Category: Alumni news

Introducing our Heritage Trail video series on pharmacy history

As part of the school’s Heritage Trail project documenting the history of pharmacy in Virginia and across the world, we have worked with Ost Haus, a creative agency and video production company in Richmond, and alumnus Al Schalow (B.S./Pharm ’61) to present a series of short videos.

Each of the four videos summarizes an aspect of pharmacy history. They are narrated by Schalow and feature illustrations created originally for National Geographic.

We are proud to share these educational videos. They’re a perfect way to introduce people to the profession’s long and illustrious history, and would be ideal for young students.

(Above) Part 1: Potions and Poisons
In part 1, Schalow travels to prehistoric times and ancient lands to explore the ways plant medicines and other remedies were discovered and refined.

Part 2: Ancient Pharmacy
In this video Schalow discusses ancient civilizations around the world that discovered and refined medications that still are familiar in pharmacy today.

Part 3: Frauds vs. Folk Wisdom
Schalow examines the wild days of U.S. pharmacy that brought us patent medicines and dangerous quacks — and how the nation responded.

Part 4: Helpful and Hazardous
In “Helpful and Hazardous,” Schalow focuses on the double-edged sword of drugs that can save and enrich lives — and also endanger individuals and society.

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

How to Be an Entrepreneur, Lesson 2: Find a niche

A rooftop sign reads "fountain."
A sign on the roof of Midlothian Apothecary. The restaurant inside the pharmacy acts much like advertising, says pharmacist Janet Darby. Photo by Nicole Carter.
By Nicole Carter
Auxiliary Label Staff

Midlothian Apothecary is an independent pharmacy in Chesterfield County, just outside Richmond, that has survived under the same management since 1990. Auxiliary Label’s Nicole Carter met with Janet Darby, a VCU School of Pharmacy alumna, to talk about the business of independent pharmacy today.

Auxiliary Label: What is your biggest revenue source?

Darby: It’s not drugs any more. With generics, I almost have to give them away for free. Brand-name drugs are still profitable. We do vaccinations and they pay well on those. Also, home health-care products such as durable medical equipment, but we don’t bill Medicare for that. Medicare has a designated location for patients to buy DME [durable medical equipment] but a lot of people don’t want to go through the hassle so we just sell it straight to the customer.

What do you think has the biggest growth potential out of all the services you offer?

We’re starting to do point-of-care testing for flu, strep throat, cholesterol and blood glucose. We can charge for that. The problem is, though, in Virginia I can’t write a prescription if I find out somebody is positive for flu. … We are setting up a collaborative practice agreement so that after I get the test result, I can call the doctor and then get the prescription.

How do you bill for the point-of-care testing?

It’s out of pocket. In Virginia we can’t bill insurance unless we are the one who writes the prescription. Last year, with the big flu epidemic, no doctor could see anyone [because they were too busy] — people were having the flu and couldn’t get any medications. The doctors are looking for help too because they can’t see everybody.

How is having the fountain in the pharmacy an asset to the business?

It’s always busy. It’s kind of like paying for advertising: A lot of people come in here [for the fountain] not knowing about the pharmacy, and some people come in not knowing about the fountain. So it brings in people and kind of keeps things hopping all the time. You can’t say it’s a moneymaker because you have to sell a lot of food to make money. But we see the money that goes toward the fountain as money we would have otherwise spent on advertising.

What is the biggest threat to independent pharmacy?

PBMs, the processors for insurance companies, right now they are ruining pharmacy. They mandate how much we get paid. And the insurance company pays them one thing and then they pay us something else. Now for generics they are using the average for the year. So if they think they paid us too much for the first six months of the year then they take money back. But they don’t give us a reason. It’s really crooked.

Competition isn’t a threat because I offer something entirely different. We provide individualized care that other pharmacies just don’t.

What is the biggest opportunity for independent pharmacy?

There is a niche. You got to want to do customer service. You’ve got to want to do a lot more than just fill a prescription. And you’ve got to answer question upon question. There are people out there that want that individual service.

What advice do you have for pharmacy students?

You’ve got to want to work. And you’ve got to want to work hard. If you can’t multitask you can’t be a pharmacist. And you’ve got to want to work long hours. It’s a great profession if you like people. You’ve just got to know what niche you want and what you want to do.

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.

