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Welcome to the Future – VCU School of Pharmacy

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Text reads Welcome to the Future in gold letters






Text reads Welcome to the Future in dark gray letters






The VCU School of Pharmacy logo including circular seal

Robb named 2019 Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow

May 22, 2019
For immediate release
Contact: Kristen Zimmerman, (804) 628-5074

Kyle G. Robb has been named the American College of Clinical Pharmacy-American Society of Health-System Pharmacists-Virginia Commonwealth University Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow for 2019-20.

A portrait of Kyle Robb, wearing a tie and smiling into the camera.
Kyle Robb

Pharmacists selected for the position have the opportunity to gain real-world insight into health care policy analysis and development via immersion in the congressional environment. Fellows are actively mentored in legislative evaluation, policy development, research and writing while integrating practical experience with theory.

Robb currently works as a pharmacy supervisor with the University of Virginia Health System. He holds a Pharm.D. from the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina and bachelor’s degrees in history and chemistry from North Carolina State University.  

He credits his work at U.Va.’s hospital with his interest in public policy. That experience “put me into contact with many patients with needs that far outweighed their personal resources,” he said.

“There are still many barriers to care facing large portions of the general population and each problem requires an individualized solution,” Robb added. “I’ve seen how barriers in perception can prevent people from seeking care that they did not realize they had access to. I’ve seen well-meaning policies implemented in manners that do not best serve all patients and I have been tasked with finding ways to help the excluded patients. … There are many problems still in need of solutions that collectively represent massive opportunity to better manage healthcare resources and thereby improve people’s lives.”

After completing the fellowship Robb plans to work in health policy as part of government or through academic research.

The Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program will begin in July. Robb will spend one week at the Brookings Institution and three weeks each with ACCP’s and ASHP’s government affairs offices. Finally, he will embark on his placement within a congressional office or on congressional committee staff in Washington, D.C.

The fellowship program, now directed by VCU School of Pharmacy associate professor Kristin Zimmerman, was founded 12 years ago under the leadership of professor Gary R. Matzke.

For more about the ACCP-ASHP-VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program, click here or contact director Kristin Zimmerman at

Archambault Scholarship recipient Hess on public health: “You just feel so welcome at VCU”

A woman stands in front of a laboratory.
Danielle Hess, photographed in front of an observation window of the school’s compounding lab, recently received a prestigious national award for students pursuing careers in public health: “I knew I needed to put public health into pharmacy during my career.”

Danielle Hess, a third-year Pharm.D. student at VCU School of Pharmacy, received the prestigious George Archambault Scholarship at APhA’s annual meeting in Seattle earlier this year.  The scholarship is awarded to a student who demonstrates leadership and professional experiences that align with the United States Public Health Service core values of service to the underserved, integrity, leadership and academics.

We spoke to her about her passion for public health and how the School of Pharmacy has helped her pursue it.

What got you interested in public health?

I grew up on a Christmas tree farm and my parents and grandparents always said, “You’ve got to work really hard for what you want in life and nothing’s going to be handed to you.”

Then on every mission trip I went on, I saw a lot of people working really hard, but still not getting what they need to survive or to be truly healthy. These people are doing all they can; they just don’t have the resources to get where they need to be. I really loved supplying those resources and going into a community and trying to empower them rather than just, “Here’s a bunch of free stuff, good luck.”

When we went to Honduras with HOMBRE [the Humanitarian Outreach Medical Brigade Relief Effort, a nonprofit organization at VCU] after my first year, we took water purification systems. In years past, they had given them out and said, this is what you can purify your water with. And when they came back the next year, they were being used as flower pots. That’s when they realized something was missing.

When I went, they did it again, and I said, “How about we go to the homes and ask them, can you show me how to use this right now?” We realized a lot of them still didn’t know how. So we spent the rest of that day going around and making sure they all knew how to use the system. That was more empowering them and making sure they could use it in their life.

Talk about your formal work in public health.

