Gregory Dewey, Ph.D., was inaugurated as the ninth president of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences on October 15, 2014. Below is a transcript of his inauguration remarks.
I welcome all of you to this festive and historic occasion for Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
I stand before you today honored by your trust, and inspired by your charge. I am grateful to the members of the Board of Trustees for their confidence. I am touched by the greetings from our community- staff, faculty, students, and alumni.
I’d like to thank our special dignitaries that are here today: Congressman Tonko, Assemblyperson McDonald, and Mayor Sheehan.
It is gratifying to see my academic peers here, including representatives from so many area colleges and universities as well as former students of mine, three of whom are here today – Ken Traxler of Bemidji State University, Jamie Cate from UC Berkeley, and Daphne Preuss from the ag biotech company Chromatin via University of Chicago. Thank you too my thesis advisor, mentor, and longtime friend, Doug Turner, for those kind comments. They took me back a lot of years.
I also want to say that it is an honor to share the stage with two former presidents – Jim Gozzo and Ken Miller.
I have attended quite a few inaugurations over the course of my life, and I've always been on that side of the podium. I never really thought too much about them one way or the other. But I have to say, being on this side of the podium ... there's a certain surreal quality about these events. You have all these people from different stages of your life in front of you. You have people from the current stage of your life. And then they put this medallion on you. I sort of feel like Frodo receiving the ring. Except when Frodo received the ring and put it on he became invisible. When I put the medallion on, I become highly visible.
I am indeed honored and humbled to become the 9th president in the distinguished history of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. This College has a long tradition of taking the brightest students from the region, giving them a rigorous scientific education in a close-knit setting, and having those students pursue careers that benefit society. That's a very gratifying history and mission.
One of the things that I noticed when I first came here, which to me was a real indicator of quality, was the College's number of legacy families. It is not uncommon to find three generations of alumni in a family. Husbands and wives, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. And to me that's a strength. If you have these "repeat customers" over multiple generations, that's a sign of quality.
I've already met five legacy families in the short period that I've been here, and I look forward to meeting many more.
The history of these families is intertwined with the history of this institution. It's also the history of independent pharmacy. Many of our students came from the small towns that pepper upstate New York. Small towns where the community pharmacist was a highly respected position - one that was part of the social fabric of the community.
But times change and the profession of pharmacy has changed. There are far fewer independent pharmacies now after years of consolidation and acquisitions. Skills such as dispensing and compounding are drifting away and new skill sets like pharmacogenomics and pharmacoeconomics are going to be required.
These shifts have led our graduates into different roles and a wider range of work settings. Today you will find ACPHS alumni in community pharmacies and hospital pharmacies, but also government agencies, long term care facilities, and academia. More are going into the pharmaceutical industry, working at corporations such as Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Boehringer Ingelheim. Others have taken an entrepreneurial approach, starting small companies in specialty pharmacy, health outcomes research, and health care IT – all of which underscores the great versatility of an ACPHS education. Our students can go out and do just about anything they want with this degree.
Our students today are following the examples of these alumni - they are dedicated to their careers, work extremely hard, they're talented, and ultimately they will pursue jobs that give back to society.
These traits were all on display at the recent ACPHS Health and Wellness Expo, an annual student-led event that provides free health screenings and services for members of the local community. Seeing the students operate in this environment was truly inspirational. They did a superb job and provided a real service to the community. That was very impressive to see.
I must say that I feel a certain kinship with our students. When I was an undergraduate at Carnegie-Mellon University, it was still very much a regional school, and it was very much an engineering school. The curriculum and rigor of that experience really reminds me of the ACPHS experience.
Early in my career I was enthralled with the world of ideas and thought that I would like to be a theoretical chemist. Over time, I became increasingly fascinated by the everyday world of applied problems. I realized that there are many great basic problems hidden in applied research. This is what drew me to the life sciences. Often, life science discovery has direct implications for human health. So in a way, I see translational medicine as the new engineering, applying basic discovery to an application - in this case the application is the noble one of creating new therapies that benefit humankind.
The health care system is under great stress and change right now. We're seeing an imperative for broader access; we're seeing the great opportunities and promise of personalized medicine; we're seeing the disturbing economics of healthcare in an aging population; and we're seeing the roles of providers being reshaped to meet these changing needs.
Today I would like to focus on what I see as one of the most relentless change agents to the health care system - science and technology.
Let’s take a moment to imagine what the electronic health record of the future might look like, maybe 15 years down the road. It will start with your entire genome sequence annotated with your propensities for different diseases and for the effectiveness of different medications. There will be the results of every test or diagnostic that you have ever had performed.
