Appalachian College of Pharmacy: Tackling Economic and Health Care Challenges

by Dr. Lu Ellsworth

This is Part 3, covering the impact of The Appalachian College of Pharmacy on our region. You can also read parts 1 and 2, discussing UVA-Wise and the Appalachian School of Law.

ACP Garden Hall

As the Appalachian School of Law began to recover from the wrenching shooting tragedy on its campus on January 16, 2002, coalfield leaders discussed ways to further diversify the economy and retain residents. Although they considered other approaches, they returned to higher education. Frank Kilgore, one of these leaders, observed, “Our philosophy is that these jobs do not walk off to Mexico. We want jobs with stability and staying power, and we found through the Appalachian School of Law that higher education offers that.”

Another characteristic of Southwest Virginia also troubled the leaders – the chronic shortage of health professionals that contributed to the region being medically underserved. Seven of the eleven counties, including Buchanan, had shortages of health professionals, and all eleven counties were medically underserved according to the Virginia Center for Primary Care and Rural Health. Leaders also identified issues such as the need for preventative health care, pain management services, and medications.

To address the economic and health care issues, the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors asked Frank Kilgore, the Assistant County Attorney who had helped initiate the Appalachian School of Law, to lead the efforts to establish another graduate school in Buchanan County. Kilgore brought together a diverse group of volunteers to develop a proposal, including Dr. Lu Ellsworth, founding president of the Appalachian School of Law, and Roger Powers, businessman and Grundy Town Council member, both of whom were centrally involved in starting the law school. The group decided by early July 2003 to establish the University of Appalachia. 

ACP's First Graduate
ACP’s First Graduate

The planners envisioned an institution providing “high quality educational programs from the undergraduate level to the professional and doctoral levels within an Appalachian and regional service context.” Discussions then centered on the feasibility of establishing an array of academic programs, including health-related, business, and leadership, and developing collaborative programs with regional public and independent higher education institutions.

By the middle of August, the Board of Trustees decided to focus on pharmacy. The Buchanan County Board of Supervisors appropriated $100,000 to the Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority to “aid in the initial development of the school of pharmacy.”

The Trustees ultimately decided to focus solely on pharmacy education and to change the school’s name to the University of Appalachia College of Pharmacy. Instead of building near the law school as initially proposed, the Board agreed to lease space on the first floor of the Buchanan Information Park to incubate the fledgling pharmacy college. Both the media and grant making agencies’ responses to the proposal were favorable. The Bristol Herald Courier reported “They’re dreaming big again in Grundy.” 

To reduce matriculation time and enhance the value of clinical experiences, the Trustees approved an innovative three-year community-based program with the students enrolled year-round. Following instruction in the basic sciences, students would undergo a rigorous clinical sequence where “health professionals with partnering institutions closely supervise them through a set of experiential clinical rotations.” In addition to the formal courses, students would be required to complete 150 hours of approved community service activities before they could graduate.

Kilgore stated, “Our three-year doctor of pharmacy program is accelerated and runs year-round. That allows our students to graduate and enter the work force a year earlier than graduates of a traditional four-year pharmacy program but with equivalent classroom hours, clinical training, professional degree, and credentials.” Once the Trustees made these strategic decisions, school administrators began to recruit a dean, build a staff and faculty, develop a library, design marketing materials including a website, establish clinical sites in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Virginia, and recruit students. 

Chair Kilgore and other trustees diligently drafted grant proposals and solicited potential donors. Dr. Susan L. Mayhew, who had extensive experience in pharmacy and nutritional education, served as consultant for the school and soon thereafter was appointed Associate Dean for Experiential Education. In November, the McGlothlin Foundation awarded a $300,000 general grant, and through the persistent efforts of U.S. Senator George Allen, the U.S. Congress appropriated $500,000 in federal funding for lab equipment.

School officials then began discussions with the County Board of Supervisors about acquiring the former Garden Middle School and adjacent property in Oakwood to develop a campus. The Supervisors agreed to donate the property and transferred the deed to the University in March, 2005. By early summer, just two years after agreeing to pursue this concept, the school was ready to open. The State Council for Higher Education of Virginia certified that the University could offer a three-year Doctor of Pharmacy program, and the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education granted the institution pre-candidate accreditation status.

The payoff for the months of hard work came in August 15, 2005, when the University welcomed the 70-plus members of the charter class. The competition for the seats had been keen with hundreds of student applicants. The initial class came from 17 states, with the majority hailing from the Appalachian Regional Commission’s footprint. An equal number of men and women whose average age was 25 were in the class. 

The faculty bestowed upon each student a white coat, which traditionally marked the beginning preparation for the pharmacy profession. The faculty and staff encouraged the students to develop student organizations and participate in curricular activities. The Student Government Association began to form, as did groups affiliated with state and national organizations. 

ACP Students at Kids' Diabetes Camp
ACP Students at Kids’ Diabetes Camp

While classes continued at Buchanan Information Park, renovations of the former Garden Middle School were underway. This historic building, which was originally constructed in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, was now being remodeled to create state of the art offices, laboratories, and a huge lecture and community event hall in the old “Garden Green Dragon” gym. This approach anticipated that the institution would operate both campuses when the school enrolled two classes – first-year students would be on the Oakwood Campus and second-year at the Information Park.

