Learning and leadership in pharmacy: 2022 Distinguished Alum Daniel Robinson

Daniel Robinson, PharmD ’76, has been named the UCSF Pharmacy Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alum of the Year for 2022, honoring a career defined by passionate teaching, outstanding leadership, and continual pursuit of new opportunities for growth and impact.

“I just love the process of learning. That has never changed,” says Robinson, who is now a professor of pharmacy practice and administration at Western University of Health Sciences College of Pharmacy, where he served for 15 years as dean.

As a pharmacy student and then pharmacy resident at UCSF, Robinson’s interactions with peers and residents were deeply fulfilling, and he realized he wanted a career in academia, where teaching and learning would be lifelong endeavors.

“I found that when you’re teaching you have to learn things at a different level,” he says. “It’s not just superficial—you have to be able to answer questions and explain to people in ways that they’re going to understand. That I found was very exciting.”

“He has taken the education, training, and beliefs he received from UCSF as a student and resident and spread them locally, nationally, and internationally to positively influence pharmacy education and practice during his 45-year career,” said Donald T. Kishi, PharmD ’68, associate dean and faculty member in clinical pharmacy at UCSF, when nominating Robinson for UCSF Alum of the Year. “If you consider the numbers of students, residents, and faculty he has influenced, mentored, and led over his career, you have a sense of the impact that he has had.”

Finding his way to pharmacy

Robinson was raised in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, California. His mother was the first female illustrator to work for Walt Disney, and his father was an aerospace engineer who, in semi-retirement, built boats that the family used for fishing.

In 1971, Robinson graduated from California State University, Fullerton, with a degree in biology. His first job was as a formulation supervisor for Kal Kan pet food. Looking to make a bigger impact—and coming home one too many times with dog food on his shoes—drove him to his next endeavor: applying to pharmacy school.

He was fortunate enough to get into UCSF, where he calls his educational experience “remarkable.” One of the first sparks of his love for teaching came when Robinson and a small group of peers formed a study group, which split the intensive workload into manageable pieces. “We would divide and conquer,” he says. “We would each go study something and then teach each other. It was a terrific way to learn a lot of material.”

Robinson encountered another level of collaborative learning during his first faculty position at the University of Nebraska, where he worked as a surgical and medical intensive care unit pharmacist. “That’s where team-based health care is really at its prime,” he says. “When you’re in a critical situation, and you’ve got a very sick patient, nobody has all the answers. You need everybody to perform at their peak. It was very team-oriented. It was fabulous.”

Students were consistently at his side as he did the work, seeing firsthand the role a pharmacist plays on a medical team. That sort of mentoring, Robinson says, has been “the most satisfying part of what I’ve done through the years. It’s always about how you can get others to achieve their goals.”

Stepping into leadership

Robinson says he never sought out leadership positions as his career progressed. But administrators and his peers certainly sought him out for these roles.

He served as dean of the School of Pharmacy at Northeastern University’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences from 2001 to 2006. He spent 13 of his 19 years at the University of Southern California as department chair of pharmacy practice. While there, he also created and directed the International Clinical Pharmacy Education Program—work that often led Robinson to visiting professorships in other countries, including Argentina, China, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand.

“We were aiming to raise the level of pharmacy education and practice throughout the world, and in turn improve it at home,” he says. “It was never a one-way process, it was always about how we learn from each other.”

That kind of openness and listening have been signatures of his leadership style.

B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, recently retired dean of the UCSF School of Pharmacy, who also nominated Robinson for UCSF Alum of the Year, calls Robinson “a superb listener and consistently thoughtful and respectful in his comments.” Guglielmo added: “In my opinion, few individuals have made such sustained and impactful contributions to the profession and pharmacy education in a career which has extended over five decades.”

Ongoing advocacy

Robinson now lives, fittingly, in the academic hub of Claremont, California, a few miles from Western University in Pomona.

He has two sons, one a civil engineer and the other a financial advisor, as well as five grandchildren.

In what he calls rehearsal for retirement, he’s taken up competitive bridge and has been dabbling in learning American Sign Language. Long ago he decided that he prefers cruise ships to fishing boats, and travels on them whenever possible.

But plenty of work remains, and Robinson has lost none of his enthusiasm for it.

Passionate about public policy for much of his career, in 2019 Robinson was asked to chair a statewide working group consisting of pharmacy faculty members and pharmacy association leadership—including Lisa Kroon, PharmD, chair of the UCSF Department of Clinical Pharmacy. The working group is drafting legislation that they hope will overhaul California pharmacy law to create a regulatory environment that fully supports pharmacists as health care providers.

He’s now been asked by the American Pharmacists Association to work toward the same goal at the national level.

“I find that you really don’t understand something until you try to change it—then you have to really understand it,” he says. “This work is more exciting to me than anything I’ve ever done before.”


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.