I earned a global health certificate in undergrad, and with the mission trips and the research that I did in Thailand through that, I saw a lot of what public health can do in different communities, especially in underserved ones. With that certificate, I had an opportunity to apply to the WHO in Switzerland. I completed an internship at the World Health Organization before starting pharmacy school. It was amazing to see what different people are doing all across the world.

After that internship, I knew I needed to put public health into pharmacy during my career. Then, the U.S. Public Health Service came up my P1 year through a recommendation by Dr. Peron [faculty member Emily Peron, Pharm.D.]. I reached out to a pharmacist who had worked at the Gallup Indian Medical Center, and we spoke for about 45 minutes about it and she encouraged me to apply to their externship.

Through working at the Indian Health Service, I saw that what they’re doing in the community is an awesome way to put public health into pharmacy. You’re seeing patients all day, but then you are going into the community and helping them with things that supplement their medicines. Because if they don’t have the things they need at home, medicines aren’t solving everything.

It gives you the opportunity to see someone’s life as a whole. If they come into clinic you might say, “OK, let’s increase your metformin and let’s get your diabetes under control.” Whereas in public health, we are looking at all aspects of their life, making sure that they have food security, making sure that their life as a whole is optimal to make sure their health can be as well. That’s what I like about it. You’re seeing the bigger picture of people’s lives and then the population as a whole.

How has the school helped you pursue your passion of public health?

At the beginning, it’s intimidating because you don’t exactly know where to go. I just paid attention to what all my professors were doing. That’s why Dr. Peron was the first one I reached out to after I heard that she goes on HOMBRE trips, she’s interested in global health, and she’s out in the community doing things. I contacted her and asked, “Can we sit down and talk about how you got to where you are now?”

She shared many global and public health ideas with me and then it led to reaching out to Dean O [Associate Dean K.C. Ogbonna]. I heard about his work with the Richmond Health and Wellness program and was encouraged to go talk to him. He showed me how he helped set up that whole program and much of the behind the scenes work. It’s amazing how willing everyone is to help you find your path.

– they truly dedicate themselves to students.

Anybody else in particular you want to shout out to?

Dr. [Abigale] Matulewicz wrote my letter of recommendation for the scholarship, and she has been very instrumental in helping me improve my leadership skills through APhA-ASP throughout my time at VCU.

Because ambulatory care has great opportunities for incorporating public health into pharmacy, I reached out to Dr. [Evan] Sisson and Dr. [Dave] Dixon this past year. They took me on as an elective student for both semesters, where I was able to see patients at the Center for Healthy Hearts every week and complete a research project. With their mentorship, I was able to witness many ways a pharmacist can go above and beyond to make sure patients are receiving optimal care, including finding access for those uninsured and making sure that patients are able to afford the medications they are prescribed.

VCU creates Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences

Four people stand in a row, smiling at the camera.
The center’s two directors, Sandro da Rocha, Ph.D., and Thomas D. Roper, Ph.D., pose with Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering, and Joseph T. DiPiro, Pharm.D., dean of the School of Pharmacy.
By Kendra Gerlach
VCU College of Engineering
(804) 827-0631

Virginia Commonwealth University has opened a Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences. The new interdisciplinary center, one of few in the country and the only one of its kind in Virginia, is a collaboration between the university’s School of Pharmacy and College of Engineering. It will focus on researching, creating and patenting drug products and pharmaceutical processes that can address future health needs of society.

Pharmaceutical engineering and sciences is a field that covers all aspects of drug product design — from drug discovery and preclinical studies to manufacturing, formulation and packaging — and spans various areas including chemical, mechanical and biomedical engineering as well as pharmaceutical sciences, chemistry and materials science. The field is a key component of the $1.2 trillion pharmaceutical industry.

“This new center brings together not only two schools but many areas of expertise across VCU,” said Joseph T. DiPiro, Pharm.D., dean of the School of Pharmacy and Archie O. McCalley Chair. “Working with researchers and industry partners, VCU’s Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences will discover and deliver health products that improve and save lives.”

