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Kaiser Permanente’s Outpatient Pharmacy Director Suryakumar Atmuri Offers Leadership Insights
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Building leadership skills, motivating teams and developing strategies are all important aspects in today’s ever-changing health care landscape. Suryakumar Atmuri, Outpatient Pharmacy Director at Kaiser Permanente South San Francisco, shares his experience in pharmacy management as he confers his MBA degree from University of Louisiana, Lafayette.
Suryakumar Atmuri's early experiences in India, where he grew up in the city of Vijayawada, provided a foundation for his interest in pharmaceutical drug distribution. At a young age, he followed his father as he supplied medicines to rural areas, gaining an early appreciation for the importance of healthcare access.
This passion continued throughout his academic career, where he excelled in STEM subjects and graduated as valedictorian from his pharmacy school class of 100 students.
Upon moving to the United States to pursue his career, Atmuri volunteered at St. Francis Memorial Hospital before becoming a pharmacy technician and intern at Walgreens. Over 13 years at Walgreens, he held several roles, including pharmacist technician, intern, staff pharmacist, and pharmacy manager at Santa Clara, CA. During his time at Walgreens, he was involved in the launch of their proprietary pharmacy system, intercom plus, and contributed to its deployment in his district.
While still at Walgreens, Atmuri joined Kaiser Permanente as a per-diem pharmacist at the Fremont location in 1998. He worked simultaneously at Walgreens as a manager and part-time lead pharmacist at Kaiser until moving full- time to Kaiser as an outpatient pharmacy operations manager at the South San Francisco location in 2009. In this role, he improved pharmacy service and maintained high-quality care for Kaiser members as the outpatient pharmacy director.
At Kaiser, Atmuri led multiple corporate pilots for clinical services and technology implementations, including pharmacist naloxone furnishing and the outpatient pharmacy management system (EPIMS) rollout. In addition, he was instrumental in developing associated playbooks and their monitoring measures. He also managed a large group of patient staff and led his department to achieve the pharmacy region's top performer in JD Power service satisfaction scores for several years. As a result, corporate and his peer directors often consulted him on operational efficiency opportunities.
Atmuri attributes his leadership success to his ability to learn and grow through staff empowerment, communication, and effective decision-making. With over 28 years of experience in a pharmacy, 25 of which were with Kaiser Permanente, he continues to strive for improvement by applying the skills acquired through his MBA program.
Gigi: Congratulations on receiving your MBA degree and thank you for sharing your insights with us. Let’s start with this question. What does leadership mean to you?
Suryakumar: Leadership in pharmacy means effectively guiding and inspiring a team of healthcare professionals to provide high-quality patient care. It involves having a clear vision for the pharmacy's role in the more extensive healthcare system, setting goals and objectives, and motivating and empowering team members to achieve those goals. It also means navigating complex regulatory and financial challenges while maintaining a patient-centered focus.
Gigi: How do you describe or define your leadership style?
Suryakumar: My leadership style is collaborative and empowering. I believe in involving team members in decision-making and encouraging open communication and feedback. I also prioritize empowering team members to take ownership of their work and develop their skills and expertise.
Gigi: What is the most challenging part of the MBA program?
Suryakumar: Keeping up with a busy work schedule and spending 15-20 hours per week to study for tests and write reports.
Gigi: How would you apply what you learned from the MBA program in your current everyday operation?
Suryakumar:I plan to apply what I learned from the MBA program in my everyday operations by utilizing the best leadership, strategy, and management practices. For example, I can use data-driven decision-making and project management techniques to optimize pharmacy operations and improve patient outcomes. I can also apply finance and accounting principles to develop more effective budgeting and cost management strategies.
Gigi: Who is your inspiration?
Suryakumar: My inspiration is my father, who worked for a pharmaceutical distributor and was a successful business owner. He instilled in me a passion for pharmacy and a commitment to delivering high-quality patient care. He also taught me the importance of hard work, dedication, and continuous learning.
Gigi: Knowing what you know right now, would you still choose this career path?
Suryakumar: Yes, I would still choose this career path. The pharmacy industry is constantly evolving, and it is an exciting opportunity to impact patient care and healthcare outcomes positively. My MBA education has prepared me well for the challenges and opportunities in this field.
Gigi: What should pharmacy students do to acquire leadership skills?
Suryakumar: To acquire leadership skills, pharmacy students should seek opportunities to develop communication, teamwork, and decision-making abilities. This can involve participating in student organizations, internships, and volunteer work, as well as seeking mentors and networking with professionals in the field. Additionally, pursuing advanced education such as an MBA can provide a strong foundation in leadership, strategy, and management.
Gigi: Thanks again for your interview. Best of luck with your future endeavors.
Gigi Chung is a pharmacist at Kaiser Permanente South San Francisco.
She has served in consultant roles for skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.
She is currently working on different clinical projects and pursuing Advanced Practice credentials in California.
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