An interview with Dr. Ghada Zuhair Abukuwaik, RPh. Owner of CureMed Specialty Pharmacy located in Clifton, New Jersey.
What attracted you to working in the pharmaceutical industry?
Ghada Zuhair Abukuwaik: My father has a medical center in Dubai, where I was raised. He also had a pharmacy center within his clinic. So, most of my childhood involved me playing around his workplace and watching him do his job. And growing up, my dream was to be the one who took over his pharmacy.
Can you share a little bit about your pharmacy education, and how you worked to the point that you are at in your career today?
GZA: I graduated in 1997 from Irbid University of Science and Technology in Jordan and I returned to Dubai afterward to start working. For three years, I worked as a clinical pharmacist in different managerial positions in various hospitals throughout Dubai. And during that time, I gained a huge amount of knowledge in both the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. I learned how to interact with other doctors, the complexity of drug interactions, and how to work within different segments of healthcare, such as the geriatric specialty.
In 2000, I moved to New York and started my pharmacy technician journey. I worked in many different independent pharmacies for a while, accepted a pharmacy internship, and got my license in three different states. Because of my upbringing and my experience, I found myself very inspired to begin my career as a community pharmacy owner.
Right now, I am a CEO for two organizations: my house and CureMed Pharmacy in New Jersey, which I opened in 2015. It’s a community pharmacy that offers clinical services and specializes in compounding, specialty medication, immunizations, and compliance packaging. We are one of the New Jersey CPESN luminaries. We hold three unique accreditations including AADE diabetic education, URAC specialty and ACHC DME.
What I love the most about working at a community pharmacy is the power of integrity. With this trait, we are able to help the underserved population and walk the extra mile to give back to those in need. The experience I’ve gained from working in a community pharmacy has allowed me to widen my perspective in the field and strive to provide equality.
My experience is widespread, both in a geographic sense and in terms of the level of my position. But I would say that my favorite place of work is where I currently am in my career. As a pharmacist who owns a pharmacy, I feel like I do not have the restrictions that other pharmacists have. I am able to set my schedule and create a work-life balance. It is liberating not to be strapped by specific policies that large corporations often have. I am able to handle my business as I see fit — in a manner unique to my family, my staff and my community.
What characteristics proved to be the most helpful for you in developing your career?
GZA: I would say integrity and commitment are the key characteristics to help shape my career to what it is today.
For me, integrity is vital. It is important you do the right thing, even if no one is watching. Right is right even if no one is doing it. Wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.
Additionally, it is important to establish a sense of dedication and commitment. As a Palestinian, I grew up with a sense to prove myself, to inspire my generation and my kids that the sky is the limit — that you can always do better.
As a woman, a wife, a mother, an owner, a pharmacist, a minority and an immigrant, there are many hats that I wear; however, I see these challenges as steps that will help me grow.
What steps did you take in your career to prepare for a leadership position or business ownership?
GZA: I had three differing approaches to succeed in this position. First was attending industry events at McKesson, Asembia, NCPA, PDS and other organizations that would provide me with the right tools and resources. Second was surrounding myself with successful people, which kept me focused on my goals. And finally, networking with the right people and asking questions helped me stay on the right track.
My advice to others is to take advantage of the different doors available to you, because you never know which one will help you reach your goal.
What is your experience with mentors, influential leaders or others who inspired you to reach for success?
GZA: My father, Dr. Zuhair Abukuwaik, is my number one source of inspiration. He is an absolute legend. He was an elite, phenomenal, and marvelous leader. He was the personal doctor of the President of Dubai, who used to come to my home to get treated. As a kid, I often had to make sure to keep out of the way because so many people would come to our home and clinic looking for my dad to help them. His dedication to his job has been a huge inspiration to me.
There are also many other business coaches that enlightened my path. They taught me the best ways of handling my numerous positions and awakening the giant within.
What advice can you give to women entrepreneurs entering the pharmacy world?
GZA: We women have incredible power that can allow us to change the world. God has blessed us with emotions, genius minds, caring instincts and multitasking skills. We are the best support for our husbands, sons, fathers and brothers. The sky is our limit.
Have you noticed any boundaries or challenges for women in pharmacy? If so, how did you get around those?
GZA: Along with running my own pharmacy, I am in charge of my household and have six children. Because the age gap between my kids is wide — the oldest is in college whereas the youngest is two years old — my role as a mother involves me acting in all stages of parenthood.
Corporate businesses and entrepreneurship were always led and dominated by men. As a woman, I have to work 10 times as hard to get to where I am. I learned that you can lead where you are. Together, women and men are striving to build up the world. There is a lot of work that happens behind the scenes that many people do not see.
My story can help new minority business owners to achieve their dreams. It paves the way for them to reach their goals. I do what I do to inspire my daughters and show them that nothing is impossible.
What would you like to see pharmacy schools teach about owning your own pharmacy?
GZA: There are three main aspects I’d like to see integrated into pharmacy schools and programs. The first is leadership, and how to empower pharmacists using this skill. The second is business. It is important to know how to manage business operations. The third is customer service and communication. We need to teach pharmacy students how their words and approach can influence patients.
What do you enjoy most about being an independent pharmacy owner?
GZA: What I love most is that I am able to put a smile on people’s faces and know that the work that I am doing is making a difference. Without the rigid structure and rules that come with large corporations, independent pharmacists are able to have heart-to-heart communication with our patients.
Aside from being able to personally connect with our patients and to celebrate their birthdays and keep up with their personal lives, independent pharmacy is what brings joy and human connection back into the pharmaceutical industry. For example, my pharmacy hosts workshops for our patients on various topics like nutrition, weight management, drug management for teens, how to deal with stress, and more.
From my perspective, community pharmacies are molding the leaders of the future, instilling traits such as work ethics, best practices, communication, trust and integrity.
Can you share a little bit about your personal life (e.g., where you live, family life, things you like to do for fun, etc.)?
GZA: I live with my family in a lovely house in the city of Totowa, New Jersey. And each morning, before we leave the house, I like to start my day with a group hug.
Outside of work, my hobby is being active. To make sure that I am providing the care and attention my children need, I often take one or two of them at a time to go out and do a fun exercise, whether it be dancing in the basement with the music on blast, simply taking a breath of fresh air, swimming, or going to the gym. I also enjoy cooking a healthy meal for my family with my daughters.
It is important to me that I challenge myself to keep up with filling three buckets: spirituality, nutrition and reading.
I would like to end with a quote I feel has impacted me greatly: “Don’t be the leaf that flows with the river. Be the rock that splits the stream.”