NESBITT SCHOOL OF PHARMACY CELEBRATES TWO DECADES OF EXCELLENCE
By Patty Pologruto
You won’t find the drugs produced by Lanier Evans PharmD ’04 in your local pharmacy. That’s because they include low doses of radioactivity used by hospitals for high-tech scans that help diagnose a variety of medical conditions, from cancer to heart problems.
It’s a career Evans never dreamed of when he first entered Wilkes’ Nesbitt School of Pharmacy in 2000. He learned about being a nuclear pharmacist from Bernard Graham, founding dean of the Nesbitt School, who had once worked in the field himself.
“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Evans, who is manager of a nuclear pharmacy in Atlanta, Ga., for PETNET Solutions, a division of Siemens Medical Solutions Inc. “He introduced this world to me.”
At the time, only two pharmacy schools in the United States offered classes leading to nuclear certification. Because Graham and other faculty tailored classes to help prepare Evans for his field of interest, he didn’t need to invest more time and money after graduation. “When I came out of school, I had all of the requirements for the nuclear medicine certification. I was offered a position with PETNET, the company I’m still with,” Evans says.
Evans’ experience in the pharmacy school reflects its strengths: close relationships with faculty, a personal approach to pharmacy education and – perhaps most importantly – a school that continues to adapt its curriculum to meet the rapidly changing field of pharmacy. As Nesbitt celebrates the 20th anniversary of its first entering class, it continues to evolve.
The Nesbitt School of Pharmacy was first imagined by the late Umid R. Nejib, then dean of Wilkes’ College of Science and Engineering. Nejib saw the need for pharmacy school in northeastern Pennsylvania, advanced the idea at Wilkes and hired Graham from Idaho State University to serve as dean.
The first student pharmacists entered Wilkes in fall 1994, and the professional pharmacy program commenced in fall 1996. It became the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy in 1999 when Geraldine Nesbitt Orr made a gift to the University to name it in honor of her late husband, Abram Nesbitt II. Then as now, two years of pre-pharmacy education lead to guaranteed seating for the four years of study leading to the doctor of pharmacy degree. The program has tracks in pharmacy practice or pharmaceutical sciences.
The introduction of the pharmacy program also was a milestone for the University, becoming the first academic program offering a terminal degree — the highest degree in a field of study. It was a turning point in Wilkes’ academic history, says University President Patrick F. Leahy.
“Our goal is to create one of the great small universities, with all of the programs, activities and opportunities of a major research university in the caring, mentoring environment of a liberal arts college. Nowhere is that goal more fully realized than in the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy,” Leahy says. “Our student pharmacists study in an outstanding program leading to a doctoral degree, mentored by excellent faculty. At the same time, they are able to enjoy a typical college experience, playing varsity sports, leading student government and participating in clubs and organizations.”
A pharmacist’s role is more than filling prescriptions. That’s been Graham’s mantra since he became dean of the school in 1994.
“Pharmacists are in a more value-added role in health care today,” Graham says. “The profession has moved from product-focused to patient-focused. There is a lot of responsibility today for pharmacists regarding medication therapy compliance.” Pharmacists are expected to improve medication safety and prevent medication-related problems, contributing to positive patient health outcomes and reducing hospital admissions.
To support these industry expectations, Nesbitt’s curriculum now focuses on preparing its graduates for the reality of a value-based health-care environment. The school’s integrated curriculum takes the students beyond the classroom and lab, with 30 percent of the program devoted to out-of-classroom externship programs. Shelli Holt Macey, director of experiential programs for pharmacy practice, has been a member of the faculty since the school’s founding, and coordinates opportunities for this critical piece of hands-on experience.
Knowing how to engage with patients and with other clinicians is essential to the growing number of pharmacists who are part of care teams seeing patients on hospital rounds or in outpatient facilities. Graham says that due to a primary care physician shortage, more pharmacists will act as physician extenders in doctors’ offices, working with patients on medication management and compliance. To better prepare for these changing roles, many Nesbitt graduates go on to receive advanced education in specialty areas such as cardiology, oncology, pediatrics and emergency medicine.
The shift in the pharmacist’s role may have started in the early 2000s, when Pennsylvania approved specially trained pharmacists to immunize patients in community locations like a Walgreens. Nesbitt was the first pharmacy school in the state to put the American Pharmacy Association’s Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery Certificate into its curriculum, requiring every student to earn it.