“VCU’s Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences will help address the growing need for a new generation of researchers trained in cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary science and engineering who see the need for a team-based approach to solving challenges related to the design and manufacturing of pharmaceutical products,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. Dean of the College of Engineering.

The center has four main goals:

  • Facilitate multidisciplinary research and educational and entrepreneurial efforts in the field.
  • Promote a state-of-the-art infrastructure core for the development of pharmaceutical products.
  • Partner with and provide service to industrial and other stakeholders.
  • Serve the community in the region, the commonwealth of Virginia and nationwide.

“The Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences will affirm VCU’s place among the nation’s hubs for entrepreneurial research and drug delivery, development and manufacturing,” said Thomas D. Roper, Ph.D., center co-director and a professor of chemical and life science engineering in the College of Engineering.

“By creating a center in which our scholars and experts in various areas can work collaboratively to develop innovative treatments, VCU is putting into action its principles of improving health and investing in research that can make a difference in people’s lives,” said Sandro R.P. da Rocha, Ph.D., co-director of the center and a professor in the Department of Pharmaceutics in the School of Pharmacy.

Both the School of Pharmacy and the College of Engineering have successful records in research. The College of Engineering recorded $18.2 million in sponsored research in 2018; last year the college received $2.2 million from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to support its Pharmacy on Demand initiative. The School of Pharmacy is No. 15 in the nation for research funding from the National Institutes of Health and brought in $9.85 million in research funding last year.

Leading the way: Alumni include at least 7 (and counting!) mayors

A man in a red shirt stands in front of pharmacy shelves.
“It can be a challenge at times,” says Willie Lamar (B.S. ‘83), mayor of Madison, Virginia, for 18 years. (Credit: Lisa Provence/C-Ville Weekly)
By Cynthia McMullen

Serving the community seems to come as naturally to pharmacists as breathing. As consummate multitaskers, pharmacy students and working pharmacists consistently give of themselves and their time in a variety of settings. So it makes sense that many of them assume leadership roles.

At least seven living School of Pharmacy alumni now serve or have served as mayors, having been elected by their councils or constituencies as a municipality’s highest-ranking official. Their experiences have differed, depending upon the locale, but they share a common inspiration and aspiration: the desire to make a difference.

Willie Lamar (B.S. ’83) grew up in a family where people were paramount. His father, Jim Lamar (B.S. ’54), was a pharmacist and active with the Boy Scouts, and his mother was a founding member of the local rescue squad. In fact, his parents did emergency dispatching through the drugstore before the existence of 911 centers.

“The issue with small towns is having enough residents to run them,” notes Lamar. “It can be a challenge at times.” But he’s up to the challenge, having been mayor of tiny Madison, Virginia — population 250 — for 18 years.

C.M. Mitchell (B.S. ’71) has served as mayor of Galax, Virginia — population 6,600 — since 1992. He always had “sort of a feel for public service,” he says. “It’s about taking care of people, particularly in a regional environment.”

Making sure you have enough funds to keep things running is paramount, Mitchell says. But one of his proudest moments came when the city of Galax formed a strong working relationship with the two counties of which it is part. “Working together, we can advance much quicker than any of the three entities working by themselves.”

Wanting to “actually help somebody and see the benefits from it” inspired Glen Abernathy (B.S. ’71), mayor of 7,700-population South Boston, Virginia, from 1996 to 2004. “I particularly enjoyed trying to find answers to the problems,” he says.

Under his leadership, Abernathy notes, South Boston was the first city in Virginia to petition the state to become a town again. The results included a wider tax base and much sounder economy.

Nancy McFarlane (B.S. ’80) is serving her fourth two-year term as mayor of the city of Raleigh, North Carolina. (She recently announced that she will not run for a fifth term.)

A woman in green jacket smiles.

Running for mayor “wasn’t anything I set out to do,” she says. When her children started school she discovered how much their education depended upon decisions made by county commissioners and, with encouragement from a previous mayor, ended up running for a district city council seat. In time that led to the top position in the 470,000-population metropolis and research hub.

