g., hospital, managed care, research)? Find an organization or club that excites you. Look into creating an organization by working with your Student Affairs department and a faculty advisor, or look into joining a local organization. If you have a passion for psychiatric or neurologic pharmacy, consider joining or creating a CPNP Student Chapter at your COP, attending student programming, participating in pre-meeting workshops, and presenting a poster at CPNP’s annual meeting.
  • Time Management: Your team members depend on you as you depend on them! With every position that you pursue, make sure you have an understanding of the time commitment. Consider starting off with leadership roles that are less time-intensive and see how you are managing your coursework before accepting a larger role.
  • Delegate: You can’t do everything by yourself! Engage your team by giving purpose and shared responsibilities to others within your group.

When pursuing a leadership position be unafraid! This is the time to be confident, learn, and showcase your potential. If you’re new to a position, learn it. If you were wrong in a situation, admit it. If you see an opportunity for growth, pursue it. Be vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to fall down. Standing back up is the definition of being a true leader and superhero.


  1. Moore J, Ginsburg DB. A Qualitative Study of Motivating Factors for Pharmacy Student Leadership. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 2017;81 (6) Article 114.
  2. Feller TT, Doucetter WR, Witry MJ. Assessing Opportunities for Student Pharmacist Leadership Development at Schools of Pharmacy in the United States. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 2016; 80 (5) Article 79.
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