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By Greg Weatherford
VCU School of Pharmacy

The star of the Netflix documentary series “The Pharmacist” has strong advice for the VCU School of Pharmacy Class of ’21: Work with your patients and watch for danger.

In his keynote speech to the graduating pharmacy students, Dan Schneider, the Louisiana pharmacist whose quest to solve the murder of his son led to authorities bringing down an illegal “pill mill,” recounted examples of doctors who had irresponsibly prescribed drugs. “I attended funerals of those who had overdosed,” he said.

He urged the new pharmacists in his audience to safeguard the lives of patients by counseling them and, if necessary, challenging, reporting or denying unsafe prescriptions.

He recalled one attorney who challenged his right to seek revocation of a doctor’s license. Schneider said he retorted, “What’s a life worth?”

Building on the platform brought him by the successful 2020 Netflix show, Schneider has devoted his career to fighting the opioid epidemic. His work led the Class of ’21 to request him as keynote speaker.

Along with 130 graduating Pharm.D. and graduate students and more than 750 family, friends and faculty, Schneider attended the 2021 commencement ceremony virtually.

The Class of 2021 had elected to hold their graduation online. The virtual audience joined via side-by-side video feeds: one showing faculty and presenters, the other showing a mosaic of student attendees in regalia. A chat window allowed supporters to share thoughts with their graduating students; online participants wrote more than 300 comments of congratulations and encouragement during the 90-minute ceremony.

It was a fitting end to the class’s pharmacy school experience. The COVID-19 pandemic forced a sharp rethinking of how the School of Pharmacy operated — from virtual classrooms to online meetings and revamped precepting experiences.

“We know that pharmacy school is always rigorous and demanding, and this past year even more so,” Archie O. McCalley Chair and School of Pharmacy Dean Joe DiPiro told the students and attendees. “You and your faculty members have had to be supremely adaptable and creative this past year to make it all work.

“You are COVID veterans,” the dean continued. “You will draw on this experience throughout your career.”

As Megan Watson, Class of ’21 president, told the virtual crowd of almost 900: “We were given this environment where we could grow and learn from our successes and our failures … even if that meant a little contention or many more meetings than someone planned on having that day.”

“We have had triumphs and disappointments,” Watson added. “And we have had incredible support both in and outside the school. But at the end of the day, we had to buckle down and complete the task before us. We had to decide that this is what we wanted for ourselves, for our families, and for our futures. We have now earned that Pharm.D. behind our name, and nothing and no one can take that away.”

Watson, who also received the school’s prestigious Dean’s Award, will be a community pharmacist with Kroger Pharmacy in Richmond.

(See full list of awards below.)

After each student had virtually received their diplomas and the school’s awards announced, 2021 Teacher of the Year and Preceptor of the Year Krista Donohoe, Pharm.D., led the new pharmacists in a ritual reading of the Oath of a Pharmacist.

Then, with a burst of online applause, the Class of 2021 entered the profession.


Social media celebrations

Many graduates celebrated with friends and family as well as on social media. In an Instagram post, student Taylor Reynolds tosses her mortarboard in the air. [View Image]

In an Instagram post, student Jewlyus Grigsby poses in his cap and gown. [View Image]

And friends, faculty and pharmacy colleagues shared the good news online.


Awards

A full list of awards from the Class of 2021 commencement ceremony.

Student Awards

  • Patient Care Award: Veronica Taylor
  • Patient Counseling Award: Courtney Butterfass
  • Pharmacy Communication Award: Jewlyus Grigsby
  • Research Excellence Award: Adwoa Nyame
  • Academic Excellence Award: Lisa Baker, Natalie L. Montgomery, Kristina M. Soriano, Lindsey K.Thompson
  • Emswiller Award for Leadership Achievement: Tatianna Pollak
  • Outstanding Leadership Award: Dan Buth
  • Community Practice Achievement Award: Cyrus Moore
  • Technology Excellence Award: Kevin Lan
  • Distinguished Service Award: Aarezo Riaz
  • Award for Academic Excellence in Medicinal Chemistry: Lindsey Thompson
  • Award for Academic Excellence in Pharmacotherapy: Tabbitha Stockman
  • Award for Academic Excellence in Pharmacoeconomics and Health Outcomes: Melissa Barker
  • Award for Academic Excellence in Pharmaceutics: Kristina Soriano
  • Award for Excellence in the Promotion of Pharmacy: Courtney Wallace
  • Community Engagement Excellence Award:Jiro Morales
  • Award for Excellence in Public Health: Camila de Jesus Pinero
  • Interprofessional Practice and Collaborative Care Excellence Award: Carley Sadler
  • Excellence in Advocacy and Health Policy Award
  • The Excellence in Advocacy and Health Policy Award: Julianne Hayag
  • Professionalism Award: Ashley Brooks
  • Excellence in Geriatric Pharmacy Award: Katie Jones
  • Lilly Achievement Award (sponsored by Lilly): Christian Avila
  • The Excellence In Pharmacy Award (sponsored by Viatris Institute of Pharmacy): Miranda R. Norvell
  • The Dean’s Award (sponsored by The Rosenthal Foundation in honor of former Dean John Ruggerio): Megan Watson

Outstanding Preceptors of the Year:

  • James Black, Bradley Free Clinic, Roanoke, Virginia
  • Shantelle Brown, Pharm.D., Hope Pharmacy, Richmond, Virginia
  • Marjan Daneshmand, Pharm.D., Virginia Hospital Center, Arlington, Virginia
  • Marissa Furman, Pharm.D., HCA Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center, Fredericksburg, Virginia
  • Robert Hewitt, Pharm.D., Kroger Pharmacy #554, Suffolk, Virginia
  • Donney John, Pharm.D., NOVA Scripts Center, Inc, Falls Church, Virginia
  • Sandy Mullen, Pharm.D., VCU Health System, Richmond, Virginia
  • Emily Peron, Pharm.D., VCU School of Pharmacy, Richmond, Virginia
  • David Volles, Pharm.D., UVA Health System, Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Kristen Wilson, Pharm.D., Sentara Proprium Pharmacy Clinical Care Center, Chesapeake, Virginia
  • Amy Yarchich, Rx Partnership, Richmond, Virginia

Outstanding Partners:

  • Wegmans Pharmacy Store #130 Henrico, Virginia
    • Jennifer Hoover, Pharm.D.
    • Jordan Baird, Pharm.D.
  • Wegmans Pharmacy Store #129 Midlothian, Virginia
    • Jeffrey Mallon, Pharm.D.
    • Kara Mitchell, Pharm.D.
  • HCA LewisGale Medical Center Salem, VVirginiaA
    • Trey Akridge, Pharm.D.
    • Emily Beckner, Pharm.D.
    • Lauren Tolley, Pharm.D.
    • Anne Kidd, Pharm.D.

Service Award: Michael Clarke, Pharm.D., VCU SoP Inova Campus, Fairfax, Virginia

Preceptor of the Year: Krista Donohoe, Pharm.D.

Teacher of the Year: Krista Donohoe, Pharm.D.

Teacher of the Year Nominees:

  • P1 Class, Phil Gerk, Pharm.D.
  • P2 Class, Ben Van Tassell, Pharm.D.
  • P3 Class, Krista Donohoe, Pharm.D.
  • Graduate Program: Hiro Sakagami, Ph.D.
Categories Faculty news, Graduate students, Pharmacy profession, Student news
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