Although McFarlane wasn’t deeply involved in pharmacy school organizations, working with — and for — her fellow citizens “does kind of tie in to that public service piece as to why you become a pharmacist,” she says.

As for Chris Jones (B.S. ’85), the urge to serve led from Suffolk, Virginia, where he served as mayor from 1992 to 1996, to the Virginia House of Delegates, where he now represents residents of the 76th District.

Howard O. Wachsmann (B.S. ’63) served as mayor for the town of Stony Creek in Sussex County, Virginia, for 20 years. He served on the town council for a total of 30 years, from 1966 to 1996.

“I moved back home April 1, 1964, to work in a rural pharmacy,” Wachsmann writes in an email. In 1966 he purchased Stony Creek Pharmacy and ran for town council as a write-in. Two years later he became mayor and served as judge in mayor’s court for about four years (later, Sussex County handled the town’s court cases). “In 1996 I moved out of town so I didn’t run again,” adds Wachsmann, who has a pharmacist son and daughter as well as a grandson currently enrolled in VCU School of Pharmacy. “I enjoyed the rural life and serving the community.”

Curtis H. Smith (B.S. ’75, Pharm.D. ’01) has been in public service in Kilmarnock, Virginia, for years including a term as mayor, 10 terms as vice mayor, and chairman of the planning commission. “I continue to be proud of my alma mater,” he writes.

A man smiles in front of a blue backdrop. He wears a dark jacket and white shirt with tie.

Galax mayor Mitchell notes that practicing pharmacy has given him a good rapport with people. One of his former co-workers, a member of city council at the time, gave him a feel for how local government worked. Ultimately, he says, “I like doing it, and 99.5 percent of the time it’s very fulfilling.” He adds wryly, “You earn your money on the point-5 percent that’s left!”

Abernathy of South Boston cites as his favorite part of being mayor “just [being able to provide] an overall response to the needs of the community.”

For Madison mayor Lamar, it comes down to “working with people and caring about people”: the very definition of community and public service, whether in a pharmacy or city hall.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story ran in our annual print magazine. After publication we heard from Smith and Wachsmann; they have been included in this updated version. It remains very possible that there are other living School of Pharmacy alumni of whom we are not aware who have served as or who now are serving as mayors. If so, please let us know! Email

Medicinal Chemistry ranked as top VCU department for inventions


Two men face the camera, shaking hands. One holds a plaque.
Martin Safo is the No. 1 inventor at the top-ranked department at VCU for invention disclosures. In this file photo he poses with VCU President Michael Rao, left, at the 2014 VCU invention awards.
Greg Weatherford
Director of Communications
VCU School of Pharmacy

The No. 1 department at VCU for invention disclosures in 2018 was the School of Pharmacy’s Department of Medicinal Chemistry, according to the latest annual report from VCU’s Innovation Gateway.

With 12 faculty members, the Medicinal Chemistry Department reported 14 inventions last year. That figure comprised more than 10% of the  university’s overall 134 invention disclosures for 2018.

“This is the latest recognition of the groundbreaking work going on at the School of Pharmacy,” said Joseph T. DiPiro, dean of the School of Pharmacy and Archie O. McCalley chair. “Under the leadership of Dr. Umesh Desai, our Medicinal Chemistry Department continues to demonstrate the importance of innovation. Pharmacy has always been about innovation and discovery, and these creative researchers are finding new ways to treat diseases.”

With five inventions credited, professor Martin Safo, Ph.D., was the department’s No. 1 for disclosures. His research has focused on finding ways to improve the health of people with sickle-cell disease and those who have difficulty absorbing vitamin B6 because of a hereditary disorder that can cause severe disabilities in children.

“Our work has the potential to improve the lives of millions around the world,” Safo said. “I’m proud to play a role in moving health science forward at the School of Pharmacy and at VCU.”

