Getting to know your new APhA-ASP national president

Kennedy Erickson, second from the left, with the 2021-22 National Executive Committee

Kennedy Erickson, class of 2023, was sworn in as the American Pharmacists Association – Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) national president during the APhA Annual Meeting and Exposition in San Antonio, Texas in March. Erickson shares what she plans for her presidency and why she believes finding the “Courage to Change,” the theme of her presidency, is crucial to student pharmacists and the field of pharmacy today.

Can you tell us about your presidential theme?

My presidential theme “Courage to Change” was inspired by several events throughout the pandemic. The first being the exaggeration of pre-pandemic problems facing our society when the pandemic hit. The second being my own experience with burnout in pharmacy. The third being the incredible and brave actions of student pharmacists in making our world a better place despite these circumstances.

There are many problems in our nation that existed prior to the pandemic. Burnout in all niches of pharmacy. Structural racism. Health care disparities. Poor working conditions in pharmacies.  Many of the aspects of the pandemic have shown us where our profession and society need to change; changes that we can make for our own wellbeing, and our role in shaping those changes.

Last year, I found myself reflecting on all of this when I was facing burnout. I had way too much on my plate. I was not finding meaning or purpose in much of what I was doing, especially as it related to my job.

So, after a particularly grueling day of work, I finally texted my dad, my greatest confidant and cheerleader. I told him in defeat, that I’d had enough, wasn’t happy, and didn’t know what to do. He responded with a few simple words of advice that have truly changed my life. He said, “Kennedy, life is too short. It’s time to change and change is fun.” Those words were all I needed to hear to have courage to start changing my life for the better. For me, that meant finding a new job, setting boundaries for my own wellbeing, and engaging in extracurriculars that give me purpose. Even though pursuing those changes has been scary along the way. Through this experience, I’ve learned that we can change ourselves, profession, communities, and ultimately our world through courage.

Erickson (far right) with other student pharmacists assisting with COVID-19 testing. Students have spelled out W-S-U with their bodies during a short break between testing.

Although my experience with burnout had some influence on this theme, what inspired this theme the most has been the actions of student demonstrating what it means to have the courage to change at every level throughout the pandemic.

On an individual level, student pharmacists demonstrated courage to change for themselves by promoting and prioritizing their mental health and wellbeing – whether that was through self-care workshops, virtual social hours, or fitness challenges within their chapter. For our profession, student pharmacists demonstrated courage to change by finding innovative and virtual methods to reach their local legislators and advocate for pharmacy. Lastly, student pharmacists demonstrated courage to change our communities by branching beyond their realm of normal when providing care and implementing new services like drive thru immunization clinics, social media campaigns, or virtual health fairs.

This upcoming year, I challenge student pharmacists to continue being courageous. As we continue to adapt and evolve in our ever-changing world, “Courage to Change” is a reminder to student pharmacists to be brave and to have a part in shaping those changes, even if it’s scary. We can’t let our fears stop us from pursuing our dreams and making the world a better place.

What advice can you give current and prospective students looking to become future pharmacists or health care providers who are concerned about burnout in the profession?
Erickson on one of the many hiking trails in the Pacific Northwest.

Burnout is a sign that something needs to change… so have the courage to change if you are feeling this way. Be an advocate for yourself. Set boundaries so that you can have a healthy work/life balance. Pursue activities and projects within your workplace that bring you meaning and purpose. Find hobbies outside of workplace that refuel your passion for your purpose. If you are feeling stuck, just know, you’re not. One of the most courageous things a person can do is ask for help when they need it. In addition to advocating for yourself, be an advocate for your profession. What can be done to make workplace conditions better to reduce burnout? Utilize your voice and speak up. Talk to your employers, your associations, and your legislators to advocate for changes that need to happen to make your profession better. Your input is valuable and cannot be utilized unless it is heard.

What do you want to accomplish during your term as president?

I am excited to get more student pharmacists involved with APhA-ASP. APhA is for every pharmacist, for all of pharmacy. I want every student pharmacist to feel like they have a home within APhA and APhA-ASP and that their voices are being heard.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in pharmacy?

I was originally interested in pursuing a career in neurology, which is why I pursued a degree in neuroscience. However, I kept an open mind throughout my undergraduate studies. After taking psychopharmacology, working in a long-term care pharmacy, and shadowing an array of providers, I decided that pharmacy was for me. The impact that the pharmacists had on their patients, as well as other providers, was inspiring to me. I desired, and continue to desire, to have a similar impact one day for whichever community I choose to call home.