Q&A with the new associate dean of external relations

Julie Akers, class of 2000, has been named associate dean for external relations at the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (CPPS). In her new position, she will be managing and maintaining external relationships of the college while continuing her long-standing legislative and professional advocacy efforts.

Akers first joined the college back in 2013, when the program made the transition from Pullman to Spokane. Since then, she has taught in the Doctor of Pharmacy program, weaving her experiences and stories into class discussion to provide relevance to topics covered in the curriculum. She will also continue to teach in addition to her new role.

The college recently caught up with Akers to learn more about her interests and experience as a Coug:

What drew you to the WSU as a student?
Prior to pharmacy school I worked as a technician in a community pharmacy. Several of the pharmacists I worked with were Cougs. While they were extremely knowledgeable, what impressed me most was their ability to connect with patients. Each of them had excellent professional communication skills and said a big part of their time at WSU focused on strong communication skills as well as preparing future community pharmacists as managers and leaders. That is where my passion lied, so I only applied to WSU and was fortunate to be accepted.

What is your favorite part about being a Coug?
Being a Coug means being part of a family, both with those you know and complete strangers. It is a great feeling when you are touring a castle in Scotland wearing a Coug hat and hear “Go Cougs” from someone you have never met. There is an instant connection, conversations about what dorm you stayed in, and just sharing fond memories of Pullman. Even more special is the bond being a part of the Coug Pharmily. There is a vast network of Coug pharmacists ready to provide support to anyone in need. It is amazing and something I haven’t seen at other programs. Go Cougs!

What is the best advice you ever received?
The best advice I received was to not allow events in your life to define you, but for you to define how events shape your future. I was in middle school when a mentor gave me this advice and it has guided me through many challenges. Each challenge we face is one we can reflect on and use what we learn from it as a tool to help shape our future. I still use the advice every day. In my office I even have a sign shaped like an arrow with the phrase “Don’t look back, you aren’t going that way.”

Who have been your biggest mentors over the course of your education and career?
During pharmacy school, my biggest mentor was Keith Campbell. Not only was he there for me as a student, but as a person. A lot of personal growth happens during those years, and Keith always pushed me to achieve more while encouraging me to do my best. As I transitioned into working as a pharmacist and getting involved in the Washington State Pharmacy Association (WSPA), Don Downing became a strong mentor. His work and passion are what inspired me to get more involved in policy and advocacy. And, of course, where would I be without Linda Garrelts Maclean. When I was a student, we nicknamed her “Wonder Woman,” because she could do it all. I have truly enjoyed getting to work more closely with her as faculty and realize I have some “high heels” to fill in my new administrative role.

How do you think pharmacy practice and education has changed over the course of the pandemic?
The workflow of pharmacy practice rapidly changed as a result of the pandemic, but the core of the profession, patient care, stayed strong. As other businesses were shutting down, pharmacists ensured patients could access their needed medications. Pharmacists were faced with overwhelming volumes of extremely ill patients in our ICUs, hospitals, and ambulatory clinics. They went to work each day knowing they were putting themselves at risk, but always put the patient first. If in 2019 you told a community pharmacist they would be routinely providing curb-side delivery, they would have laughed! However, as they were forced to shut their doors, they found ways to open a window!

I am so proud of how our profession innovated to ensure access to care, how they jumped at the opportunity to perform COVID-19 tests, how they stepped up to immunize our communities. The pandemic also impacted education. Our students and faculty had to adapt to online course delivery. We had to find new ways to connect and build relationships with one another. But something else amazing happened. Our students sought opportunities to use their training to help combat this horrible pandemic. They volunteered at countless testing and immunization events. They developed networks to support classmates struggling with isolation. They attended countless town hall meetings, sharing their thoughts on how our college could best adapt through this new normal. I hope we never see a pandemic like this again in my lifetime, but I am confident the pharmacy profession will be ready to innovate and adapt quickly.

What do you believe to be the future of pharmacy?
The future is an advancement toward less focus on a product and more on services. More and more pharmacists are providing clinical services in health systems, ambulatory care clinics, community pharmacies, and more. As companies enter the pharmacy market who excel at product distribution, we need to empower pharmacists to step away from the counting tray and spatula and to innovate.

What we are teaching today, is how to make strong clinical decisions, to critically evaluate a patient case and recommend solutions based on evidence that take the patient’s views into account.

What are you most looking forward to about the fall semester?
I am a people person and love the energy students bring to campus. I can’t wait to meet our incoming first year students, meet the second-year students that I have only known online, and to see those third-year students that I have missed visiting with. We have the absolute best faculty and staff, and we are all anxious to be walking the halls with one another after such a long year and a half. It will also be great to transition into the external relations role, get back to traveling to conferences, networking, and advancing the vision and mission of the college.