Posted by Philip Poole on 2010-05-14

Entering the field of pharmacy can be rewarding and challenging in the midst of national health care reform, graduates of Samford University’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy were told May 14 during spring commencement ceremonies.

The 121 graduates are entering the profession at “a time of important change in the health care system, and that transformation will change our profession,” according to Joshua S. Benner, a pharmacist and research director for the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform at The Brookings Institution. Benner’s wife, Kris, is a 1996 Samford pharmacy graduate.

“I can assure you that it is well-known around the country—and even far away parts of the globe—that Samford’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy graduates are among the brightest, most professional and most patient-focused pharmacists,” Benner noted in his introduction.

Benner’s work at Brookings includes studying the health care system and how it can be improved. Recently enacted health care reform is bringing changes to health care systems, and this year’s graduates will be directly involved in implementing those changes.

“You’re the first class of pharmacy graduates that will deal with health care reform,” Benner said.  “I want you to know that the pharmacists who succeed and thrive in a changing health care system will be those who figure out how to take care of more patients, improve the outcomes that matter to those patients and do it at a lower cost.”

Benner cited three ways that the graduates could improve health care: embrace change, see opportunities and seek accountability.

“By embrace [change], I mean anticipate it and use change to improve health care,” Benner said. “I hope you will help our profession, and the professional organizations who represent pharmacy, embrace change, as well.”

Pharmacists also must see that opportunities to improve health care are all around, he noted. For some, it will be for individual patients. Others will be involved in community health, such as hospitals and chain pharmacy management, while others will improve the health of whole populations as public health officials, educators or researchers.

“We might have a chance to improve health care in one or more of these ways over the course of our careers,” Benner noted, citing the example of the pharmacy school’s namesake, Clayton McWhorter of Nashville, Tenn. “Looking back over his many accomplishments – pharmacist, health care administrator, corporate health care executive, philanthropist—it’s easy to say that he has improved health care.”

Seeking accountability means “stepping up,” Benner said. “Put yourself in position to make the difference at home, in pharmacy, in your church, in your community.

“If you are going to fail, fail big. If you don’t try, you’re never going to make a difference. We can’t improve health care if we are afraid of failing.”

Class President Justin Vesser of Morristown, Tenn., echoed Benner’s remarks in the traditional class farewell.

“Consider today the moment when you become men and women who will reach out and defend the rights of our patients,” Vesser challenged his fellow graduates. “There are people crying out for our help. They need you and me to be innovators and leaders and champions for their well-being.”

In his welcome, Samford President Andrew Westmoreland noted that the university began offering pharmacy degrees in 1927.

Birmingham pastor Sarah Jackson Shelton also spoke at the ceremony, which was the second of six commencements scheduled this spring at Samford.

Video of Justin Vesser's Commencement Remarks 

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 66th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 104th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,683 students from 47 states and 19 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 3rd nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.