Spotlight: Leading by example
Sandra Leal, PharmD, MPH, FAPhA, CDCES is the 166th President of the American Pharmacists Association and Vice President, Collaborative Innovation and Clinical Strategy, CVS Health. Previously, she was an executive vice president for a division of Tabula Rasa Healthcare and Medical Director for El Rio Health Center. Dr. Leal has had diverse experience as a pharmacist, medical director, public health clinician, and as a board member for various groups including the National Center for Farmworker Health.
Dr. Leal received her PharmD from the University of Colorado and her MPH in Public Health Practice from the University of Massachusetts. Leal completed her residency at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System and a Primary Health Care Policy Fellowship with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Leal has published and presented her work in numerous national and international publications and venues. She has been recognized as the Good Government Pharmacist of the Year by the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) for her advocacy work on pharmacist provider status. Dr. Leal is a two-time recipient of the Pinnacle Award from the APhA Foundation for her progressive practice innovations and received the ASHP Best Practice Award for her leading practice in diabetes management.
Two themes that govern Leal’s professional life are a passion to eliminate barriers to care and to improve access and outcomes for patients. Dr. Leal has led efforts on both local and national levels to integrate pharmacy, public health, and advocacy to improve the healthcare system and to reduce health inequity.
What drives you to take someone under your wings as a mentee? Why do you do it?
The reason I take someone as a mentee is because you see a lot of potential in them. I also reflect back on the time when I was a student and how incredibly important mentors were to my success. I wanted to make sure that I also provided support as others did for me. When I see someone who is very motivated or needs help, I feel personally responsible for helping, if I can. My motto is very simple: do good, be kind. Those two things have carried me far.
Who would you identify as your mentor and how did they help you?
I have been very blessed to have had and continue to have some wonderful mentors. In high school, my physics teacher, Jeff Weger, was amazing. He helped me to apply for a summer internship that ended up opening doors for me to apply to college and enter the healthcare field. In pharmacy school, one of my professors, David Kroll, was equally amazing. I did a summer internship in his lab at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy. I ended up working in his lab for the entire time I was in pharmacy school. He and I remain friends to this day. I have also had a couple of incredible women who have been super supportive. One is Kathie Westpheling who used to be the former Executive Director of the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved, the first board I sat on. She is a strong role model and leader that I still stay in contact with. Another person is Bobbi Ryder who was the Chief Executive Officer of the National Center for Farmworker Health. Again, an amazing leader and role model that I learned a lot from.
Were there individuals within the APhA Foundation or projects conducted by the Foundation that supported your professional development and the work you did?
I was involved with Project Impact Diabetes during my time at El Rio Health. I also worked with the foundation on the Diabetes Prevention Program while at Tabula Rasa Healthcare. These two projects and the incredible staff at the Foundation really provided opportunities to showcase the great work that pharmacists make in diabetes and other chronic conditions. It was through these projects that I became more involved with APhA and they opened up the opportunity to sit on the board as a trustee and now as President. I can't thank the foundation enough for the many years of collaboration.
How have you paved the way forward for a mentee and the APhA Foundation?
Being a mentor takes time and working with groups like the foundation takes effort, but the rewards are worth it. I have always found that efforts like these have brought exceptional satisfaction in my career. It has brought new friends and new experiences that I would have never had if I had chosen to sit it out. I highly encourage you to engage, especially if you are feeling burnt out. Experiences like these remind you about why you decided to become a pharmacist.
Tell us about a current mentee and how you are helping them professionally and personally, as well as with their APhA engagement?
I have worked with Jenny for several years now. She is a very motivated person that wants to do great things. I love that! She has had progressive opportunities in her career because she wants to contribute to our profession. I hope that I have been a good influence and a great supporter for her as she has needed guidance and opportunities. My goal has always been to work on succession planning and on creating a critical mass of amazing pharmacists that push the bar on how we practice so that we can help even more people.