More recently, the school adapted its curriculum in response to the opioid addiction issue. “We are training students to identify people who abuse medications, including opioids,” says Ed Foote, professor and chair, pharmacy practice. “We are teaching our students to identify risk factors and when to make an appropriate intervention. They also are being trained on how to administer the opioid overdose reversal drug Nyloxin/Narcan.”
New diseases also mean pharmacists need more information.
“Infectious disease lectures are continually being updated for topics like the Zika virus,” says Zbigniew Witczak, professor and chair, pharmaceutical sciences. “A new trend in pharma teaching is putting more core science into the curriculum because pharmacists need that understanding,” explains Witczak, who taught an elective course this fall on how marijuana impacts the body.
About 30 percent of Nesbitt students are involved in research. Witczak reminds his students that they cannot separate pharmacy from science. While Nesbitt’s curriculum is built on an interdisciplinary approach involving academic disciplines such as business, nursing and education, Witczak is a proponent for students taking more core science courses. It’s a position that makes sense for a research scientist who recently became president of the International Carbohydrate Organization. He is working to establish an anti-cancer drug derived from carbohydrates. He also is working with four students synthesizing carbohydrates as a potential drug for antibacterial agents and anti-diabetes.
Not all pharmacy research is about creating new drugs. Students and faculty members conduct retrospective medical file reviews and analyze data for health-care systems, processes and trends that pharmacy can impact.
Judith Kristeller, professor of pharmacy practice, and Dana Manning PharmD ’08, associate professor of pharmacy practice, recently received a $150,000 grant from Cardinal Health Foundation to expand a system for improving the transition of care and medication use for patients discharged from Commonwealth Health Network hospitals to home. In addition, Kristeller and Manning have also been awarded a $41,000 grant from the Moses Taylor Foundation that will further support the project, which focuses on improving medication safety, preventing medication-related problems and preventing hospital readmissions. Students will assist with the research.
Nesbitt students also are participating in the Interprofessional Student Hotspotting Learning Collaborative, an annual program that trains interdisciplinary teams of professional students from schools around the country to learn to work with patients who are high users of emergency services in their own communities.
Under the guidance of Jennifer Malinowski associate professor of pharmacy practice and assistant dean of academic affairs, three student pharmacists are part of inter-professional teams studying patients who frequent the emergency departments of Geisinger Health System and Wilkes-Barre General Hospital. The student pharmacists are joined by medical, social work, and physical therapy students to develop solutions on reducing emergency room visits. They are expected to present their ideas to top administrators at the hospital systems aimed at achieving better health at lower cost through a hands-on approach which includes home visits. Team members are training at local institutions such as The Commonwealth Medical College, University of Scranton, and Marywood University.
Lanier Evans PharmD ’04 Focuses on Aiding Diagnoses
Lanier Evans PharmD ’04 almost didn’t become a pharmacist. He had long considered a career in dentistry. A stint working in a community pharmacy and time spent observing his brother juggle the challenges of opening a dental practice convinced him to consider a different career.
After graduating from Augusta State University in his native Georgia with a degree in biology and psychology, he applied to both dental and pharmacy schools. A visit to Wilkes with his mother convinced him, especially after he met Dean Bernie Graham.
“Other places – never would you meet the dean at other places as part of the interview process,” Evans says. “That impressed me and impressed my mom. Actually the decision was already made for me by my mom: She loves Dr. Graham and Dr. (Harvey) Jacobs.” Assured that he would get personal attention, he enrolled in the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy.. During his four years in the school, he not only earned a degree, but also honed in on a career path. Encouraged by Graham, he sought a specialty in nuclear pharmacy.
Twelve years later, he serves as nuclear pharmacy manager for PETNET Solutions, a division of Siemens, Inc. Based in Atlanta, Ga., Evans and his team prepare drugs that include doses of radioactive isotopes. They are used by hospitals and clinics for diagnosing conditions using high-quality imaging tests, such as PET and CT scans.
About five batches of drugs are made each day at his lab. “Then we have to figure out how to get the drug to the patient. Our back is always up against time in this facility.” Because the nuclear drugs can only be used for a limited time before losing their effectiveness, Evans and his crew have to calculate shipping time to a hospital to determine where and when the drugs can be used.
