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Five Lessons Learned from Being an Assistant Dean

By: Laura Gianni Augusto, B.S., Pharm.D., Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Clinical Pharmacy Practice

Laura Gianni Augusto, Pharm.D., R.Ph. is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy Practice at St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. She served as Assistant Dean for Experiential Pharmacy Education from 2007 to 2011. Her specialty area is Drug Information Practice, and she is now developing a Clinical Pharmacy Informatics elective rotation at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, New York.

During my time as Assistant Dean for Experiential Pharmacy Education, I was fortunate to work on a daily basis for and with the leaders of our College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions. The experience certainly showed me firsthand how much responsibility and hard work our leaders assume on a daily basis.

As I am on the threshold to begin a new chapter of my career, I was asked by a Rho Chi student to write about my experiences as an Assistant Dean. This request has made me stop and reflect on all that I have experienced while in this position. Where should I begin? After some thought, I decided to share with you five important lessons that are not necessarily specific to being an Assistant Dean, but applicable to any busy professional trying to make a difference in the institution for which he or she works. These lessons would also be useful to students as they seek to meet the challenges of a demanding Doctor of Pharmacy program.

Lesson One: Monitor and adjust the balance between your professional career and your personal life.
Striking a balance between your career and your personal life is a dynamic process that needs to be reevaluated from time to time. You may hear parents, even your own, say “complete your homework first, play later.” This is an important lesson as you are growing up when your life may be relatively “less complex.” However, you may find yourself realizing very quickly that once you graduate from college, this lesson no longer applies. You can never say all of your work is complete when you have a professional career. Hence, if you wait until your work is completed and all your goals are accomplished, you will never achieve any of the goals for your personal life. When I became an Assistant Dean, my professional career/personal life integration was put to the test immediately. As an Assistant Dean, you quickly realize how many people are affected by your daily decisions and actions (or lack thereof), and you can easily lose yourself in the many important, pressing challenges that need feasible, effective solutions. This, combined with solving daily, unexpected challenges as they occur, can be overwhelming. You have to set your professional and personal priorities, as well as boundaries between work and home, in order to continue being successful at both work and home. Failing to set boundaries will likely result in burnout and subsequently lower your productivity. Ultimately, this helps neither your personal life not your workplace/institution!

Lesson Two: Never lose sight of your professional goals and responsibilities.
When you are in an Assistant Dean position, to ensure the success of your institution, it is important to set your vision and goals of what you need to accomplish both short- and long-term. You are constantly assessing the strengths and weakness of where you are now, as well as initiating change that will put your institution on the right path (probably the part of my administrative responsibilities that I enjoyed most). It can be very easy to be swept away by other projects that come up. You should agree to take on additional work or projects if they line up with the goals you need to accomplish for your institution. It may seem harmless to volunteer your time to help accomplish an unrelated project here or there, but when you are very busy, this can be very costly. It can derail your efforts to stay on course to accomplish everything that you want to accomplish, especially to fulfill all the responsibilities for which you were hired. You have to learn to politely say “no” to work that derails your efforts. The success of your institution depends on it!

Lesson Three: Delegate.
Depending on the position you hold, you must carefully separate out work that should be reserved for you and work that others could accomplish. Some administrators serve a mostly supervisory role, and they are not as involved in the day-to-day work that could be delegated to support personnel. If you feel that you need more support, it is important to make that need known. You could do so through written documentation that provides statistical data justifying the need for additional help. Delegation also involves training others so that they fully understand their responsibilities. It also involves monitoring their progress to make sure everyone is moving towards a common vision and goals. The ability to delegate does not come natural to every individual, but it is vital in order to help your institution move forward in a timely fashion.

Lesson Four: Protect and manage your time.
As an administrator or any busy employee, you must protect your time as much as possible. It is very easy to become distracted from your work with numerous, daily interruptions. It is important to set aside time for scheduled appointments to avoid the distractions of walk-in visitors. You need to set yourself up in such a way to increase your likelihood of having a block of quiet time to complete your work. Also, you have to learn to manage deadlines. If you do not have a deadline and it is not up for you to decide, you should always ask for a deadline so that you have an idea of the expectations. As it is highly likely that you will have many deadlines to meet at any given time, you need to schedule time in your calendar to work on each project. Try your best to avoid deviating from your schedule so you can move all your projects along little by little each day.

Lesson Five: Always present solutions along with the problems.
Problem solving begins with careful listening and observing. This allows you to outline the details of the problem. Subsequently, you need to identify questions that you need answered to fully understand the problem and investigate potential solutions. You should do your own research to figure out the answers and, if needed, identify the individuals who you should consult with to gather more information. Once you have adequately defined your problem and have planned potential solutions, you are now ready to present the problem and potential solutions to your supervisor. An effective employee or administrator should always strive to present identified problems in a detailed manner, right along with detailed recommendations of potential solutions to these problems.

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