Message From Dean Kroboth

Dear Friends,

I am pretty sure we all agree that the events of the past month have been unlike anything we have ever experienced. COVID-19 has changed our lives and our environment. It has shown itself to be a villain that is taking lives and livelihoods. My hat is off to heroes everywhere who are putting themselves at risk for the good of others.  And yet, here in Pittsburgh, we are fortunate that our PittPharmacy family of faculty, staff, and students are healthy. My hope is that our entire PittPharmacy family, including you and yours, stays healthy. 

At PittPharmacy, we have found new ways to work, to teach, to learn, and to conduct research. As I think back to Monday March 9, 2020, many PittPharmacy faculty and staff spent that first day of spring break together learning new technology—Zoom for meetings and teaching, Panopto for teaching, and Teams for meetings and file sharing. Our gathering the next day had fortuitously been planned several months before as an all-day learning session on developing quality teaching materials and videos for the delivery of technology-enhanced education. By the end of the day, people were already planning to make classes available in the event that students had to self-quarantine due to travel during spring break.

By Wednesday, it was clear that teaching would take on a whole new approach and faculty were making videos. By Thursday, we could work in our offices, but could not gather in groups larger than 25.  By the following Monday, we were told that we were to plan to work remotely and to make it happen as quickly as possible.  By Friday, working remotely was a mandate.

Since those first days of March, I have been invigorated by the enthusiasm and energy of the faculty and staff. They have put creativity and innovation into developing new methods for delivery of educational content and for engaging students in active learning; they have developed new approaches to caring for patients in all settings; they have shown that they can be productive researchers—some working remotely and others in labs as classified essential personnel.

On March 23, classes restarted. The actual “classroom courses” for PharmD/MS/PhD and MPBA students fell into a rhythm.  I am rewarded by the overall sense of commitment of our student pharmacists to adapt and make a difference. A truly challenging aspect was PharmD rotations.  We live our goal of personalizing education, and for P4 PharmD students, that means choosing types and locations for elective rotations. 

In March when the self-quarantining started, P4 student pharmacists were literally all over the country and others were headed to locations on three different continents. Their safety was our first concern. Students were re-assigned. Then restrictions tightened even more. And for a second time, students were re-assigned as work environments changed yet again. Some hospitals restricted the workforce on patient floors while in the community, people were flooding pharmacies. Pharmacists needed to keep working in front-line roles as part of the essential personnel. Our priority has been to meet the needs of patients and the pharmacy community while optimizing the safety of our students. That combination was a call to action for innovation and creativity. The result was new roles and new contributions.  Visit to read emerging stories.

Today, we now have our rhythm as we comply with the Stay-At-Home Order for Allegheny County and much of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We are robust and looking forward to graduation for the Class of 2020.  For graduation, we once again pulled out our innovation and creativity caps and got to work. I am pretty sure that this will be memorable. It will be personal and historic. 

What worked to get us to the good place I describe?

  1. A great team of highly motivated, energetic people—meaning the entire group of faculty, staff and students/trainees and preceptors.
  2. Daily 45-minute Zoom Gatherings open to all faculty, staff, and graduate students, fellows, and other advanced trainees. The ongoing gatherings are a forum for updates, all-way information sharing regarding education, patient care, and research.  People ask and answer questions. Those daily gatherings, where we occasionally see pets and babies, have brought people together “face-to-face” in more personal and frequent way than ever before.
  3.  “Conversation with the Dean” Zoom meetings with each of the PharmD classes and MS/PhD students. Listening to student concerns and ideas for enhancing their experience shaped our actions.
  4. Daily education and assessment Zoom meetings for sharing best practices among faculty peers.
  5. Zoom learning sessions on new software, for example, “Teams” followed by a Teams Gathering in place of the daily Zoom Gathering.
  6. Identifying essential research.  Three faculty members are doing work on approaches to preventing or mitigating COVID-19 and its effects. Others are doing “wet lab” research that has been deemed essential for other reasons. Labs have extremely few individuals at any one time as social distancing is mandated.

What I know today is that the educational programs of the PharmD/MS/PhD programs are being enhanced by the experience.

Research programs are holding their own.  Graduate students displaced from their labs have begun writing reviews and background and analyzing data for their thesis or dissertations. Faculty are writing papers and research proposals.

When we eventually go back to normal life, I know that a new normal will take the place of what we knew as normal a month ago.  I don’t have a crystal ball to see what normal will actually look like.  I know it will be vibrant.  I just wonder if we will continue our daily Zoom gatherings. I do look forward to those.

Stay healthy,

Patricia Kroboth, Dean
Dr. Gordon J. Vanscoy Distinguished Service Professor