Healthcare policy fellow to work in office of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown

Photo of the U S Capitol
VCU School of Pharmacy alumna Tina Chhabra will spend a year working in Congress. (Photo credit)
By Greg Weatherford
Director of Communications, VCU School of Pharmacy

ACCP-ASHP-VCU Healthcare Policy Fellow Tina Chhabra has begun her congressional placement within the office of Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

In her work with the office, which will run through August 2019, Chhabra (VCU Pharm.D. ‘16)  will support Senator Brown’s health team in all healthcare-related matters such as Medicare, Medicaid, drug development, mental health, the opioid crisis, the Affordable Care Act, and more.

Pharmacists selected as American College of Clinical Pharmacy-American Society of Health-System Pharmacists-Virginia Commonwealth University Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellows 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.

“There is no typical day,” Chhabra said of her role in Congress so far. Her work includes writing policy memos, participating in health-care briefings and meeting with constituents. “Constituents are the best educators,” Chhabra added. “I really enjoy meeting with the people of Ohio and learning from their experiences and expertise.”

Prior to her placement with Senator Brown’s office, and as part of the fellowship, Chhabra spent one week at the Brookings Institution and three weeks each with ACCP’s and ASHP’s government affairs offices.

The fellowship program, now directed by VCU School of Pharmacy associate professor Kristin Zimmerman, Pharm.D., was founded in 2007 under the leadership of professor Gary R. Matzke, Pharm.D.

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

VCU School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 graduate programs in pharmacy in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.

Alumna named ACCP-ASHP-VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow

Tina Chhabra has been named the American College of Clinical Pharmacy-American Society of Health-System Pharmacists-Virginia Commonwealth University Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow for 2018-19.

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.

Chhabra currently is a fellow at Biogen Inc., a biotech firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in regulatory sciences and safety and benefit-risk management through the MCPHS University Biopharmaceutical Industry Fellowship Program. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University and a doctorate in pharmacy, also from VCU.

The daughter of a physician in the Washington, D.C., area, Chhabra spent her youth among “the incessant bleeping” of hospitals and doctors’ offices, she recalls. While working at her first job, as a receptionist in her father’s office, she says, “I learned that healthcare was equally scientific and political, and that access to a doctor was very important — but not everyone could afford it.”

This connection between politics and healthcare continued. Chhabra competed in science fairs and excelled in her math and sciences courses while also volunteering as secretary general of her high school’s model United Nations. Later, her fellowship with Biogen gave her an opportunity to do a rotation with the company’s policy and government-affairs teams, which led to participating in Capitol Hill hearings on such topics as the opioid crisis and drug pricing.

Chhabra pursued the ACCP-ASHP-VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy fellowship as a result of these experiences. “I am passionate about health care policy and have a profound desire to make a difference,” she says. “I believe health care is a right, but I also realize the solutions to the problems that consume our system are nuanced and complex. … [And] I strongly believe that there are not enough scientists and clinicians making the decisions that shape healthcare.”

Amee D. Mistry, associate professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University, called Chhabra a standout among her peers for her energy, communications skills and determination to make a difference: “She has proven, on a number of occasions, to be an extremely focused, dedicated, and passionate pharmacist.”

The policies on which Chhabra would like to focus revolve around access to health care, medication accessibility and health disparities. She says she intends to use her fellowship as a route to working on policy as part of the federal Food and Drug Administration or Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program will begin July 9. Chhabra will spend one week at the Brookings Institution and three weeks each with ACCP’s and ASHP’s government affairs offices. Finally, she will embark on her placement within a congressional office or on congressional committee staff in Washington through August 2019.

The fellowship program, now directed by VCU School of Pharmacy associate professor Kristin Zimmerman, was founded 11 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

VCU School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 graduate programs in pharmacy in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.

As SOP writing coach, Kier rejuvenates 60-year teaching/research career

By Lisa Crutchfield

Lemont B. Kier

After six decades as researcher and teacher, Lemont “Monty” Kier, retired medicinal chemistry professor and professor emeritus in VCU School of Pharmacy, is certainly entitled to some down-time.

But he’s not going to take it –- not at least for another decade or so, he says. The octogenarian still is passionate about his research and his latest way to help students:  as a writing coach. “Being able to communicate is so important,” Kier says.

Continue reading “As SOP writing coach, Kier rejuvenates 60-year teaching/research career”

Congressional fellow heads for Capitol Hill


Today, Nilofar “Nellie” Jafari begins a new and important phase in her tenure as 2017-18 ACCP/ASHP/VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow. She has been selected to work in the office of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). Murphy is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) as well as the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee.

