Manpreet Chahal

chahal with three colleagues

Part of achieving the mission of the Washington State University College of Pharmacy is training professional health care practitioners to be Doctors of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.). In addition to this, the college houses more than 25 graduate-training faculty with active research projects supported by both federal and private funding organizations. Training new pharmaceutical scientists through our graduate program contributes to our position as a leader in collaborative research and scholarship, and educator of outstanding health care professionals and scientists.

The first graduate degree in pharmacy was awarded in 1902. In the early years of the Washington State Agricultural College, there were no specific programs for graduate degrees listed in the annual catalogs. The Graduate School was established in 1923, and the first reference in the catalog to graduate courses in pharmacy was made in 1927.

The pharmacy graduate program began as a master’s degree and grew into a full-fledged doctorate of philosophy (Ph.D.) program in the fall of 1940. Over the years, doctorate degrees offered from the College of Pharmacy have included Ph.Ds. in pharmacy, pharmacology/toxicology, and pharmaceutical sciences.

Today, the WSU Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences program provides graduate training in cancer biology, drug discovery and translational pharmacology. With the expanding needs in health care, there is a growing need to translate today’s research findings into tomorrow’s health care solutions. To better meet this need, the college formalized a sequential Pharm.D./Ph.D. program that allows some aspects of the Ph.D. experience to be initiated during the Pharm.D. curriculum. Before 2014, those interested in pursuing both degrees had to negotiate the timeline and admission process on a case by case basis. Manpreet Chahal, class of 2008 and 2010, was one such College of Pharmacy graduate.

Manpreet Chahal, class of 2008/2010

“Go Cougs!” says Manpreet Chahal.

“My life changed because of WSU. This college gave me a place to belong.”

Chahal came to the U.S. from India in 1994. He had a medical condition that started around the age of 12 and his cardiologist in India sent him to see a specialist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“I was 16 when I came to the U.S.—just dad and I,” said Chahal.

They left India with one suitcase between the two of them with the intention to stay in the country for maybe a month. After his medical procedure, he and his dad stayed with friends of friends in Milwaukee and Chicago temporarily. They made visits to other friends around the country and checked in periodically with his U.S. cardiologist, who encouraged him to put off a return to India just in case of any complications.

His father, a teacher and middle school principal from India, decided to enroll him in school while they were in Seattle. They stayed with a family friend in a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment that had no furniture.

“I was just figuring out how to be here, how to take the bus. This was a completely different continent, completely different world for me,” says Chahal.

In the end, Chahal had no adverse medical complications, but they did not return home. Chahal and his dad eventually got their own two-bedroom apartment, and after about a year Chahal’s mother and sister joined them from India.

Chahal completed a bachelor’s degree at the University of Washington. His dad drove a taxi seven days a week to help pay for tuition. Chahal wanted to pursue cancer pharmacology to discover and develop cancer drugs, but the graduate programs offered at UW all focused on neuropharmacology at the time. Then he found pharmacy faculty doing cancer research at WSU.

Chahal was so excited about the WSU graduate program, he came over early and started his study in pharmacology and toxicology mid-academic year, in January 2002.

“I remember getting to Pullman and saying, ‘Where ARE we??’” said Chahal. “But WSU gave me a chance that changed my life in ways I would have never imagined.”

Chahal began the Pharm.D. program four and half years into his graduate studies. He wanted to interact with patients, which was an element he felt was missing from his Ph.D. research.

“Dr. Kathryn Meier was very monumental in my career. She was amazingly supportive and helpful. She is the one who suggested the Pharm.D. program,” he said.

Then it was Linda Garrelts MacLean, a pharmacotherapy department chair for the Pharm.D. program at that time, who encouraged Chahal to participate in leadership roles.

“I was the shy, quiet student in the corner, I had never joined a club. Linda advocated leadership and recommended I participate in a pharmacy business plan project,” says Chahal.

During pharmacy school, Chahal was involved in various leadership positions with the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), and with WSU student government including the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GSPA), the Associated Students of WSU (ASWSU) in Spokane, and the WSU chapters of the pharmacy organizations Kappa Psi and Rho Chi.

He defended his Ph.D. on August 8, 2008, and became one of the first Pharm.D./Ph.D. graduates from the WSU College of Pharmacy in 2010.

“I consider Kay and Linda to be my lifetime mentors,” says Chahal.

Chahal is currently an oncology pharmacist at Summit Cancer Centers in Spokane. He reviews and customizes chemotherapy regimens to optimize the best outcomes for his patients. Over the years he has developed key contacts at health plans, pharmaceutical companies, and patient assistance foundations in order to advocate for his patients. He facilitates access to the cancer medications and payment options that will contribute to the best care possible for each individual.

“I want to know my patients, who they are, and how I can help. The ability to work one-on-one with my patients is why I love my job, and my career” says Chahal.

And it’s not just about the work. For Chahal, one of the best advantages for being actively involved with the WSU College of Pharmacy is the chance to get to interact with student pharmacists.

“The students give me hope, passion and energy. It is energizing to see their passion for the profession and where we are going. Students’ passion is infectious. We as practitioners need to be exposed to what can happen, and where we can go. It’s pretty amazing to interact with them,” he says.

Chahal is a past-president of the Spokane Pharmacy Association. He serves on the Washington State Pharmacy Association (WSPA) board of directors, the Cancer Can’t Foundation board of directors, the WSU College of Pharmacy dean’s advisory council, and he is the current chair of the WSU pharmacy alumni community, CougaRx Nation. He is also actively involved in the college’s Alumni and Student Mentor Program.

WSU pharmacy’s mentor program supports the college mission to develop outstanding health care professionals. The program pairs each WSU student pharmacist with a current pharmacy professional who is also a WSU alumni or preceptor, contributing to each student’s professional support network.

“I want people to be involved and care about their profession and the future of our profession. It shows when you’re involved. Not everyone has to be the WSPA president, but anyone can mentor a student and be there for career advice. Plus, all the effort comes back to you, full circle. These students are going to be my colleagues in under four years!” says Chahal.

[Lori J. Maricle] 4/1/16