It will have a record of every drug you’ve ever taken and your response to each medication. It will include the results of CAT scans, MRIs, and other ultrasonic images from over the course of your life.
Before long you’ll be able to attach monitors to your cell phone and collect real time blood pressure, heart rates, and other diagnostic data which will be automatically sent to your health care providers and added to your record. Basically, this data set will be the complete history of your body.
So if you think about the health record of the future, who is going to analyze all of this data? Who is going to manage it? Who is going to evaluate it and come up with a therapy management strategy to meet your personalized needs?
What we will need in the future is a person whom I will call a "knowledge manager." Someone who will look at that record and work with interprofessional teams and inform any new therapies that you should have.
Ultimately, the question of who is going to manage this medical record of the future will come back to enterprise of higher education. We, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, must educate the pharmacist and health scientist of the future to fill this void by giving them the skills to operate in this complex, technical world in a caring and compassionate fashion.
I want to turn back the clock and tell a story of a 1984 ACPHS graduate who got a job in a community pharmacy not too far from here. It was a slow Sunday in spring and an older man came in to ask him for a prescription. The doctor had ordered the latest and greatest anti-biotic for the man who was suffering from bronchitis-like symptoms that they feared could lead to pneumonia. The young pharmacist filled the prescription and presented the man with the tab for $52. He handed it to the man, and the old man teared up. He did not have the money to pay for the prescription. The young pharmacist was glad it was a slow day. He got on the phone called the physician and asked if this particular anti-biotic was necessary. Could you substitute erythromycin, he asked, as it would be much cheaper. The physician said he had not really thought about it and said of course erythromycin would work as well. Our ACPHS pharmacist than filled the $52 prescription for less than 5 dollars.
This is a simple story, but when you think about it, it was really a complicated set of interactions. The pharmacist had to act as a mediator between patient and doctor. He needed to understand the economics of the situation. He had to be aware of the therapeutic alternatives. In short, he had to be a knowledge manager.
I would argue that pharmacists have long been, and still are, knowledge managers. So in a sense, that has not changed. What has changed, however, is the scientific sophistication, the technology, and the wealth of data on human biology, not to mention the ever changing dynamics of the health care industry.
In this evolving world, we need pharmacists more than ever. The life sciences industry is changing. The health care industry is changing. And pharmacists are positioned to play central roles. We as educators must seize on this opportunity.
In parallel with that effort is the need to educate the next generation of heath scientists. These are the people who will be creating the content of the future medical record. Drugs, diagnostics, monitors, and therapy management strategies are the domain of health science education.
Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences can meet these health science needs by expanding from our core competencies. I firmly believe that for us to be at the leading edge of health science, we need to be at the leading edge of pharmacy. I’ll say that again - To be at the leading edge of health science, we need to be at the leading edge of pharmacy. And that's what we plan to do.
Our goal then is to anticipate the changes and workforce needs and educate our students accordingly. We need to educate knowledge managers. This is a noble mission because not only are we serving our students by giving them a great education with lots of opportunity, but we are serving the broader community by providing pharmacists and health scientists to meet emerging health care needs.
A few weeks ago we held a college-wide retreat. At one point in the retreat, I conducted a “why” exercise. I asked the community the existential question “Why are we here?” Not the way Carl Sagan would ask the question, "Why are we here?" But why are we, the College, here? The engagement of the community and the resulting discussion were, for me, truly inspirational. One of the emerging themes was we are here because of the little epiphanies that happen on an almost daily basis. Examples of these little epiphanies are:
The faculty member who works with a student as he or she struggles with a difficult concept. And then there is a cognitive flash in the student’s eyes, at that moment you can see that the student “got it” and that concept will be cemented for life.
The researcher working long hours in the lab on a project that seems to being going nowhere. She looks at an experimental readout, sits down at her desk and slowly reflects on the data. She has observed something that no one else has ever observed before. For a brief moment in time, she knows something that no one else in the world knows, and she experiences the thrill of discovery.
The student intern has a consultation with a patient. He realizes that a modest therapeutic adjustment can make a huge difference in the quality of life of that patient. At that moment, not only has he touched another person’s life, he now has the confidence that he can operate as a compassionate professional.
Have you noticed that I have not used the word "faculty" once? These little epiphanies are due to the faculty. They are in the conveyors, or merchants, of these little epiphanies.
And it is these little epiphanies that highlight the wonders of working at ACPHS. They carry us through and reward us. Hearing these accounts makes me proud to be chosen as the 9th president of the College. I look forward to working with the campus community and the broader external community to ensure that we keep these epiphanies coming at ACPHS and continue to serve our students and our community.
It is why I stand honored by your trust and inspired by your charge.