“I am very pleased to be placed in Sen. Murphy’s office,” Jafari said. “Being in an office committed to health care policy was important to me. He is at the forefront of health care issues, including mental health and addiction. I feel that my background as a pharmacist will bring value to the office, especially in the realm of the opioid epidemic.”

Jafari holds a multidisciplinary master of public health degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a doctor of pharmacy degree from VCU School of Pharmacy.


Kristin Zimmerman, director of the Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program, says Congressional office responsibilities have typically included researching and writing briefs on health care issues and assisting with policy analyses and drafting memoranda, floor speeches and questions for panelists at Congressional hearings. Other job duties have included planning, organizing and contributing to the senator or representative’s office policy and management issues for the year.

“Congressional placement is the most integral part of the fellow experience,” Zimmerman said. “We are delighted that Nellie will be working in such a key office for health care issues.”

Before joining Murphy’s office, Jafari’s preparation included a week at the Brookings Institute. There, she had the opportunity to witness the legislative process first-hand, observe floor action in the House and Senate and hear from Congress and expert speakers on national policy issues. “It was a great foundation for my congressional office placement,” she said.

Jafari also worked with the American College of Clinical Pharmacy and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists for three weeks. “Being integrated into their government relations teams allowed me to digest the health care issues impacting pharmacy,” she said. “I wrote several issue briefs for the organizations and heard from members how certain regulations are affecting them.

“It was fascinating for me to see the dynamics between an association and congressional offices as well as the politics, advocacy and persistence it takes to see an agenda pushed forward.”

Jafari will work on Capitol Hill through next August.

Learn more about Jafari and the fellowship, or follow the program on Facebook.

CPPI awards its first Feasibility Grants as part of new program

Recipients of CPPI’s inaugural Feasibility Grants are (from left) Amy Pakyz, John Bucheit, Benjamin Van Tassell and Lauren Caldas.

Four VCU School of Pharmacy faculty members have been named the first recipients in the Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation’s Feasibility Grant Program. They are associate professor Amy Pakyz, assistant professor John Bucheit, associate professor Benjamin Van Tassell and assistant professor Lauren Caldas, all faculty within the school’s Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science.

“We’re excited to announce the recipients of our inaugural program,” said CCPI director and associate professor Dave Dixon. “The CPPI Feasibility Grant Program provides funds for projects aimed at developing and evaluating new roles and opportunities for pharmacists.”

Pakyz and Bucheit will use their grant to evaluate the feasibility of implementing an Antibiotic Stewardship Program in the CrossOver Healthcare Ministry Clinic.

The objective of Van Tassell and Caldas’ project will be to incentivize pharmacist-monitored patient blood pressure readings as a novel approach to improve adherence.

Assistant professor Teresa Salgado, CCPI assistant director for research, said each proposal was assessed by two independent reviewers who followed rigorous, standardized evaluation criteria to determine the proposals of highest merit.

Each project will be awarded $15,000, she said, to be used over the course of one to two years.

Eligible projects had to align with at least one of the center’s goals as part of its mission to improve pharmacy practice and patient outcomes:

  • Develop, implement and evaluate innovative and sustainable care models that incorporate pharmacists to optimize medication-related patient health outcomes.
  • Foster collaboration among clinicians and outcomes researchers to determine pharmacist impact on health and economic outcomes.
  • Equip pharmacists with the knowledge, skills and abilities to engage in interprofessional, collaborative care.
  • Partner with clinicians, health systems, policymakers and payers to advance medication and health policies at the local, state and national levels.

“We look forward to hearing about the results of these two studies in the months to come,” said Dixon. Pakyz, Bucheit, Van Tassell and Caldas will present their findings as part of the CPPI’s monthly seminar series.

Learn more about the Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation, and follow the CPPI on Twitter.

Service awards to recognize SOP employees on 190 years

If fall is approaching, it must be time to recognize VCU employees for their service to the university! This year, 18 School of Pharmacy employees will be honored for a total of 190 years of service to VCU.

The 20-year employees – Don Brophy, Chris Garland, Mike Hindle, Michelle Rhea and Martin Safo — represent all three of the school’s academic departments as well as the dean’s office.