Jenny Bingham, PharmD, BCACP, FAzPA serves as Director of Ambulatory Care Residency Programs & Research at Tabula Rasa HealthCare and is a Clinical Instructor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science at the University of Arizona. Dr. Bingham is a sought-after presenter, speaker, educator, and author on telehealth. She has published more than 40 peer-reviewed articles and presented her research at national and international venues. Bingham was recognized as the Next-Generation Pharmacist Technology Innovator of the Year by Pharmacy Times for her work on advancing patient care standards and business profitability using digital health. She was presented the Exemplary Patient Care Award from the Arizona Pharmacy Association and later Fellowship recognition. Bingham also received the Jack R. Cole PhD Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy for her leadership and positive impact on the pharmacy profession.
What is your goal for your mentor/mentee relationship?
One of my goals as a mentee is to develop my voice and purpose as a pharmacist.
What has having a mentor (like Sandra Leal) meant to you personally and professionally? What examples are you comfortable sharing with the audience of how having a mentor has benefited you?
Sandra is an exceptional mentor. As her mentee, she not only embraces your vision, but also helps you bring it to fruition. She has inspired me and unfailingly supported me over the years, while helping me gain exposure in the telehealth arena. I feel incredibly indebted to Sandra for all that she has done to influence and support my role in moving practice forward.
Sandra also values perspective and believes that you can always learn from others. She once invited me to attend the APhA Lady President’s Tea as her mentee, where I was able to discover more about the Past Presidents of APhA and how they took risks and leveraged innovation to become inspirational women in pharmacy leadership. I am forever grateful to Sandra for the opportunity to network and learn from her esteemed colleagues, including Marialice Bennett, Nicki Hilliard, and Nancy Alvarez.
How did you connect with Sandra to be your mentor?
We first collaborated on an interprofessional telehealth pilot program for transitions of care while working for a company called SinfoníaRx, now a Tabula Rasa HealthCare (TRHC) solution. Sandra was our Vice President of Innovations, and I was the Telemedicine & Transitions of Care Coordinator. In that role, Sandra served as my ally and champion as she helped to build my confidence, business acumen, and my ability to innovate and lean into non-traditional approaches that would later improve patient outcomes.
Through Sandra’s mentorship, how has this provided you the opportunity to engage with APhA or the APhA Foundation?
Sandra exemplifies the motto, “pay it forward” and has extended numerous opportunities to me within APhA and the APhA Foundation. In 2017, Sandra first encouraged me to campaign for the APhA Telehealth SIG co-chair position given my experience working with her on our primary care telehealth programs. In 2018, while I was serving as Chair of the APhA Telehealth SIG, she embraced one of my visions to create a professional training program for pharmacists specific to telehealth. Thanks to her support, our program faculty successfully released the first 4-part training series through APhA. Sandra has continued to open doors of opportunity for me. In 2018, she endorsed me as a telehealth subject matter expert for the APhA Foundation’s Rapid Innovation Cycle Pilot Program. In 2020, she graciously nominated me to serve on the honorable APhA Telehealth Advisory Committee and to present a continuing education session at the 2021 APhA Annual Meeting.
What advice do you have for your colleagues/student pharmacists who might be interested in having a pharmacy mentor as well?
I would share the same advice that Sandra once gave me. If you are willing to dedicate the time to meet and be transparent with your mentor, you can only benefit from that type of relationship, as it will prepare you for future challenges that come your way. Another piece of advice for mentees is to be intentional when following up with your mentor and share more about the outcome and how their advice helped you.
How do you see yourself “paying forward” for others?
As a preceptor and residency program director, nothing brings me more joy than celebrating the success of my past residents and students. One way that I pay it forward is to introduce them to my professional network, include them in collaboration opportunities, and to simply celebrate their success. As Sandra once taught me, there is value in helping others grow. In return, simply ask that they do the same for someone else in the future to continue the cycle of paying it forward.
Photo Caption: El Rio- Wright Center Virtual Health Research Fair
(Left to Right: Jared Tate, Jenny Bingham, Sandra Leal, Kate Schussel, Tahani Almeleebia)