Also highlighted in the annual report is Shijun Zhang, Ph.D., an associate professor in medicinal chemistry, for his work designing a compound that can reduce inflammation in nerve tissues, a key symptom and risk factor of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Four VCU departments ranked second for invention disclosures with 12 each in 2018: chemistry, electrical/computer engineering, computer engineering, chemical/life science engineering and mechanical/nuclear engineering.

When tallied by school or college, VCU School of Medicine reported the most invention disclosures with 53, followed by the VCU College of Engineering with 43, the College of Humanities & Sciences with 24, and the School of Pharmacy with 15. 

Innovation Gateway, part of VCU’s Office of Research and Innovation, releases its report on invention, commercialization and research each year. See the full 2018 report:

Auxiliary Label: Meat juice, the cure-all that built a Richmond fortune

A small bottle labeled "meat juice" and a drawing of a cow.
Each 2-ounce bottle of Valentine’s Meat Juice was made from 4 pounds of beef “exclusive of fat.”
Victoria Hammond
Auxiliary Label Staff

Richmond, home of VCU, is known for its excellent pharmacy and medical programs. But the city holds another legacy in health care: as the birthplace of a product that once was famous around the world as a source of health and nutrition.

That would be Valentine’s Meat Juice.

Meat juice was created in 1870 when Richmond resident Anna Marie Gray Valentine fell extremely ill, possibly with a form of stomach cancer. Her husband, businessman Mann S. Valentine Jr., prepared a drink from meat and water and gave it to her. After drinking this “meat-juice,” she felt better.

News spread quickly of her improvement. People wanted the juice, and the Valentine Meat Juice Company was born. Though Anna Marie Valentine died from her condition three years later, the public remained convinced the product had helped.

“It didn’t save her but it was a way to get her eating and gaining nutrition,” observed MckenZie Walker, volunteer programs manager for the Valentine Museum. The nonprofit Richmond history museum was founded by the Valentine family and has an extensive collection of meat-juice artifacts.

Valentine’s Meat Juice was advertised as a way to prevent nausea and promote digestion. Each 2-ounce bottle of meat juice contained the juice from 4 pounds of meat “exclusive of fat.” Patients were instructed to drink the juice “frequently and in small quantities … in preference to large draughts administered at longer periods of time.” The juice was said to be most effective when taken an hour before a meal.

The manufacturers also suggested using meat juice as an enema or to prevent seasickness. President Garfield used meat juice in his recovery from an attempted assassination. Many testimonials to use meat juice in medicinal practice can be found including this from J.B. McCaw, M.D., a well-known Virginia physician and namesake of VCU’s medical library who died in 1906: “Having used the ‘Meat Juice’ in many obstinate and almost hopeless cases of disease, I can confidently recommend it to the favorable consideration of the medical profession. … I am more and persuaded that we have gained by it a valuable dietetic.”

“It was a cure-all for everything, so whatever you were sick with you could buy meat juice for,” Walker said.

Valentine’s Meat Juice was popular not only in the United States but also in Europe. Valentine received awards at the 1876 International Exposition in Philadelphia, 1878 Paris Exposition, and the 1881 International Medical and Sanitary Exposition in London for his creation.

The product is similar to some being sold today as ways to improve health, Walker added. Bone broth, for example, is a popular tonic sold in health-food stores.

This product was available until 1986 when the company closed its factory doors after years of declining sales. The introduction of widely available over-the-counter vitamin supplements probably played a role in that, according to the Valentine Museum’s web page on meat juice.

The public’s taste changed too, Walker added: “Most people that I talk to say that just the name sounds repulsive to them.”

Today there are Richmond advocates who want to bring Valentine’s Meat Juice back to market. Why not? It made a fortune once before. Maybe it can again.


Auxiliary Label is a student-created blog examining pharmacy life, education and research at the VCU School of Pharmacy from a student perspective. It is overseen by Greg Weatherford, the school’s director of communications. Contact him here.