Despite the challenges, Evans is proud of the advances being made by nuclear pharmacists and researchers. “Nuclear is having a major impact on health care,” he states. “In the last four years, two new drugs the FDA has approved are nuclear. One is a new drug for diagnosing Alzheimer’s. The other is a new drug for diagnosing prostate cancer. Alzheimer’s Disease has been around for 100 years, but until now, it could only be officially diagnosed postmortem. With this drug, people can be diagnosed earlier, while they are still alive.”
Thanks to yearly entering class sizes of about 70 students, Nesbitt faculty truly know their students and mentor them for success. The mentoring process starts in the pre-pharmacy first year, when students are placed into a team of 12 that includes a faculty member, an upperclassman and an alumnus as mentors.
Scott Bolesta, PharmD ’00, says his career was impacted by a culture of mentorship that began with the start of the school. Now a Nesbitt associate professor of pharmacy practice, he was the very first Wilkes student to be handed a Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 2000. It was while shadowing several former faculty members that Bolesta decided he wanted to specialize in critical care, with an ultimate goal of teaching. After several critical care residencies, Bolesta returned to Wilkes in 2005 to teach. Today, he spends three days a week with students at his clinical site, Regional Hospital of Scranton. He rounds with the care team in the hospital’s ICU and regular floors.
All pharmacy practice faculty also work in clinical settings. Most faculty members spend 50 percent of their time managing patients in a doctor’s office or clinic, and Nesbitt students then have the opportunity for introductory or advanced practice experiences with those faculty members.
“I shadowed a pharmacist at the Geisinger Care Site Pharmacy in Scranton and found the patient interaction and the role of controlling the patient’s blood thinners intriguing,” says second year pharmacy student Nikko Bonavoglia. That experience helped Bonavoglia decide he wants to be a pharmacist in the ambulatory care setting.
Eli Phillips PharmD ’06 Forges Career Combining Law and Pharmacy
Not many people would choose to follow four years of rigorous study in pharmacy school with another three years of schooling to earn a law degree. Eli Phillips is one of them. When he completed his pharmacy degree at Wilkes, he was admitted to Drexel University’s new law school, where he earned the juris doctor degree in 2010.
When he graduated, he became part of a small number of professionals who combine the fields of pharmacy and law. Among members of the American Society of Pharmacy law, only around half of its members hold dual degrees in both fields. It was all part of a career plan for Phillips, a Wilkes-Barre native and the son of a pharmacist and pharmacy store manager who spent their careers working for the CVS pharmacy organization. His wife Vanessa (Velikis) PharmD ’05 is also a pharmacist with Express Scripts in Dublin, Ohio.
“I always envisioned myself as an executive with one of the large pharmacy chains, so I weighed getting an MBA or a law degree,” says Phillips, who worked for CVS in Philadelphia while attending law school. “I realized that the juris doctor would give me more options.”
Phillips now works for Cardinal Health, a global, healthcare services and products company, providing custom solutions for drug manufacturers as well as hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, pharmacies, physician offices and clinical laboratories. Based in Dublin, Ohio, Phillips is director of quality and regulatory affairs and pharmacy compliance for the company’s specialty businesses.
Phillips oversees a team of 52 who work with six of Cardinal Health’s businesses. They include the Cardinal Healthr epackaging business – which literally repackages larger quantities of drugs into smaller units for sale at pharmacies, and the Cardinal Health specialty drug distribution arm, which delivers expensive drugs or drugs that require special handling, such as refrigeration. He also works with two specialty pharmacies owned by Cardinal Health in Baltimore, Md., and Nashville, Tenn. These specialty pharmacies dispense high-end drugs used to treat rare conditions impacting small numbers of patients. Other areas of responsibility include the company’s private label business, which produces in-store brands such as the LeaderTM brand, used by the Medicine Shoppe chain, and Sonexus, a manufacturer support and third-party logistics provider that handles inventory on behalf of manufacturers.
“My role is to keep the supply chain of pharmaceuticals safe for patients and their families, by making sure that we’re meeting FDA and other federal and state regulatory requirements,” Phillips says. Frequent changes make keeping track of state and federal regulations challenging. “You have to be nimble to keep up,” he says. Technology continues to impact the profession, he explains, citing the introduction of track and trace provisions that will allow companies and regulatory agencies to track every bottle of medication by serial number.
