Take it from Ken Witzeling: Merica Hall was once the place to be at the Universityof Wyoming.
He says he receivedthe same individualized education of today's students, plus ...
"They had home ec classes on the secondfloor, and the beauty of that was sometimes the girls would bring over a plate of cookies," the gravelly voiced Witzeling says with a chuckle.
The cookies were simply a bonus. The real treat was the education he received at the UW School of Pharmacy, which hashelped change the face of health care in Wyoming since its humble beginnings inthe basement of the mismatched building east of Old Main.
Founded in 1946 and fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, the UW school has a great history of student achievement—Robert Abramowitz, Ardis Meier, Scott Silber, Kevin Tripp, Linda Wells and the list of remarkable graduates goes on—and an equally impressive track record of faculty research in basic and applied research in the pharmaceutical sciences, pharmacy practice, health-care systems, drug-delivery systems and treatment of disease.
The school, now housed in the north wing of the Health Sciences Center, offers a six-year Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) as its sole entry-level professional degree. Each class is limited to 52 students to ensure the most personalized attention.
“The mission of the University of Wyoming School of Pharmacy is to develop pharmacy practitioners, conduct research, participate in scholarly activity and provide service to improve medication use and overall health in frontier, rural and urban communities,” says Dean John Vandel. “From the humble beginnings of our school until now, we’ve never wavered from that mission.”
It all began in the bowels of Merica Hall with 23 students, including a fresh-faced kid from Cheyenne named Ted Hoy who wanted to run his own pharmacy. Five years after his graduation, in 1955, Hoy realized his dream and opened a drug store inside his father’s restaurant.
Little did he know that his community pharmacy would withstand the test of time and become a fixture on Pershing Boulevard. Fifty-seven years after Hoy filled his first prescription, Hoy’s Drug continues to serve the people of Laramie County.
While he admits the first few years were a struggle, Hoy says his UW education guaranteed success.
“I thought, at the time, that we probably got as fine an education in Laramie as anybody in the country,” says Hoy, who sold his store in 2002—only after he found buyers whom he believed would uphold his commitment to quality. “I don’t think we take a back seat to anybody at the present, either.”
The UW education works because of the university’s dedication to its promise of small classes, personalized attention and high-quality instructors, says Witzeling, a member of the second graduating class in 1951.
After beginning college at another UW—the University of Wisconsin—Witzeling fled to Wyoming’s high plains to escape late-night labs and classes of nearly 200 students.
“I don’t think I could have gotten a better education anywhere else,” says Witzeling, who spent all but 12 months of his nearly 40-year professional career serving the people of Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin. “The individualized attention, that was really something, and the classes were small. You knew everybody.”
His voice fills with pride and he adds, “Wyoming can be proud of its School of Pharmacy. I know I am.”
The star of UW’s women’s basketball team is preparing for her final season on the hardwood. But her work at the UW School of Pharmacy is just beginning.
You wouldn’t be a Cowgirl if UW didn’t have a pharmacy school, would you? I had a lot of other options to play basketball. I looked at Oregon State, Drake, the University of Denver, a few other schools. It just came down to Wyoming had everything I wanted. They not only had a pharmacy school, where I could be done in six years, or seven years in my case, but they had a high-ranking pharmacy school. I liked the interactions I had with the people, even before I decided to come here. Everyone was great. … Everyone has been so understanding of my schedule as an athlete. That was one thing I was always worried about, starting pharmacy school and playing basketball. Neither of them really allow for a lenient schedule.
Joe Legerski has a reputation for being a player’s coach. How has he helped facilitate this process? Coach was another reason why I came here. For me, it’s always been academics first. I know that my future will lie with something outside of basketball. Coach also agrees with that philosophy. His big thing is family and academics come first, and he’s kept his word from Day One about that. He’s worked really well with me and all of my teachers to schedule around everything. If I have to miss practice for a lab or a test, he doesn’t have an issue with that. … Everyone has just been so helpful. In other places, I’m not sure I could play basketball and go to pharmacy school. That’s why I’m happy to be here in Wyoming.
Where do you hope your UW degree takes you in life? I’m not really sure where I want to go. I know I want to get my degree. From there, I’m just excited to see where the degree will take me. I’m open to so many opportunities. I’ll go anywhere. I’m just really excited to experience life outside of basketball. There’s all kinds of opportunities in pharmacy, whether it’s retail, research and development or clinical, and I know UW is going to prepare me for my best future.
The associate dean of operations and academic affairs at the UW School of Pharmacy plays an important role in fostering the education of the next generation of pharmacists.
What does your job entail? My position is an interesting position, because I am basically full-time faculty plus I’m an administrator. I’m still doing the teaching and the research in social and administrative pharmacy, which is the bridge between the basic sciences and the clinical sciences, and then I’m also trying to figure out all of the operations pieces and academic affairs pieces, policy and procedures.
What’s your favorite part of the job? The students. They keep me growing, and they challenge me every day. They are refreshing.
How do you perceive UW’s standing in the pharmacy profession, and how does this school prepare its graduates for success? The UW School of Pharmacy is well known by employers as having high-quality graduates, and that starts with the high quality of the applicants and the students we admit to the program. They’re the cream of the college crop. We get to pick and choose. We start out with the best and work to develop them into becoming even better. … What we do here at UW is we try to give our students the tools to be able to practice in any setting, whether it’s the challenges of the rural frontier or an urban practice. And when they go out, we hope they have the tools to adapt to any of those settings, regardless of the geography or the patient population.”
This UW graduate, a pharmacist at Safeway in Laramie, plans to use his education to help the people of his native Cameroon.
You came to UW to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry but switched to pharmacy. Why? I was in physical organic chemistry, or photochemistry, and the instruments, the equipment we used in the laboratory, I knew if I got that degree and decided to move back home in a couple of years that I wouldn’t be able to use my knowledge to its full potential. I don’t think we have that equipment back home. With pharmacy, you don’t need much else besides your knowledge and the drugs. I just figured pharmacy would be more useful back home than chemistry.
How do you believe your educational experience at UW prepared you for success in the professional workplace? When you get to work with other people and talk to them, that’s when you can really tell the difference between what you’ve learned at UW and what they’ve learned from their schools. The UW program is really good. One of the strong points of the program is that it’s very clinical, so you can adapt to every pharmacy sector, whether it’s retail, hospital, nuclear pharmacy, a consortium, whatever it is. … It’s really prepared me to do my job.
How do you view the role of a pharmacist? The thing about pharmacy is that we all have to carve our niche. You can decide to be a pharmacist that will just fill prescriptions by the doctor’s orders, or you could go a little further and question the doctors, or go a little further and look at profiles and say, “Why is this person not on this medication when he has this condition?” What I learned in school and what I’ve always practiced is to question doctors. There are things we know as pharmacists that they don’t know. … Every time I fill a prescription for a patient, I go through their profile. I want to know why they’re getting something that’s more expensive when there’s a generic in the same class that would cost them $5 or $2. Why are they paying $80? I just don’t dispense [drugs]. I try to save money, try to improve outcomes, try to get to know my patients. That makes a huge difference when you show that interest in them, when you check on their families. When they walk up to the register, you say, “How are you doing today, John?” and just pull their prescription off the shelf without asking their last name. It builds that trust, builds that rapport. Before you know it, they’ll say, “Let’s go fishing, let’s go hunting.”