Sources include:

  • Southern Planter and Farmer (1867-1881); Oct 1881; 42, 10; American Periodicals pg. 612
  • Valentine, M. (1873). A Brief History of the Production of Valentine’s Meat Juice Together With Testimonials of the Medical Profession. Richmond, VA: B.W. Gillis Steam Pressors.
  • Taylor, W H
 American Journal of Pharmacy (1835-1907); Jul 1873; American Periodicals pg. 325



Pharmacy practice center awarded $1.3M for 5-year project to treat diabetes and hypertension

In future phases, the project will expand to other areas of Virginia and include monitoring and treatment of high blood pressure. (Photo credit)
Greg Weatherford
Director of Communications
VCU School of Pharmacy, (804) 828-6470

The VCU School of Pharmacy’s Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation, in collaboration with VCU Health, is launching a project to help people across Virginia prevent diabetes and heart disease.

The planned project, supported by a projected $1.3 million over five years from the Virginia Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will use telemedicine, remote monitoring, one-on-one coaching and partnerships with community partners to improve participants’ health.

In the first phase, VCU School of Pharmacy faculty and students will work with participants with prediabetes at the upcoming VCU HealthHub at 25th in Richmond’s East End alongside dietitians and dietetic interns with VCU Health.

“Rather than requiring participants to travel to seek preventive and education services, this program will be in the community’s backyard,” said Dave Dixon, Pharm.D., director of the Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation at the VCU School of Pharmacy.

Participants in this first phase will learn strategies to help prevent type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle change in patients with prediabetes is an effective way to prevent progression to type 2 diabetes and subsequent serious health problems. The approximately 50 participants in the first year will be referred by community partners and health clinics.

“This kind of project demonstrates how we aspire to reshape care to better meet the needs of communities,” said Alan Dow, M.D., assistant vice president, interprofessional education and collaborative care, with the VCU Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences. “It is innovative in how practitioners collaborate, how we train future practitioners, and how we use technology, all inspired by the needs of the people we serve.”

Prediabetes affects approximately 81 million adults in the U.S. and can lead to type 2 diabetes. In the U.S., diabetes has an estimated cost of $327 billion per year, according to the American Diabetes Association.

In future phases, the project will expand to other areas of Virginia and include monitoring and treatment of hypertension, or high blood pressure. Hypertension can damage organs and lead to death. It costs about $46 billion each year in health care services, medications and missed days of work in the U.S., according to the CDC.

The hypertension phase of the project will work with community pharmacies and the VCU Office of Telemedicine and use Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure devices to monitor and coach high-risk participants. VCU is exploring a collaboration with Virginia Premier in developing and implementing a community pharmacy-based high blood pressure monitoring program.

“This grant provides an opportunity to build a model that is outside of the traditional health care setting and deploy the resources available through VCU’s School of Pharmacy to support the growing number of individuals with diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease,” said Sheryl Garland, chief of health impact, VCU Health System. “In collaboration with community partners, this program will introduce innovative prevention and wellness strategies that are critical to helping individuals live longer and manage their conditions better.”

“Traditionally health care has been organized around brick and mortar,” said Vimal Mishra, M.D., VCU Health’s medical director for telehealth. “With virtual health care models and technologies such as remote patient monitoring, virtual visits and the use of mobile apps we have the opportunity to redesign care around the patient and their needs.”

The grant is officially known as CDC-RFA-DP18-1817: Innovative State and Local Public Health Strategies to Prevent and Manage Diabetes and Heart Disease and Stroke.

The VCU project will be led by Dave Dixon, Pharm.D., as principal investigator; Teresa Salgado, Ph.D., co-principal investigator; and Sharon Gatewood, Pharm.D., and Evan Sisson, Pharm.D., as co-investigators.