The 46th annual Service Awards Ceremony and Reception — for VCU faculty and staff with five to 55 years of service (in five-year increments) — will take place 3-5 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Siegel Center, 1200 W. Broad St.

Invitations will be mailed to honorees in late August. For those who wish to attend the ceremony, shuttles will be available from the MCV Campus to the Siegel Center and back (details to come).

Following are the 2017 School of Pharmacy honorees. Some have not been at the school the entire time but previously worked for other university units. Congratulations to all!

Wanda Coffey,
Dean’s Office/Office of Experiential Education
Dave Dixon, Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science
Adam Hawkridge, Department of Pharmaceutics
Sha-Kim Jackson, Dean’s Office/Office of Research and Graduate Studies
MaryPeace McRae, Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science
Marjorie Nesmith, Dean’s Office/Business Office
K.C. Ogbonna, Dean’s Office/Office of Admissions and Student Services
Emily Peron, Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science
LaQuanda Ruben, Dean’s Office/Office of Admissions and Student Services

Chanda Diep,
Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science
Evan Sisson, Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science
Janet Wooten, Dean’s Office

Laura Morgan,
Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science

Don Brophy, Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science
Chris Garland, Dean’s Office/Phartech
Mike Hindle, Department of Pharmarceutics
Michelle Rhea, Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science
Martin Safo, Department of Medicinal Chemistry

As an aside … 18 employees universitywide will be recognized this year for an impressive 45 years of service each, including William Dewey (Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, School of Medicine), with whom many School of Pharmacy faculty have worked over the years.

‘Handshake meeting’ kicks off SOP collaboration with FDA

Among the VCU School of Pharmacy faculty working to establish an MOU with the FDA are (from left) David Holdford, Aron Lichtman, Patty Slattum, Doug Sweet and Jürgen Venitz.

Leadership from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office of Clinical Pharmacology and VCU School of Pharmacy recently met to discuss opportunities for development of scientific collaborations, outreach and educational initiatives, and intellectual partnerships.

This meeting was subsequent to a memorandum of understanding into which FDA and the SOP entered last August. School of Pharmacy professor Patty Slattum (B.S.‘85, Pharm.D./Ph.D.‘92) was a key player in presenting SOP research and collaborative interests.

Multiple collaborations were discussed, including an initial opportunity to develop a model for Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (rotations) and internships at FDA OCP for students enrolled in Pharm.D. and graduate programs. Future opportunities — such as research; access to facilities for educational and scientific endeavors; and participation in joint fellowship programs, advisory boards, personnel exchanges and joint meetings for education and research — also were discussed.

The school has had longstanding relationships on various levels with the FDA, which also employs several of its alumni, including Joseph Grillo (Pharm.D.’93), associate director for labeling and health communication, and Kellie Schoolar Reynolds (Pharm.D.’92), deputy director of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology IV, both with FDA OCP.

In addition, Slattum serves on the FDA’s Advisory Committee for Pharmaceutical Science and Clinical Pharmacology, and pharmaceutics professor Jürgen Venitz is in his fourth year as chairman of the FDA Pharmacy Compounding Advisory Committee. A former resident, Mongthuong Tran, now works as a pharmacist with the OCP. And School of Pharmacy alumnus Omar Hassan (Pharm.D. ’17) recently completed an ORISE (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education) summer fellowship at the FDA and has returned to VCU to begin graduate work.

Representing the School of Pharmacy during initial talks with the FDA, in addition to Slattum and Venitz, were professor David Holdford, Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Sciences; professor Aron Lichtman, associate dean for research and graduate studies; and professor Doug Sweet, chairman of the Department of Pharmaceutics. Presenting on behalf of specific research areas at the handshake meeting were Slattum, pharmacotherapy; Sweet, pharmaceutics; and Holdford, pharmacoeconomics and health outcomes.

“We are among a strong group of universities that have MOUs with the FDA,” notes Slattum. Among them are University of Maryland, University of Florida, Virginia Tech, Howard University, Duke University, Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgetown University.

The Office of Clinical Pharmacology is a multidisciplinary organization of more than 200 clinical pharmacologists, pharmacists, researchers, project managers and administrative staff with diverse skills within the FDA’s Office of Translational Sciences. OCP is an integral part of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research’s review, policy and regulatory science core that bridges pharmacology and clinical medicine to improve public health. Its mission is to accomplish that goal by building and translating knowledge of drug response into patient-centered regulatory decisions of the highest quality. 

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