While advances in the physical facilities at Garden took place, the Trustees decided to make several administrative changes, and a national search for a new president and dean commenced. In late October, the trustees appointed one of their own members, Michael McGlothlin, to serve as President, and Professor Lanny Foss as Acting Dean. By early January, the Trustees hired the Honorable Terry Kilgore, an attorney in Gate City and senior member of the Virginia House of Delegates, for the newly-created position of Dean of Institutional Advancement. Kilgore was to guide the external relations and fundraising activities for the University, serve as a part-time lecturer in Pharmacy Law, and teach aspiring health care professionals the art of leadership and the legislative process.

The national search concluded in the summer when the Trustees appointed Dr. Sue Cantrell as President and Dean. Dr. Cantrell had gained regional and national recognition as Director of the Wise County Health Department and the Lenowisco Health District for the Virginia Department of Health since 1991. Her initiatives increased access to basic health care and addressed health disparities of Appalachian residents. As an experienced administrator, Dean Cantrell brought organizational structure to the institution, and her reputation as a practicing physician and pharmacist added instant credibility to the upstart program as she worked with faculty, preceptors, and students. 

While the faculty and students made the two campus arrangements function, the 18 mile distance between the two campuses hindered fully integrating operations and restricted communication between faculty and students. The trustees and administrators, especially Chairman Kilgore, Michael McGlothlin, and Dean Terry Kilgore, aggressively sought funding to build a second academic building on the Oakwood campus in order to consolidate the campuses. As the funding campaign unfolded, under Dean Cantrell’s steady leadership the school took another step toward accreditation when the ACPE voted in June of 2006 to advance the institution to Candidate Status.

Pharmaceutics Professor Dr. Masuda helping a student in one of ACP’s state-of-the-art labs.
Pharmaceutics Professor Dr. Masuda helping a student in one of ACP’s state-of-the-art labs.

During the 2007-2008 academic year, the school achieved three important milestones in its development. A team of students (Emily Blackwell, David Elefterion, Jackie Hackney, and Larissa Taylor) won a statewide competition among pharmacy schools at the annual meeting of the Virginia Pharmacists Association. Coached by faculty members Dr. Holly Hurley and Dr. Sarah Melton, the team won “The Student Self-Care Championship.” When construction of the second academic building started in January of 2008 on the Oakwood campus, prospective students realized that school would soon have a consolidated state-of-the-art campus.

The school achieved a third and crucial milestone when President and Dean Cantrell convened the initial commencement ceremony on May 17, 2008. Sixty-seven graduates made up the charter class receiving the Doctor of Pharmacy degree. After noting the many individuals and organizations that made the graduation possible, Chair Kilgore acknowledged the leadership of Dr. Cantrell. “You may not have helped start our university, but you made it grow and mature and put us on the right path for success.” Cantrell introduced the two featured speakers – Dr. Lucinda Maine, the Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, and Eural Viers, class President and President of RhoChi, the professional honor society at the College of Pharmacy. Both speakers reminded the graduates of the importance of pursuing careers in rural underdeveloped regions, particularly Appalachia.

McGlothlin Hall
McGlothlin Hall

After the commencement, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph praised the University of Appalachia College of Pharmacy as “another beacon of success in the ongoing revitalization of Buchanan County.” 

When the charter graduates took the NAPLEX, 90.81 percent passed the pharmacy licensure examination on the first attempt. Almost 80 percent of the graduates accepted jobs in the Appalachian Region. The performance of the charter class clearly demonstrated that the new college was fulfilling its educational mission of educating well-prepared pharmacists who would address health issues of Appalachia.

After successfully leading the University for almost two years, Dr. Cantrell decided to return to her former position in Wise County. A knowledgeable observer of the development of the University commented about Dr. Cantrell’s accomplishments, “She was the right person at the right time.” Dr. Cantrell subsequently agreed to serve on the Board of Trustees.

Following Dr. Cantrell’s departure, the Trustees decided to separate the positions of president and dean in recognition of the comprehensive and onerous responsibilities of the combined position. This separation permitted “the dean to focus on the Colleges’ academic programs and faculty while the president manages the college operations, strategic planning, and institutional development and advancement.” 

Dr. Cantrell’s interim replacement held the office of Dean until the Trustees appointed Dr. Susan Mayhew as permanent Dean and Dr. Charles Breese as Senior Associate Dean. Dean Mayhew, who had been associated with the college from its beginning, grew up in Central Appalachia and understood its mission and academic program. The school’s name was changed to the Appalachian College of Pharmacy (ACP) to reflect its primary program and to help facilitate full accreditation with ACPE and SACS. Working with the internal Executive Committee and Board of Trustees, Dean Mayhew and President McGlothlin have effectively guided the institution for the past four years.

Full Accreditation from ACPE and SACS!
In June 2010, the College received full accreditation from ACPE, and in December 2012, full accreditation from SACS. Students enrolled at the College are now eligible to apply for Title IV Federal Financial Aid. The College’s accreditation procedure is now used as a guide for other schools.