Highlights of the program include:

  • Diabetes prevention education: Participants will take part in a 16-week program from the CDC that is shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 50 percent. The classes will be led by School of Pharmacy faculty and dietitians from the VCU Health Dietetic Internship.
  • E-referral pathway: The program will partner with community pharmacies, health clinics and other community organizations to create referral mechanisms using electronic health records to identify participants and monitor their progress.
  • Remote blood pressure monitoring: Participants will use Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure devices, provided by the VCU Office of Telemedicine, that can send data to local community pharmacies where pharmacists will monitor and coach participants on medication adherence and lifestyle changes to improve blood pressure control.  
  • Provider training: In collaboration with the Virginia Pharmacists Association, School of Pharmacy faculty will provide training using the Pharmacy-Based Cardiovascular Disease Risk Management course created by the American Pharmacists Association.

Links in story:

VCU HealthHub at 25th:

CDC training program:

American Pharmacists Association cardiovascular disease course:


How to Be an Entrepreneur, Lesson 3: Go Where You are Needed

Woman stands in an empty office. She is framed in a window.
Pharmacist Shantelle Brown stands in the space where her in-construction pharmacy will soon open.
By Nicole Carter
Auxiliary Label Staff

Hope Pharmacy is a new independent pharmacy inside a new independent grocery store, The Market @25th, that is projected to open March 28 in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond.

Shantelle Brown, Pharm.D., is Hope’s owner and operator. The 2003 graduate of Howard University College of Pharmacy believes she will be the first African-American female to open an independent pharmacy in Richmond. Auxiliary Label had the opportunity to speak with her and tour her pharmacy while it was in the final stages of construction.

Auxiliary Label: How did you decide on the name Hope Pharmacy?

Shantelle Brown: Well, I didn’t want to do last name. I think hope is so pivotal. It’s something that we all have or hope to have. I think it’s just encouragement. [The pharmacy’s logo shows the word with a second P superimposed over the first.] This stands for “helping others physically prosper every day.”

The Hope Pharmacy counter under construction.
The Hope Pharmacy entrance under construction.

What’s your pharmacy’s mission?

I would definitely say education. I think that’s what’s missing with the disparities that happen with the East End. And my prayer is that I’ll be able to bridge the gap between the residents that have been here for years and the new residents that are now coming into Church Hill. I had the chance to go to a town hall meeting and the longstanding residents expressed their concern that they were being pushed out, that maybe all the change is not for them. So, hopefully, with working with the grocery store and their promotion of good, healthy foods with affordable fruits and vegetables, and me being a mouthpiece for African-Americans in this area, I can relay the message to the residents that you’re wanted in this community. We want everyone to come together.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far?

Financing has been my challenge. For me, it was important not only to do this as the first African-American female [pharmacy owner] in Richmond but to be able to do it with just myself and my family. I told my husband that we need to be able to do this on our own. Thankfully, I closed on my loan at the beginning of January with Virginia Community Capital. They saw the vision and they do a lot of work with the community. Right now, for banks to give money to startups is unheard of.

What are you going to use your startup loan for?

I did a term loan for the store buildout and a line of credit for my inventory*. With any pharmacy, you’re going to be responsible to pay that bill from the drug distributor at least once or twice a month. It’s quite often. But you don’t get reimbursed from the insurance company for 45-60 days so you need to have a line of credit in order to bridge that gap.

I have a term loan for my build out and a line of credit for my inventory.

How did you figure out what kind of drug inventory your store needs?

We haven’t pinpointed exactly what we are going to start off with yet, but I’ve spoken with the old district manager for Ukrop’s [Super Markets Inc., a longtime grocery chain in Richmond that closed in 2010] and I spoke to a couple of independent owners. I learned that there are quite a few brands that skyrocket your inventory numbers, but you don’t really need to start with all those brands. Most of the time I end up sending them back. So, of course, there are exceptions. For example, you have to pay brand for your insulins. Most people say the norm for starting inventory is $60,000, but you should be able to almost cut that in half by utilizing more generics.

What advice do you have for future pharmacist entrepreneurs?

Do your research. Get the feedback from the residents. You want to be in an area where you’re needed.

