Pharmacist Nneke Ezurike in front of pharmacy counter

Nneka Ezurike helps pharmacists reach full potential and take opportunities outside of their comfort zone

As a pharmacist, pharmacy owner, and preceptor at U of T’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, Nneka Ezurike is passionate about supporting other women and woman-identifying pharmacists.

“I aspire to inspire others, particularly women, as they become leaders in their respective fields and roles,” says Ezurike. “I want to contribute to breaking the barriers and being a trailblazer for the next generation of amazing women in our profession.”

Ezurike, who currently owns three pharmacies in Toronto, is among a minority of pharmacy owners. According to a report from the Canadian Pharmacists Association, despite women making up approximately 70 per cent of staff pharmacists, only about 30 per cent of pharmacy owners are women, and even fewer are women of colour. This discrepancy mirrors what is seen in many industries, where fewer women are in higher decision-making positions. In pharmacy and many other industries, lack of mentorship opportunities, lack of representation in decision-making roles and lack of equitable opportunities have limited women from seeking or attaining leadership roles. Women of colour experience additional barriers due to systemic racism.

However, as Ezurike notes, the profession can benefit from ensuring more diverse perspectives are included in decisions.

“Women as leaders and decision-makers at all levels are critical to advancing gender justice and gender equality, and as a whole that can further economic, social, and political progress for all.”

“Pharmacy is a profession that is continuously evolving, and it's important to include different perspectives,” she says. “When there is diversity of thought and experience at every table and in every decision, it enables the profession to provide better support and care to our diverse patients, troubleshoot more effectively, be more innovative and enable pharmacists to be passionate about the profession where they achieve personal and professional goals.”

Ezurike says it is important for everyone to work together to improve gender equity, from companies being intentionally inclusive and building sustainable programs focused on equity goals, to individuals supporting one another in the workplace. 

“Women as leaders and decision-makers at all levels are critical to advancing gender justice and gender equality, and as a whole that can further economic, social, and political progress for all,” she says. “Personally, I’ve seen some improvements that have paved the way for future women to be successful, but there is still a lot of work to do.” 

Pharmacy ownership requires delegation and trust

Ezurike’s path to pharmacy ownership was somewhat unique, as she became a pharmacy owner early in her career. She had only been a staff pharmacist at a community pharmacy in Port Hope for a few weeks when the opportunity to become a pharmacy owner arose, and she stepped up to the challenge.

“At the time, I wasn’t thinking about becoming a pharmacy owner, as I was still new to the profession, but I’m always open to new opportunities that will challenge me, expand my knowledge and grow my skill set,” she says. “I don’t want to settle in complacency, so I try and to do things outside of my comfort zone and that I’m passionate about, and that’s what really interested me in pursuing the opportunity.”

She owned pharmacies east of Toronto for several years while she earned her Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree. Then in 2019, she took over the ownership of a location in Toronto, which she still owns, and acquired two more stores in 2021.

She still performs clinical work in the pharmacies and enjoys being able to care for patients. But through owning multiple stores, she has learned to delegate and trust her staff so that she can focus on her other responsibilities.

“I had to learn to focus more on coaching, training, motivating, and mentoring staff to recognize untapped potential,” she says. “I can set expectations to help everyone perform to their best ability, which allows me to focus my time on activities that will grow the business.”

Support and mentorship key for reaching full potential

Ezurike says that one of her favourite parts of being a pharmacy owner is the opportunity to help her staff and students reach their potential.

She has been a preceptor for the PharmD program at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy for several years, and she has mentored women considering pharmacy ownership through various Shoppers Drug Mart leadership programs. She has also been involved in outreach programs to speak to high school and college students about opportunities in the pharmacy profession.

“I am so grateful for the mentors who have helped me over the years at different stages of my career and who pushed me to consider new opportunities,” she says. “I thoroughly enjoy precepting students and mentoring others as they progress in their own career. I find it so rewarding to have a vision, share that vision, and inspire others to grow toward that vision while empowering them to be their best selves and become leaders in their own way.”

Ezurike encourages young women who are considering pharmacy ownership to see their differences as an asset to the profession.

“Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, keep an open mind and learn and grow from your challenges. Seek mentorship and connect with aspirational pharmacists and other like-minded individuals,” she says. “Challenge yourself to be the best you can be. And most importantly, embrace who you are and never be limited by other peoples’ limited perceptions.”

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