Meet the HBA West Chester Board: President Interview

Meet the president! 
Interviewer: Nicole Skiljo

An honest look into personal experiences and the future of women with Anita Burrell, HBA West Chester president.

Tell us about your role as president of HBA West Chester.
I see it as two roles, one is to be the conduit between the HBA Mid-Atlantic region and the local chapter to ensure that we have consistency across the region while bringing visibility to the great things HBA West Chester is doing. My main role though is to enhance the HBA experience for those members, corporate partners and sponsors in the West Chester area. I’m passionate about building a team and community where people can find ways to advance the impact of women.  

How does HBA West Chester help our newest members and youth?
We have a fantastic formal mentoring program, it’s a great opportunity to work in diverse groups. Networking events are a great way to meet new people, we’ve already held three this year. Also, volunteering for HBA West Chester provides exposure and a safe environment to take something on that you might not have done otherwise.

How else do you give back professionally?
While the HBA is my “give back to women”, I also participate in professional societies in my area of competence including the Drug Information Association (DIA), International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research (ISPOR), and Health Technology Assessment international (HTAi) where I focus on my area of expertise by providing peer reviews for panel submissions for example.  

What career milestones helped you get here?
My career has had a few inflection points. In fact, the only reason I’m in healthcare is because of something that went wrong, not right. When I completed my masters in economics I planned to stay in Canada where I studied, got a job with the local government and expected to be there for a long time. After the first year my job was not renewed. So, I went back to the UK and that’s when I found my first role in healthcare. In 1992, I got the job as a health economist, at a time when not many people even knew what that was. Your plans do not always turn out the way you think they will but if you’re open to opportunity, even if not thought to be the best, it can be incredibly useful.

Another inflection point was when I took on a global role and moved to America to lead a late-stage clinical program. Honestly, it was a stretch role. I remember people asking, “why do you think you can do that job?”. There were times I would close the door to my office and cry. It’s about having the courage to go on, even when you’re outside your comfort zone. It was probably one of the hardest roles but also the most rewarding.

Leaving the industry was another inflection point. I started my own consultancy. Sometimes you have to take on something that is a bit more challenging than you think you’re capable of, in fact, that’s one of the reasons I took on the role as president of HBA West Chester.  

Gender parity is a hot topic today.  Thoughts?
Gender parity is really important to me. I like to look at it as valuing diversity, you could probably call me feminist. I will never forget being in a room when a leader was tapping on the table to get our attention stating, “gentlemen, gentlemen!”… I added, “and ladies!”. Great ideas come from combining different experiences and for me, the most rewarding part of life has come from working on teams with diverse backgrounds and experiences. To quote one of my role models, I find it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness, my positivity for gender parity comes from showing others what can be achieved instead of criticizing them for what they haven’t done.  

Are there really “keys to success”?
For me these have been respect, courage and positivity. If you can always keep respect in mind for yourself and others, you can’t go wrong. Have courage, even when it’s hard because courage is not the absence of fear, its facing the fear and going on. Be positive – this is where you gain energy from finding solutions.  

What inspires you about women today?
Future role models. We are seeing so many success stories of women in the workforce, which means we’ll only continue to see this. I’m not talking about #metoo, I’m talking about the courage to have a #metoo movement. We are seeing belief in women, by women…and when we see women applaud women it makes us all rise. In the past, we’ve lacked role models, but moving forward, we’ll have role models of the highest kind!  

Do you have a favorite quote?
My favorite quote? Yeah! I admire and quote Eleanor Roosevelt a lot…One quote that is hers and my absolute favorite is “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”.