An Idaho State clinical faculty member has been chosen to be the next head of pharmacy practice in the College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions at South Dakota State University.
Shanna O’Connor will begin March 1, in time to prepare for on-site accreditation visits later in the year. She replaces Jim Clem, who served as head of the Department of Pharmacy Practice since August 2007. Clem began serving as associate dean of student services June 22 while also filling his prior role on an interim basis.
O’Connor, who also is lead network facilitator and residency program director, has been at the post in Pocatello since June 2017.
Previous positions have been at the University of Arizona (July 2014-June 2017), the University of Washington (July 2012-June 2014) and the University of North Carolina, where she was a visiting professor in 2011-12. That followed a year of postgraduate training at UNC. Her first year of postgraduate residency was at Florida Hospital, Celebration Health.
O’Connor earned her Pharm.D. from the University of Wyoming in 2009 after completing her bachelor’s degree at St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana, in 2004.
Majored in American history
Her training to enter pharmacy school was anything but ordinary. O’Connor wrote a paper on eugenics to complete her degree in American history. She also got a solid background in basic science at St. Mary’s by earning a minor in chemistry and serving as a teaching assistant in organic chemistry, chemistry for nursing and intro to chemistry as well as being a biology lab assistant.
Through heredity she is gifted in writing. Through environment, she has had a long-held interest in health care.
O’Connor grew up in Atlanta, where her father works in communications at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I babysat for some of the world’s leading disease experts,” O’Connor said. She stayed at home to complete her final pre-pharmacy, attending Emory University, where her mother was one of the associate deans of Emory’s School of Medicine.
While at Emory in early 2004, she shadowed a pharmacist, a nurse and a doctor. “The pharmacist was the happiest,” O’Connor said.
The pharmacist had an HIV clinic at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Atlanta. “I had never previously set foot behind a pharmacy counter,” she said. “What appealed to me was the pharmacist’s ability to help these patients and really contribute to team-based care.” Pharmacy also appealed to O’Connor because it offered the option of teaching and doing health research.
Introduced to West at Laramie
The Georgian opted for a change in climate and culture when she went to the University of Wyoming for pharmacy school. “Wyoming has a frontier-based pharmacy curriculum. The faculty at Wyoming seemed passionate about their students and creating pharmacists who could be the only health-care provider in their community,” she said.
O’Connor said that experience will serve her well in South Dakota, where providers and pharmacy practice educators are clustered on opposite sides of the state.
She also feels her years in Idaho will be useful because “Idaho has most advanced pharmacy practice laws in the nation. Pharmacists can prescribe for a wide range of disease states. With independent prescribing, you can operate at the level for which you have the training. Saying this is what I’m permitted to do versus this is what I’m trained to creates a different mentality for approaching practice.”
First assignment: Listen
But O’Connor, who will have her office in Sioux Falls, doesn’t plan to march into town and change things.
“My initial plan is to listen a lot. Listen to stakeholders, alumni, existing staff, faculty and students, the board of pharmacy and administration,” said O’Connor, who also plans to ask questions like “In 18 months to two years, what do you want to see? Are there little things that could get tweaked that would help with workload?”
She added that provider burnout is a major issue, not only for full-time health care givers but also for pharmacy practice educators who have dual roles.
At SDSU, almost all of the 22 pharmacy practice faculty in Brookings, Sioux Falls and Rapid City have a 50/50 split between teaching and practice.
“Having been in a 50-50 split, I know what it is like to have two bosses. You can feel like you’re expected to do 75 percent of both jobs. On the flip side, with everyone having the same arrangement, you always have someone who can provide mentorship and guidance through the challenges you’re facing,” O’Connor said.
Next step: Sell a house
One of the challenges O’Connor is facing is selling a house in Pocatello and buying a house in Sioux Falls in the middle of winter.
However, she said she was impressed with the region during her October job interview visit. “Sioux Falls is seeing a lot of growth and there are social and recreational activities that I’m looking forward to exploring. I enjoy exploring local businesses and restaurants and supporting local arts. I’ve already learned that Sioux Falls has a strong arts community,” she said.
After O’Connor and her two dogs get established, she hopes to resume world traveling. Her bucket list includes Kenya and the Patagonia mountains.
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