No matter how swiftly regulations change, ensuring quality always means one thing for Phillips and his colleagues. “Keeping patients safe always is the top priority,” he says.
EXPERIENTIAL PROGRAMS PROVIDE DIRECTION
A lot goes on for Nesbitt students outside the classroom. Experiential programs and community service are requirements that help guide career decisions.
Sarah Fillman, fourth-year student, said her internship at Geisinger Health System definitely will impact her career. While at Geisinger, she piloted a program to establish public awareness to promote proper drug disposal. Fillman received the U.S. Public Health Service Award last spring for that work. She is the third Nesbitt student in four years to win the prestigious award
Geisinger is one of a number of health systems offering experiential learning for student pharmacists. Hospitals in nearby Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, as well as others in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, Hershey, Pa., and New York state provide opportunities for Nesbitt students. Pharmacies and drug companies also provide externships.
Third-year student pharmacist James Steigerwalt participated in a summer 2016 internship at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital with 24 other students from pharmacy schools across the nation. “I was a little apprehensive that the students from the larger schools would be more experienced and prepared for the program, but I learned that the Nesbitt School offers the same high-level education and experiences as other schools. In fact, I think our school provides more leadership and research opportunities than many other schools, and we receive more one-on-one attention from our faculty and professors that allows us to excel outside the classroom.”
Opportunities also exist in countries far from the Wyoming Valley. Some students have traveled with Graham to Guatemala on medical mission trips. Others take part in five-week externship opportunities in Uganda and the United Kingdom.
In the Amazon jungle in Peru, Fillman studied pharmacology, physical chemistry and ethnobotany of medicinal plants. “This was an irreplaceable experience that extended far beyond the classroom, broadening my social, environmental and global perspectives,” she says.
Nesbitt School of Pharmacy’s Founding Dean Bernard Graham Sets Tone for Excellence
An appointment to take Bernie Graham’s photo to mark the 20th anniversary of the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy starts with a joke. Getting ready to pose for his portrait as the school’s founding dean, Graham dons a pair of fake glasses, complete with false nose, mustache and eyebrows. Pressing a miniscule button, the mustache and eyebrows flutter up and down.
“How’s that?” Graham asks, his blue eyes twinkling before he doffs the joke eyewear and assumes a serious pose.
Graham’s sense of humor is legendary – just as is his 100 percent dedication to the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy.
When he retires at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year, Graham will be honored for leading a successful pharmacy school that continually evolved since its inception more than two decades ago. The faculty, students and more than 1,000 alumni of the Nesbitt School know they owe a lot to Graham. In spring 2017, faculty, staff, alumni and students will have the opportunity celebrate the Dean’s vast accomplishments as he prepares to retire.
“I cannot say enough about Bernie,” says Harvey Jacobs, associate professor. “He led us through the initial accreditation and through three subsequent evaluations. He has met the changing climate of pharmacy and allowed Wilkes’ School of Pharmacy to remain competitive in the ever-growing market. He recruits and retains highly qualified faculty and staff.”
Graham likes to point out that the currently enrolled pre-student pharmacists were not born when the school started more than 20 years ago. He says Nesbitt is “old” now, but in reality it is a highly regarded, competitive doctoral program thanks to Graham’s leadership.
“I am proud of what Dean Graham has accomplished,” says Nesbitt alumnus and current faculty member Julie Olenak. “The passion we have now is the same as when it was back when the School started. Dean Graham has provided consistent leadership and has stayed true to the School’s mission and vision.”
One example of Graham’s visionary leadership is a commitment to engaging the Nesbitt alumni by recently naming Jon Ference, PharmD ’03, the assistant dean of assessment and alumni affairs. Ference says he will develop a program to engage alumni in mentoring roles, and he plans to form a Dean’s Advisory Council made up of alumni who will provide input on the school, curriculum, industry trends and education and training needs
Current students also value Graham’s experience and vision. Jimmy Steigerwalt, fourth year student, is serving as the president of the Pharmacy Student Senate. “Dean Graham encourages me to find ways to better represent and act upon the needs and concerns of the student body,” says Steigerwalt. “He offers great insight when challenges arise, and I feel I am learning a lot about my leadership potential by having the opportunity to work closely with him.”
