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Sense of Community and Social Justice Characterize Pharmacy School Deans

Sep 30, 2020
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Dean Marie Chisholm-Burns, Pharm.D., M.B.A., M.P.H.

EVERY DAY, AS SHE WALKS THROUGH THE LOBBY of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), Dean Marie Chisholm-Burns, Pharm.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., passes a wall covered with the portraits of all eight of the college’s deans to date. While all have made important academic and clinical contributions, there is a distinct contrast between her portrait and the seven pictures that precede hers: all of the deans leading up to her were white males.

Addressing social inequalities

“Funny enough, it wasn’t until my students pointed out how impactful it was to have my picture up on the wall that I noticed how striking the difference between me and the deans before me was,” said Dr. Chisholm-Burns, who has been an ASHP member for over 25 years. “I hope that when people see my picture up there, they dwell on possibilities that they may not have otherwise considered.”

Dr. Chisholm-Burns was recently named a UTHSC Distinguished Professor and the Chair of ASHP’s new Section of Pharmacy Educators Executive Committee. Throughout her career and during her deanship, Dr. Chisholm-Burns has made it a priority to address social inequalities. For example, she has made an effort to ensure equal access to education, which she sees as a civil rights issue by cutting tuition costs. “I came from a humble background, so I know that the cost of college can be prohibitive, and I also know that education can help lead you out of poverty,” she said.

Gender inequality has been another target of Dr. Chisholm-Burns’s energy. Before becoming dean, she was involved in an initiative that taught economically disadvantaged young girls how to play chess to encourage them to pursue their aspirations.

“In chess, if you advance your pawn all the way to the other side of the board, you can change it into any piece – except for the king – but many would say the most powerful piece on the board is a queen,” said Dr. Chisholm-Burns. “The message, which I think is a strong one, is that your future is not necessarily dictated by your past.”

On her own career path, one accomplishment Dr. Chisholm-Burns has been incredibly proud of is establishing the Medication Access Program, which provides access to treatment for solid organ transplant recipients.

“As a clinical pharmacist working with transplant patients, I noticed that the cost of medications sometimes prevented people from being adherent to their medications,” she said. “That bothered me a lot, and I felt an obligation to improve the situation.”

With a long list of achievements to date and a long career still ahead of her, there is every indication that Dr. Chisholm-Burns will continue to help right the wrongs that she sees around her, whether in the clinic, the college, or the community.

“As long as there are social injustices out there, I would like to be a part of efforts to address them,” she said.

A responsive leader

For Natalie Eddington, Ph.D., FAAPS, FCP, Dean of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, being a good leader has meant serving her faculty and students, and also the residents of her city.

Dean Natalie Eddington, Ph.D., FAAPS, FCP

During her 12 years as dean, she has been involved in several initiatives aimed at improving the lives of those around her. For example, she co-leads the university’s Center of Addiction Research, Education and Service – or CARES – which employs faculty and students to address the impact of addiction on Baltimore’s communities.

“Addiction is one of those things that we might not necessarily want to talk about, but it is really important to treat if we want to improve the lives of those in the community and our school,” Dr. Eddington said.

Dr. Eddington has tried to be a responsive leader on campus, tending to students and readying them to thrive after graduation. She has led the roll-out of innovative pharmacy degrees in regulatory science, pharmaceutical metrics, palliative care, and even the first Master of Science program in the country focusing specifically on medical cannabis.

“The practice of pharmacy today is nothing like it was when I graduated over 20 years ago, and we have to prepare students to meet the demands of this new world,” she said.

An initiative at the college that Dr. Eddington is particularly proud of is the “Pharmapreneurism” program, which teaches students the innovative mindset that enterprising pharmacists need to reach their career aspirations. “Students who want to go out and change the way we practice pharmacy need to have the confidence and knowledge to do things differently,” she said.

Recently, Dr. Eddington has focused on increasing diversity in academic pharmacy, which she has found remains a priority. In her research, she discovered that the number of pharmacy schools almost doubled over a recent 10-year period, but diversity in academic pharmacy hasn’t changed much.

“We need diversity because it widens what we know and what we understand as healthcare professionals treating patients from diverse backgrounds. It makes sure we implement in practice the ways that are most appropriate for our patients,” Dr. Eddington emphasized.


When long-time ASHP member Toyin Tofade, Pharm.D., M.S., BCPS, CPCC, FFIP, took up the office of Dean at Howard University’s College of Pharmacy in Washington, D.C., in 2016she found an abundance of impressive work being done by faculty and students alike, but discovered that their achievements were “one of the best-kept secrets around.”

Dean Toyin Tofade, Pharm.D., M.S., BCPS, CPCC, FFIP

“I was surprised by how many contributions were going unrecognized, so I decided to adopt the role of cheerleader-in-chief,” said Dr. Tofade, who was recently appointed to ASHP’s Task Force on Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

One of the first things she did as cheerleader-in-chief was let her faculty and students know that their work was valued by publishing an annual report and a weekly e-newsletter celebrating their accomplishments.

Like Drs. Chisholm-Burns and Eddington, Dr. Tofade has made it a priority to address inequalities in the college and the wider community. She co-directs a center to help individuals from unrepresented minority backgrounds prepare for undergraduate and professional STEM and healthcare professions. Under her leadership, the college is planning to place clinical pharmacists in independent community pharmacies to implement ambulatory care services.

Having those services in place will help “transform practice in the District” and ensure lower-income community members have access to medication therapy management and basic chronic disease care, she noted. “These are the kinds of things we need here in D.C., where the health of some communities is very low,” said Dr. Tofade.

Further afield, Dr. Tofade has been working with the International Pharmaceutical Federation, which collaborates with the World Health Organization to implement pharmacy care and related policies in developing countries. Serving in multiple roles and paying her success forward, she mentors budding academic pharmacy leaders abroad so that they can make their mark in the field.

“I feel very privileged and honored to be working to help transform pharmacy education and support academic pharmacy leaders around the world,” she said of this experience.

And with trademark humility, Dr. Tofade acknowledged that while her ambitions have been critical to getting to where she is today, the help of others has been as instrumental to her success.

“I am so grateful to God, my mentors, and supervisors who have taken the time over the years to invest in my growth as a leader,” she said.


By David Wild


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