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Demanding change: 2019 Distinguished Alumnus Glen L. Stimmel, PharmD
By Grant Burningham / Fri Mar 15, 2019
“Challenging the status quo leads to very good things,” said Glen L. Stimmel, PharmD ’72, who has spent a career doing just that. As a motto, it has served him, and his profession, quite well.
Stimmel, the 2019 UCSF Pharmacy Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus of the Year, has taken his own course through life, and in the process, he helped create the subspecialty of psychiatric pharmacy and expanded the scope of practice for California pharmacists.
Stimmel is a professor of clinical pharmacy, psychiatry, and behavioral sciences and the associate dean of academic affairs at the University of Southern California (USC) School of Pharmacy and Keck School of Medicine. He teaches clinical psychopharmacology, sexual medicine, and patient medication counseling. He served as interim dean of the USC pharmacy school from 2015 to 2016.
Stimmel has authored over 230 academic articles and textbook chapters. He received the American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP) Clinical Practice Award in 1991, the first Judith Saklad Memorial Lecture Award from the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists (CPNP) in 1998, and the Career Achievement Award from the CPNP in 2016, among other awards.
Stimmel grew up in Lancaster, California, and chased his high school passion of studying Mandarin to San Francisco, where he attended San Francisco State University (SFSU).
Language may seem like an unlikely first step into the world of medicine, but Stimmel said Mandarin opened his eyes to how different cultures view the world. Stimmel had always been drawn to medicine, and upon graduating from SFSU, he realized that the field of pharmacy might combine this interest with his love of chemistry.
“I was fortunate to have gone through my formative years in San Francisco,” Stimmel said. “It made me open-minded and accepting.”
There was more than just cultural change afoot in San Francisco in the 1960s and early 1970s. At the UCSF School of Pharmacy, young pharmacists were changing the profession. The Ninth Floor Project put pharmacists in hospitals for the first time, carving out a place for pharmacists in clinical settings for the first time.
“The one thing that was prominent in that time, as a student at SFSU and UCSF, was challenging why things are the way they are. That was accepted,” Stimmel said. “You questioned authority and students were rabble-rousing for change.”
Questioning the status quo
As a student at UCSF, Stimmel did his own questioning, filling a role at a psychiatric facility alongside medical students—a first for a pharmacy student. He enjoyed the work, which combined a knowledge of drugs with patient counseling and assessment. The next year, Stimmel presented himself to the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute, told leaders what he thought he could contribute, and devised a 12-week internship for himself.
Brian Katcher, PharmD ’67, a faculty member at the School, was instrumental in helping Stimmel break new ground in psychiatric work.
Robert Levin Collection
Stimmel submitted a proposal to create a full-time position at the District V Mental Health Center in San Francisco after his internship, a job he then filled. He loved the work but also wanted to make it available to more pharmacists. To that end, he took a job at USC to found a psychiatric pharmacy residency program, which has since graduated dozens of pharmacists.
When he started in psychiatric pharmacy practice, there were few pharmacological tools for treating mental illness. Stimmel has witnessed the evolution from the earliest tricyclic antidepressants to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), novel antipsychotic drugs, and newer treatments for anxiety disorders. “I’ve lived through the whole development of psychopharmacology,” he said.
Creating advanced practice in California
At USC, Stimmel labored to expand the practice of pharmacists again. He helped publish several papers making the case that allowing pharmacists to directly prescribe medications would be safe, effective, and beneficial to patients.
He later presented much of this evidence at the State Capitol to push for legal changes. “Don Kishi, PharmD ’68, was doing the same thing at UCSF, and we’d see each other a lot in Sacramento,” Simmel said. “That led to the first prescriptive authority for pharmacists in 1981, and that was expanded in 1983.”
Allowing pharmacists to work “at the top of their license” and maximize their impact on the health system is still something he is passionate about. “The issue now is whether we can pay pharmacists to do what they’re capable of and what they’re trained to do,” he said, referencing current efforts to move the profession toward advance practice.
Stimmel would ultimately spend 30 years managing drug therapy in psychiatric clinics. He then managed depression medications in primary care facilities, first working with patients in a rheumatology clinic as well as a geriatric primary care clinic.
“Every 15 years or so I reinvent myself,” Stimmel said.
A commitment to the profession
Stimmel has been active in professional organizations, typically dedicating his efforts to one group at a time. He was critical in the creation of the CPNP, the national organization for psychiatric pharmacists, and went on to serve as its president. Today, the organization counts 2,000 pharmacists as members and oversees 30 student chapters.
Stimmel is a founding member, elected fellow, and past president of the ACCP, and an original member and past chair of the Board of Pharmaceutical Specialties’ Specialty Council on Psychiatric Pharmacy Practice. Stimmel has served on the Board of Directors of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy and as vice-chair of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists Commission on Therapeutics. He is an elected member of the World Association for Sexual Health, a member of the Sexual Medicine Society of North America, and member of the International Society for Sexual Medicine.
“I would advise young faculty members and students to get involved with state and national organizations and make those connections,” he said, adding that it’s an important part of raising one’s professional profile beyond one’s home institution.
Exploring the wider world
Outside of his work, Stimmel has a passion for traveling with his wife, and has toured much of the globe in his lifetime. “I just enjoy experiencing different cultures,” he said.
He coupled this curiosity about other cultures with stints as a visiting professor in Bangkok, Thailand, and Tokyo and Kobe in Japan.
Stimmel has also developed a love of sculpting, after being gifted a piece of soapstone and a file. He uses hand tools to create sculptures for family and friends, often inspired by the works of Constantin Brâncuși of Romania and Peter Mandala of Zimbabwe.
“I’d been all science, all the time, and suddenly I’m creating sculptures. It’s pure fun,” Stimmel said in a recent UCSF Alumni article.
Stimmel continues to see big changes ahead for pharmacy, and he is optimistic that the profession will continue to adopt new responsibilities and roles in the service of patients. “Be wary of status quo huggers, who get in the way of progress,” he said with a laugh.
Everyone is invited to celebrate Stimmel at the Pharmacy Alumni Gala during Alumni Weekend on Saturday, April 13 at the Hyatt San Francisco Hotel. For more information and to register, visit Alumni Weekend.
School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, 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.