EXCEPTIONAL STUDENTS, EXCEPTIONAL ALUMNI
Fillman’s list of college accomplishments and activities is long: cross-country runner, minors in neuroscience and psychology, first-year student mentor, biology teaching assistant, bystander intervention student trainer, a member and leader of numerous clubs and organizations. Her involvement is not unusual. Steigerwalt is the executive president of the Pharmacy Student Senate and a member of Phi Lambda Sigma and Rho Chi Society. He’s a musician who plays in the University’s Civic Band and Chamber Orchestra. Bonavoglia is the policy vice president-elect for the American Pharmacists Association chapter at Wilkes and advocates for Pennsylvania legislation that impacts pharmacists.
The three students reflect the level of engagement for most Nesbitt School students. Upwards of 20 percent of student pharmacists play varsity sports for Wilkes. Six out of the seven past student body presidents were student pharmacists. Many participate in activities like band and dance. More than 95 percent of Nesbitt students participate in professional organizations, and about 40 percent go off site to professional meetings and conferences.
“Nesbitt students excel, and they are motivated, dedicated and highly professional,” says Jon Ference PharmD ’03, associate professor of pharmacy practice and assistant dean of assessment and alumni affairs.
Great students start with a great admissions screening process. Julie Olenak, PharmD ’03, associate professor of pharmacy practice, and assistant dean of student affairs, says Nesbitt takes a “holistic approach” when selecting students that includes assessing leadership and communication skills as well as academic ability.
Those are skills that will remain important as future student pharmacists specialize in areas like public health, medicine/genomics, hospital pharmaceutical management and independent pharmacy ownership – all programs being considered for the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy.
Nesbitt alumni confirm the variety of opportunities in the field. Pharmacy graduates work locally, in places such as community pharmacies. Others have roles where they may have impact on a national level, such as Susan (Pellock) Polifko PharmD ’05 and Stehanie (Victor) Begansky PharmD ’08, who both work for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Others, such as William Eggleston PharmD ’14, literally make national news. Eggleston, a clinical toxicologist at SUNY Upstate Medical Center, was quoted in the May 10, 2016 New York Times about a report he authored detailing new abuses of the over-the-counter anti-diarrheal drug loperamide.
“You will never be bored in pharmacy,” states Olenak. “We will always be learning and teaching something new.”
Sonya Mylet PharmD ’07 and Jessica Ashford Orloski PharmD ’10 Co-Own Crestwood Pharmacy
Sonya Mylet PharmD ’07 and Jessica Ashford Orloski PharmD ’10 didn’t know each other well as students, but their experience as pharmacy students took them both to Crestwood Pharmacy, which they now co-own.
Mylet worked at the pharmacy during high school and throughout her time at Wilkes. She also completed pharmacy rotations that included Indian Health Services in New Mexico, veterinary medicine at Cornell University and Ithaca, and in neo-natal intensive care. She credits the Wilkes pharmacy program’s rotation options for helping her discover what she wanted to do professionally. After graduation she worked for the Medicine Shoppe in Wilkes-Barre and Dallas, Pa.
The year Mylet left Crestwood Pharmacy, Orloski became its student intern. After graduation, she completed a one-year community pharmacy residency, splitting her time between researching, teaching classes at Wilkes and working at the Medicine Shoppe in Dallas, Pa. Jim and Mark Hanlon, brothers who co-owned Crestwood Pharmacy for over 30 years, hired Orloski after her residency. One year later, they hired Mylet and began cutting back their own hours. That’s when Mylet and Orloski approached them about buying the business.
“In the beginning they weren’t ready to retire because they liked to come to work every once in a while,” Orloski says. “Then after about a year or two they decided to sell.”
Mylet and Orloski became owners on January 30, 2015. Owning a pharmacy comes with myriad challenges, from dealing with insurance companies to fixing toilets and shoveling snow. However, the patients remain Mylet and Orloski’s main focus. Owning a community pharmacy gives them the freedom to make every interaction personal. “I like knowing that we’re helping our neighbors, family and friends,” Mylet says.
They also maintain their ties to Wilkes, taking student interns year-round. Orloski still teaches part-time at the University and fills in for professors.
They plan to continue expanding their services and continue to promote Crestwood as a family pharmacy. “I like to bring my kids here, I like to see Jess’s daughter, Eva, here,” Mylet says. “We’re more of a family business. We want our families to be here too.”
By Francisco Tutella MFA’16