Helen Gordon’s passion for supporting and developing people has made her role at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society increasingly important. Her experience in the field of healthcare has seen her don many hats in various roles.
Speaking of her career to date she said, “I have been working closely with pharmacists at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society for four and a half years now. I initially started as a hospital nurse and then spent quite a lot of time in hospitals working my way through management positions and then to senior executive roles. I have worked at the chief executive level in healthcare for about 15 years now. After working at senior levels in hospitals for a while, I did senior level roles at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and that led to my position here at the time when the Royal Pharmaceutical Society became a purely professional body.”
For her this is a real highlight in her career as it brought together her clinical experience and the knowhow of what it’s like to work on the frontline with 30 years of healthcare experience. This is where her business as well as health experience all came together into one role for pharmacy.
High Points in the Career
Though really hard for her to pin point, as there have been several memorable moments in her illustrious career especially when making an actual difference to people and trying to be calm and patient at all times, she recalls: “I remember the particular instance when I was a nurse working with patients and seeing them get better, it was a very meaningful time for me.”
“Along with that being able to and launch a professional body that looks and feels different for pharmacists and the entirety of the profession has also been an enormous privilege and a highlight, four years ago.”
Through the Royal Pharmaceutical Society she feels they have “really delivered on that promise” of making a meaningful difference in the lives of professionals. “So I am blessed with thinking about many incidents in the last four years where pharmacists have given feedback that they really like what we are doing in terms of providing them with support, educational support or advocacy in a very changing health world. And this has been really important for pharmacists. Of course I am very proud to be part of the story as well. I think launching the faculty here were very memorable moments for the pharmacy and myself,” she said.
Turning Points of the Career
Her role at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society has been the major turning point in her career, with many changes coming under her leadership. “To point out a few that have been very important to the mission of Royal Pharmaceutical Society I would say that now we have a strong coordinated professional voice for pharmacy for the first time. And not just because of the way we work for our members, but also in the way we work with other pharmacy bodies. We now have a strong and professionally concurrent voice for pharmacies that is plugging in and actually helping shape the healthcare reform we are now seeing, so that is really meaningful. As a society we are providing a focal point for professional development of pharmacists post qualification. Never before has pharmacy had support all the way along one’s career journey from the time that they qualify onwards to retirement, there has been no other place where pharmacists can get support or network or have a focal point for professional activities until the professional body for pharmacy really came into being. So these are really big changes to pharmacy and pharmacists that would be meaningful.”
The Gender Bender
Helen Gordon believes women have made a mark in the world of pharmacy. She added: “Women have played an enormous, integral part in care giving over the years in many professions including pharmacy. We are now seeing that the majority of people coming into pharmacy profession and also medicine, nursing and other similar professions are women.”
But it’s not just women, she feels the health industry has had a “good reputation for providing opportunities to women and men to progress in healthcare in a really practical way”, however, she feels that the rise of women in senior positions in health is still patchy in some areas. “I mean in some areas like hospital management there are quite a few women who have risen to senior roles, though in some areas you can’t really say that it is a 50-50 split. Similarly in some areas in pharmacy one observes, thinking of community pharmacy mainly as an example, that certainly majority of the posts of chief medical officer are held by men. Therefore, there aren’t that many women in senior positions, so that is still an area of concern and interest for us” she added.
“Women have played an enormous, integral part in care giving over the years in many professions including pharmacy. We are now seeing that the majority of people coming into pharmacy profession and also medicine, nursing and other similar professions are women.”
We know that women really benefit from great support networks, mentorship and development. So we have a role, as the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, in helping all pharmacists of both genders and would like to see both men and women all across pharmacy in senior positions. It is development and professional guidance she feels the industry still needs to work upon. “When you are thinking about in healthcare that you are dealing with a population that is both men and women then it’s reasonable to pursue the goal that there needs to be a broad equality of gender across all aspects of health profession and at all levels of work.”
The Journey and its Hurdles
Her journey has been in a very “nurturing and helpful environment”. She spent a lot of her formative years as a nurse, a middle manager and then a senior manager at a hospital which showed her some really good leadership approaches to developing people and developing confidence and skills.
In terms of hurdles she feels that once you reach a certain level of hierarchy, the challenges increase with responsibility and time. She acknowledges the fact that for women its tougher especially when they have children to care for, but each woman has her own set of family and work balances to look after. She said: “I don’t have children myself, and people ask me about that and I have to be quite open about it that it was not through choice, though some of us assume that I chose not to have children to pursue my career, which is incorrect and actually quite hurtful. But it did mean that I could be very visible and have presence in an organisation and take advantage of opportunities that came along.
“When you are thinking about in healthcare that you are dealing with a population that is both men and women then it’s reasonable to pursue the goal that there needs to be a broad equality of gender across all aspects of health profession and at all levels of work.”
I think for women who do have other responsibilities – family or otherwise, it may actually be a hurdle. Now I think we are facing a hurdle as I am in this space at the moment where I am needed to care for an older parent, and that is a concern I have. But at the point I am in my career, it needs me to juggle more to give back to my family when I have a very challenging role and that is a hurdle, no doubt.
I really appreciate that most of the hurdles women talk about are about juggling home and work life. But a lot of the hurdles and something both men and women talk about is the confidence of having the right kind of development and support that one feels up to senior positions, and these are developmental things that a professional body like ours can help our members with.”
However, to overcome the hurdles its important to have a good work life balance. “I have to work very hard at planning time out with my family, friends and holidays and making sure that I do actually commit to that. Healthcare is one of the best fields to be in because it makes you feel that you are contributing something meaningful to society.
To unwind I love marine conservation and I scooba dive, so every holiday you will find me underwater somewhere. I enjoy downtime with my husband, cooking, gardening and playing music as well.”
* Make sure you plan in your holidays and take them
* It doesn’t matter how senior or busy you become, one should be able to plan in and then take them
* Planning in activities helps you spend time fully with your family and friends
* To stay fit is extremely important as you get busier and busier roles
* And, try not to have phones at the dinner table
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