During this period, four additional classes have graduated, so that there are now 320 alumni. Their performance on the NAPLEX has remained creditable. Most of the graduates are practicing as community pharmacists in Central Appalachia. Steve Smith, President and CEO of Food City, recently remarked, “Food City currently operates pharmacies within 75 of our locations, and we fully understand the dire need for additional pharmacists, especially in some of the more rural areas where pharmacists are less plentiful.” His chain of pharmacies also hosts a major rotation site for the school’s students.

Students with SIMMan mannequin
Students with SIMMan mannequin

The College has continued to emphasize community service and experiential learning. Through the Pharmacists in Community Service (PICS) program, students contribute more than 10,000 hours annually in community service in a wide array of sites monitored by preceptors. In addition to Central Appalachia, for example, students have performed community services in Alaska, Hawaii, Texas, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Louisiana. In 2012, the college embarked upon its first international outreach initiative when academic leaders joined with colleagues from Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine of Blacksburg, Virginia, on medical mission trips to the Dominican Republic and El Salvador. ACP’s community service activities have garnered statewide, regional, and national recognition. A 2012 graduate of ACP, Daniel J. Puckett, received the prestigious “Excellence in Public Health Pharmacy Practice Award” for his demonstrated commitment to public health and public health practice.

Dean Mayhew and the faculty recently established a post-graduate Residency Program which provides educational and training experiences for pharmacists in the fundamentals of contemporary pharmacy practice and to foster skills in leadership, communication, and mentorship. ACP graduate Crystal Kilgore was the charter resident and now works full-time as an assistant professor for her alma mater. Additional pharmacists are participating in the residency program this year.

During the past four years, applications and enrollment remained stable and continued to reflect the patterns of the early classes. In the entering class of 78 students in August of 2012, a little more than 60 percent came from the ARC region, and men slightly outnumbered the women 41 to 37. The total enrollment for all three classes was 223 students.

President McGlothlin continued to focus on the physical facilities and fundraising. In June of 2009, construction of the new academic building was completed so that operations were consolidated on the Oakwood Campus. Garden Hall, the older building, houses administrative offices, the library and learning resources center, a student laboratory, a faculty research facility, student and faculty lounges, the college’s boardroom, and gymnasium. McGlothlin Hall contains two large lecture halls, multiple smaller classrooms, faculty and staff offices, the Academic Affairs office, and the Office of the Dean. 

Dean Dr. Susan Mayhew
Dean Dr. Susan Mayhew

This state-of-the-art building now houses SIMMan, a high fidelity mannequin which brings bedside patient management to the classroom. By simulating the wide variety of disease states, the mannequin permits the students to select and administer drug therapy services before entering their rotations. An extensive landscaping project added to the attractiveness of the Oakwood campus. President McGlothlin subsequently negotiated the acquisition of nearby property to permit future expansion of the campus if needed.

Chair Kilgore and President McGlothlin guided negotiations for two other properties. In September 2010, the college leased a well-preserved turn of the century Appalachian farmstead on Looney’s Creek about 14 miles from the Oakwood campus for a dollar a year from CNX gas company. The property is planned to serve as a conference/retreat center and boarding facility for guests of the college and ultimately an education center for visitors to learn about subsistence farm life in early Appalachia.

After months of planning with faculty and other administrators, in July 2011 the College established the Mountain Care Center in a facility which Buchanan General Hospital had donated as a leasehold. Patient care services provided by faculty and students at the center include medication assistance for low income and uninsured residents and health and wellness programs such as a smoking cessation, weight management and nutrition counseling, medication therapy, and health screenings. Narcotics and pain management are not available, and no prescription medication is sold at the site.

Dr. Lu Ellsworth, Clinch Valley College History Professor and Vice Chancellor and Dean, and Founding President of the Appalachian School of Law 
Dr. Lu Ellsworth, Clinch Valley College History Professor and Vice Chancellor and Dean, and Founding President of the Appalachian School of Law

In less than a decade, college officials have raised millions of dollars for capital projects, initial operating costs, and student scholarships. In addition to the federal funding for lab equipment, the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors, Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority, and the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority have invested in this often-touted economic and educational development project. Other major donors include the Thompson, McGlothlin, Ratcliff, and United foundations, Consol, CNX, Miller Richardson Estate, K-VA-T, Michael McGlothlin, and anonymous benefactors. Fundraising activities now focus on creating student scholarships and program and community development.

ACP presently employs dozens of full and part time employees who, along with students, create a local demand for housing, goods, and services that, like the law school, have brought in fresh ideas, young highly-educated minds, and new energy. The joint economic impact of the law school and ACP is measured in the tens of millions of dollars annually.

Frank Kilgore, who stepped down in early 2011 as Chair of the Board of Trustees to pursue other health-related projects in the region, and his colleagues who had dreamed large almost a decade ago, can be proud of their determination to tackle both economic and health issues in Buchanan County and the surrounding region. The Appalachian College of Pharmacy stands as testimony to their commitment to advancing the quality of life in Central Appalachia.