Donald Kishi: leader, mentor, friend

2017 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year

“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 at podium

Donald Kishi, PharmD ’68, at Alumni Weekend 2017, where he received the Distinguished Alumni Award.

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.

Kishi and Kayser
Robert Levin Collection

Donald Kishi, PharmD ’68 (left) and Steve Kayser, PharmD ’70, in 1972.

Kishi and Herfindal
Robert Levin Collection

Donald Kishi, PharmD ’68 (left) and his longtime mentor, Eric “Toby” Herfindal, PharmD ’65, in 1983.

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 of 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.

Kishi helps student with white coat

Donald Kishi, PharmD '68, has coated many student pharmacists at White Coat ceremonies through the years, including this one in 2004.

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.”


School of Pharmacy, Department of Clinical Pharmacy, PharmD Degree Program

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.