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Donald Kishi: Leader, mentor, friend
2017 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year
By Ann Brody Guy / Thu Jun 15, 2017
“Find a need and fill it” was a popular slogan that graced the side of pink Kaiser Cement trucks around the San Francisco Bay Area in the 60s and 70s. But Donald Kishi, PharmD ’68, took the motto as his professional mantra.
Kishi earned his doctor of pharmacy from UC San Francisco in 1968 and immediately joined the School of Pharmacy faculty, during what proved to be the formative era for the practice of clinical pharmacy. In 1966, the Ninth Floor Pharmacy Project had moved pharmacists up from the basement and onto the Moffitt Hospital wards to catalyze more clinical interaction. The program blossomed through the early 70s, bolstered by the efforts of Kishi and his colleagues as they sought to see the invisible—the unmet needs. “You tried to figure out,” he says, “‘What is the need here, and what is it that we could be doing to fill that need?’”
Helping to shape the fledgling discipline of clinical pharmacy shaped Kishi into a problem solver, a collaborator, and, unintentionally, into a leader who would quietly guide the School’s students, curricula, and research for half a century. For his dedication, scholarship, and leadership, the UCSF Pharmacy Alumni Association has named Kishi the recipient of its 2017 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award.
Don Kishi is that rare senior statesman whose contribution and influence are intertwined with the fabric of the School, alumni, and professional communities.
—Cynthia Watchmaker, MEd, MBA
From pharmacy student to faculty member
While the Haight-Ashbury exploded in psychedelia around him, Kishi was a serious young man focused on school, career, and the demands of a new family. And as a Japanese American during the prejudice and paranoia of mid-twentieth-century California (Kishi was born in a Colorado relocation camp in 1945 and soon after moved back to Sacramento), he remembers receiving clear messages at home: “Growing up post-war it was, ‘Don’t make waves. Fit in. Do well in school.’”
And he loved pharmacy school, especially the fourth-year clinical application of everything he’d learned. After he joined the faculty, he and his new colleagues looked for ways their medication expertise could add value. They went on rounds with patient-care teams, took drug histories of unprecedented detail, and counseled patients on their take-home medications—an insight that intuited the coming of transitional care pharmacy. Kishi enjoyed problem solving the most. “It’s fun,” he says, his eyes lighting up. He loved puzzling out each case and trying to come up with the best solution.
Those early days in the practice of clinical pharmacy were just the beginning of a career that would span 50 years and 38 curriculum vitae pages, and touch every facet of the institution.
Leader, mentor, and friend
“If you’d told me that I was going to be in a leadership position, I would have laughed at you,” Kishi says of his younger self. He was never the guy looking to be the president of anything, he says, and he still doesn’t look for the spotlight.
But a collaborative leadership style came naturally to him. He credits his longtime mentor Eric “Toby” Herfindal, PharmD ’65, MPH, who chaired the Division of Clinical Pharmacy for 20 years, for helping develop his best instincts. And the leadership style of B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, now dean, resonated with him. “He’d throw the straw man on the table and let people poke and poke at it … and give everyone their say, and then he’d come to a conclusion,” Kishi recalls. Hearing all sides of the story is scientific thinking, he adds. “With a knee-jerk reaction, you’ve only got half the evidence. A thorough investigation yields good decision making.”
Kishi’s keen listening skills are especially valuable in his current position as associate dean for student and curricular affairs, where he works more closely than ever with students. He found that, as in clinical practice, transitions are often a source of trouble as students adjust to the rigorous program and deal with crises, family problems, or just insecurity. “I try to make them feel them comfortable enough to open up,” he says, so he can direct them to the right resources for help.
When Kishi focuses on his own School of Pharmacy experience, he invokes that simple cement-truck slogan and sees a rewarding career. Managing student affairs has allowed him to build deeper relationships with students. Serving on committees, task forces, and professional associations has kept work challenging and interesting. Traveling to Japan in the 1990s to share clinical pharmacy ideas was a career highlight that opened up his mind to new ideas.
But Kishi’s colleagues see a leader and mentor with tireless dedication to his students, the School, and the profession, and they don’t let his avoidance of the spotlight dim their recognition. In her nomination letter, Cynthia Watchmaker, associate dean of student affairs, says Kishi exemplifies the spirit of service in the “Oath of the Pharmacist” that is recited at commencement and white coat ceremonies. Citing a legacy of generations he’s quietly guided, Watchmaker calls Kishi “that rare senior statesman … whose contribution and influence are intertwined with the fabric of the School, alumni, and professional communities.”
About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy is a premier graduate-level academic organization dedicated to improving health through precise therapeutics. It succeeds through innovative research, by educating PharmD health professional and PhD science students, and by caring for the therapeutics needs of patients while exploring innovative new models of patient care. The School was founded in 1872 as the first pharmacy school in the American West. It is an integral part of UC San Francisco, a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide.