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School reflects on legacy of achievement at Alumni Weekend 2019
By Grant Burningham / Wed May 1, 2019
During the first few years of their pharmacy careers, even the most recent UCSF doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) graduates experience plenty of change as new health issues, new medications, and new research insights continually surface, and as the role of the pharmacist continually evolves. UCSF Alumni Weekend 2019, which was held on April 12 and 13 at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, gave alumni a chance to check in on how the UCSF School of Pharmacy is driving that change, guided by curiosity, problem-solving, and a scientific approach to everything it does.
The weekend highlighted the School’s current work in areas such as pharmacy education and opioid harm reduction. It also spotlighted the impressive careers of the School’s PharmD alumni who B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, School of Pharmacy dean, described as “bold, unafraid, positive, nimble, articulate, and creative.”
A new curriculum
Weekend events started with an early-morning, pharmacy-specific program that offered a glimpse of the School’s new and continually evolving doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) curriculum. Alumni heard behind-the-scenes curriculum reports from a panel of current students, education administrators, and faculty members.
In the new pharmacy curriculum, students build core knowledge in science and therapeutics, as well as in essential patient care skills; experience pharmacy practice firsthand; and explore new ideas and innovations in science and pharmacy practice, while developing inquiry skills. Coursework integrates and builds over time, and scientific thinking percolates throughout.
“The School aims to train its students to think through questions for which there might not be answers,” said Sharon Youmans, PharmD ’85, MPH, the School’s vice dean and panel leader, upon opening the discussion. To that end, Deanna Kroetz, PhD, a School faculty member who helped design the new curriculum, described the underlying goal of teaching students how to apply a scientific mindset to their learning.
Students Ellen Berkley, Sabrina Bulla, and Niamh O’Grady, all Class of ’21, added that patients were clearly the center of it all. “The very first day of pharmacy school, we walked in and there was a patient, a real patient,” Bulla said.
At the same time, the new curriculum pays special attention to student wellness and professional readiness, said Cynthia Watchmaker, MBA, MEd, the School’s associate dean of student affairs. “We want to equip students with the ability to be resilient,” she said. “Resiliency will help them be excellent students now and excellent practitioners in the long run.”
The curriculum embraces contemporary education technology as well, keeping students connected with the latest pedagogical tools and with their instructors and peers, explained Rebecca Miller, MS, director of the School’s Office of Education and Instructional Services.
In an afternoon campus program on the topic of UCSF health professions education, Youmans highlighted the unique and diverse nature of each pharmacy student. “Our students aren’t blank slates. They all come here with experiences.” Youmans said. “We try to build on that.”
The frontline of the opioid crisis
The national opioid epidemic is no more evident than in San Francisco where the number of injection drug users tops 24,000. The epidemic impacts the entire San Francisco health system, and the School of Pharmacy-run California Poison Control System (CPCS) often sees new waves in the crisis first. Thomas Kearney, PharmD ’80, former managing director of the San Francisco division of the CPCS, led an Alumni Weekend panel discussion on how UCSF and the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) are working together to respond to the crisis.
Panelists included Craig Smollin, MD, the medical director of the CPCS’s San Francisco division; Kathy Vo, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital; Michelle Geier, PharmD, the psychiatric clinical pharmacist supervisor at the SFDPH’s Community Behavioral Health Services; and Matt Tierney, MS, NP, former director of UCSF’s Office-based Buprenorphine Induction Clinic (OBIC).
After introducing their respective roles in battling opioid use disorder, the clinicians touched on topics such as the rise of fake pharmaceuticals manufactured to look like drugs—fake pharmaceuticals such as Xanax that actually contain a tiny dose of the dangerously potent opioid, fentanyl—and access to drugs to treat opioid addiction and rescue users who have overdosed. They emphasized their shared goal of harm reduction, which includes programs that offer clean injection supplies and syringe disposal.
Biomedical science, in practice
The School’s scientific foundations, successes, and aspirations were highlighted across panels that demystified the process of discovery science for alumni.
During an afternoon session on Discovery Science at UCSF, Michelle Arkin, PhD, a faculty member in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, gave a talk entitled “Why Drug Discovery is So Hard (but Oh So Fascinating).” Arkin studies small-molecule drugs which are designed to stick to specific proteins, in the hopes of finding new disease treatments.
“Some biologically important proteins are difficult to ‘drug’ because they lack deep holes for proteins to nestle into, like a sheer rock face,” she said. “We are currently working on techniques that will allow us to overcome these challenges in drug discovery.”
In the Innovation Sprint session, David Charron, MBA, led six small groups of UCSF alumni through a series of exercises aimed at complex health-related challenges like end-of-life planning and genetic testing. School of Pharmacy alumni in attendance included Mahtab Jafari, PharmD ’94, Shawn Houghtaling, PharmD ’03, and Brian Komoto, PharmD ’81. One team came up with an idea for a travel company geared to families wishing to spend meaningful time together in the wake of a loved one’s terminal diagnosis. Another team pitched a board game that would jump-start discussions about privacy and big data.
Pharmacy alumni for a half-century
School of Pharmacy alumni who graduated in 1969 remember traveling to Nevada to take their state board tests at the very time astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. “Change was part of that era,” Guglielmo noted in his address at the Half Century Club Luncheon, which welcomed new club members from the Class of 1969.
It’s no surprise, Guglielmo explained, that many members of the class went on to help transform their profession from one that focused on drugs to one that focuses today on the best use of drugs for individual patients and patient populations.
Now the class is supporting the students who will carry forward their passion for continuous professional change. Guglielmo announced that the Class of 1969 had successfully raised, and in fact exceeded, the $125,000 minimum needed to fully fund an endowed scholarship, which will support the School’s PharmD students.
Words that make a difference
Glen L. Stimmel, PharmD ’72, still remembers one of his School of Pharmacy faculty mentors, Brian Katcher, PharmD ’67, changing the words “beware” to “be aware” on a chalkboard. Those words, in reference to drug interactions, have stayed with Stimmel. “Words have power, especially for educators,” he said.
Stimmel was honored with the 2019 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award at the UCSF Pharmacy Alumni Association (PAA) gala dinner for a career characterized by his commitment both to teaching and to building the subspecialty of psychiatric pharmacy.
For Stimmel, his UCSF education has always been a force for change. “We can’t merely accept what is—we much reach out to what could be,” he told his fellow alumni.
Guglielmo thanked the Class of 1969 for fully funding its endowed scholarship and highlighted the UCSF Campaign Alumni Award winners: Michelle Tam, PharmD ’00, a blogger and award-winning cookbook writer, and Donald Kishi, PharmD ’68, a leader in the School for half a century and the current associate dean for student and curricular affairs.
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.