Auxiliary Label is a student-created blog examining pharmacy life, education and research at the VCU School of Pharmacy from a student perspective. It is overseen by Greg Weatherford, the school’s director of communications. Contact him here.

[*This sentence has been updated and clarified.]

P-3 David Doan inaugurates an inspiring new Aux Label series

David Doan stands at a rostrum with the V-C-U logo.
David Doan speaks to alumni of the VCU School of Pharmacy at the Jefferson Hotel during the school’s annual Galen Society banquet.
By Christian Ruiz
Auxiliary Label Staff

From the author: Each person in my class is remarkable in his or her own way, especially to have come this far in pharmacy school. However, a dozen of them have inspired me in one way or another, and I wanted to share their secrets to success because I believe that we all can, and should, grow immensely as people and as pharmacists in this school.

So for each article in this series titled “OTC Advice” I will interview and write about a classmate who has inspired me over the past three years, whether it was inside the classroom, outside the classroom, or both. I consider their advice OTC — “over the counter” — since no prescription is necessary; just open a web browser and spend a few minutes reading.

I learned so much from these classmates over the years. I hope you enjoy what I learned. — Christian Ruiz

David Doan, a third-year pharmacy student at the VCU School of Pharmacy, has amazed me in numerous ways. He has served as class president for his first two years in pharmacy school and is now the student body president, and he has served in other leadership positions in various student organizations. Above all, he consistently embodies professionalism and friendliness, always offering a smile, a laugh, or a refreshing conversation even on our roughest days.

If I could summarize his following advice in a few words, it would be this: We all want to see each other succeed, whether it be through learning through mentors, learning a variety of different skills, or learning how to solve problems.

So say “yes” to each challenge that the faculty, staff and your own classmates offer as learning opportunities. You might be impressed with how much you can grow as a person and as a pharmacist.

Auxiliary Label: Why did you apply to pharmacy school?

David Doan: I chose to apply to pharmacy school because I had great respect for one of my mentors when I was working at the NIH [National Institutes of Health] who happened to be a pharmacist. I saw his job and what he was doing, and I wanted to do that. He had a Pharm.D. and an MBA and he ran a research lab at the NIH, and it’s something that I could see myself doing.

What did you like most about what he did at the lab?

I liked the variety of things that were going on at the lab, whether it be support for clinical trials, his own research in prostate cancer, or learning leadership techniques. It really taught me a lot.

What is your favorite thing about pharmacy school so far?

I just love to learn. Every single day you walk through these doors, you can learn so many different things, connect with so many different people, and build relationships. The school allows you to do that, and you walk out of these doors when you finish as a better person and a great pharmacist.

If you could be any faculty or staff member in the school, who would you be and why?

Dr. Gravatt. I think she’s amazing. She’s so well-rounded, she provides all of her students with the knowledge and skills, and she shares her experiences us and tries to make us better. She challenges us. She’s a great mentor. And she genuinely wants to see all of us succeed.

How do you think you have grown as a student and/or a pharmacist over the last three years?

Outside of the clinical aspects — learning pharmacy itself — it’s really about the ability to interact with people and with patients. It’s more about the soft skills. Being a pharmacist is more than just medications – you’re a professional problem-solver. Whether it be logistics, medication issues, or clinical situations, you’re the go-to for being that problem solver, and I think that’s what I’ve learned most.

If you could give your P1 self the most important advice or lesson you have learned so far in pharmacy school, what would it be and why?

Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges. Be someone that always says yes. The more opportunities that you seek out and go for, the more doors will open. And cherish the time you have here; it’s short, and after this, it’s real life. So, take advantage of it, and take advantage of the opportunities that the School gives you because they provide so many.

And don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Try to grow as much as possible. The more that you grow here, the better pharmacist you’ll be and the better care you’ll be able to provide your future patients.

Auxiliary Label is a student-created blog examining pharmacy life, education and research at the VCU School of Pharmacy from a student perspective. It is overseen by Greg Weatherford, the school’s director of communications. Contact him here.

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