A Golden Anniversary for the College of Pharmacy

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Editor’s note: Ronald P. Jordan, interim dean of the College of Pharmacy, wrote this piece about the College’s 50th Anniversary for the state’s newspapers. It appeared on The Providence Journal’s opinion pages May 10.

A golden anniversary occurs this year, as the Class of 2008 at the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy becomes the 50th group of professional pharmacists to leave Kingston and enter service to the state, the nation and the world beyond. A storied history, a current vibrancy and a hope for an even brighter future mark the 50th Anniversary of one of the state’s oldest and most distinguished health science schools.

While students have gone from earning a four-year bachelor of science degree to a five-year bachelor’s degree and now to a six-year doctor of pharmacy, the character and dedication of pharmacists to their role in health care has remained constant. The seats at the University that lead to this professional degree have been in high demand for many decades. Today, applications run fifteen to one admission. Pharmacists educated at URI are providing care in a wide array of community, hospital, clinic, physician office and senior care practice settings. Demand for their services in managing medication therapy and helping people avoid the associated risks in any medical intervention grow daily as the population ages and new therapies for age-old health challenges enter the market. Graduates of the College also work in the pharmaceutical industry in research, manufacturing, regulatory affairs, sales and marketing. The doctor of pharmacy is said to have 180 career options associated with it, and numerous grads go on to other professional degree combinations in law, medicine, dentistry and business. The College can boast of large numbers of alumni who are leaders in community, institutional and corporate pharmacy, the pharmaceutical industry, public health, the military health systems and many other callings.

However, the real theme of the story of the these 50 years centers on the faculty and staff who have been responsible for instilling in our students the professionalism, the ethics and the dedication to the covenant pharmacists have with their patients. This list of professors who alumni will point to as instrumental in their success when asked is surprisingly lengthy for a small college. The names of the late Professors George E. Osborne, Anthony M. Paruda, Al Taubman, David Defanti, C.I. Smith, Raymond Panzica and John DeFeo have all been noted in recent conversations I’ve enjoyed. Other key professors noted in those conversations who are still living in Rhode Island and elsewhere: Howard Bond, Chris Rhodes, Eli Abushanab, Joe Turcotte, and Lois Vars have also been a significant part of the College’s and our alumni’s success. Our three deans, Heber W. Youngken Jr., Louis A. Luzzi and Donald E. Letendre are each remembered by students as iconic leaders. There are also five cornerstones of excellence in teaching, research and service that we honored at our gala earlier this year. Joan Lausier, professor and associate dean, was the first woman to join the faculty in 1971. Her Down East humor, leadership and exceptional competence in education and mentoring have been critical to the development of almost every student, faculty member and staff member for more than 40 years. She recently noted that between her undergraduate work and graduate work at URI, she had been at the College 45 of the 50 we celebrate. Professor Al Swonger, who also started as a rookie with Professor Lausier, has been a student favorite his entire career. Teaching pharmacology to pharmacists, nurses, psychologists and others at the University, Dr. Swonger turned the central nervous system effects of drug products into a fascinating and inspiring understanding of caring for patients with potent medicinals. Professor Emeritus Leonard Worthen taught public health and inspired graduates to leadership in the public, Indian and military health services. Professor, attorney and College ambassador Norman Campbell is probably our most nationally renowned leader in the profession. Norm continues to instill ethical standards, professionalism and leadership through his continuous teaching and more importantly through example. Professor Emeritus Yuzuru Shimizu, our final cornerstone, hails from the Pharmacognosy Department where his world-class research on red tide and drugs from the sea, as well as his teaching in natural products, shaped many alumni. He continues his mentoring today building new leaders in our historically leading natural products area.

As stewards of the College and pharmacy education in Rhode Island, it is easy for us to crow about our accomplishments and contributions in the state and around the world. But the citizens of Rhode Island have also recognized the importance of the College to the health of the state. We are so grateful for their support of a $65 million bond issue two years ago that provides public support toward a new pharmacy facility in the northern district of the Kingston Campus. That facility, along with the nearly completed Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences, will make that section of campus a hub of biomedical, biotechnical and life science research. We owe a great debt to our state, and we will continue to keep its people at the forefront of our teaching, research and outreach.

Our pride in Rhode Island, our historic pharmacy leaders and our current students, alumni and faculty could not be greater. As leaders in pharmacy education in the new millennium, we will be able to accept greater numbers of the best and brightest students, expand our research, and fortify our outreach efforts. As we continue to celebrate our 50th year, Rhode Islanders can take pride in having one of the best Colleges of Pharmacy in the country.

The author, Ronald P. Jordan is a registered pharmacist, and Interim Dean of the URI College of Pharmacy.