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Dynamic Leadership for a New Era

The School of Pharmacy’s newest dean is ready to take the School into the future.

Dean Sarah L.J. Michel

By Christianna McCausland
April 15, 2024

Last October, Sarah L.J. Michel, PhD, was appointed dean of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy (UMSOP), following a four-month interim appointment after Natalie D. Eddington, PhD ’89, FAAPS, FCP, stepped down in June.

Becoming dean is the capstone of an academic career spent entirely at the School, where Michel has been involved in everything from research and academic program development to student initiatives and Universitywide governance. She will now oversee a dynamic moment in pharmacy and health sciences education where the School will continue to grow and evolve to train pharmacy leaders, researchers, practitioners, policymakers, influencers, and pharmapreneurs of tomorrow.

“Dean Michel brings a lot of energy and knowledge to the table, is full of ideas and has executed them in the past,” says Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). Jarrell continues that Michel has the vision and capacity to structure the School so it will continue to be a national leader in pharmacy education. “I believe she will define the pharmacist of the future and the pharmacy educational program needed to educate them.”

Michel has spent nearly 19 years at the School, leading her to develop a unique and in-depth perspective on pharmacy education. Throughout her tenure she has been chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences (PSC), associate dean for graduate programs, and director of the PhD in PSC program. She also created the School’s popular and innovative Master of Science (MS) in PSC. In addition, she maintains her own research lab where she has built a reputation as an internationally recognized leader for investigating the roles that metals play in the regulation of chronic inflammation, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Known as a servant leader who takes time to research and understand a situation before making a decision, Michel says that being dean appealed to her because of where the profession of pharmacy is in this moment.

“I think we’re at a very exciting juncture in the profession in as much as the role of the pharmacist has changed significantly over the past few years,” says Michel. “Pharmacists now have provider status in the state of Maryland and work in clinical teams and in the pharmaceutical industry. So, the breadth of what our pharmacy graduates are doing is changing significantly.”

Stephen J. Allen, RPh, MS ’78, FASHP, has worked with Michel for more than 10 years while serving on the School’s Board of Visitors, which he currently chairs. He thinks the fact that Michel has been at the School for her entire career gives her the advantage to hit the ground running as dean.

“As a campus leader, Dr. Michel knows the issues and challenges for both the University and the School of Pharmacy,” he says. “I hope that she can draw upon that knowledge and upon key relationships to advance the School of Pharmacy in Baltimore, at UMB, and nationally.”

What makes this a dynamic time to be dean is that even as pharmacy is evolving, enrollment in pharmacy schools across the country is decreasing. Michel explains that part of what must be done to reverse that trend is for schools to laud and amplify the benefits of a degree in pharmacy. UMSOP already has a good track record here. Its pharmacy graduates are trained to be pharmapreneurs (i.e., problem solvers and innovators) who go on to use their degrees in a myriad of ways, including championing new practice models, guiding patients with chronic diseases via medication therapy management, and starting new companies in the health sciences regime.

Five Ways To Improve

While applauding past successes, Michel has created a five-part vision for what she wants to tackle as dean and has already begun with her first visionary priority: completing a comprehensive reimagining of the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) curriculum that began under Eddington.

“We’re really reimagining the curriculum to think holistically about how we train the next generation of pharmacists so they can practice at the top of their license,” she explains, noting that she wants to increase support for students for fellowship and internship opportunities and wants Pharmapreneurship® — a signature initiative of the School — to imbue all aspects of study. The new PharmD curriculum is expected to roll out in fall of 2025.

Deanna Tran, PharmD ’11, BCACP, FAPhA, associate professor in the Department of Practice, Sciences, and Health Outcomes Research, has known Michel throughout her time at the School, both as a student and now as a colleague. Tran is co-chair of the Curriculum Reimagination Taskforce. She says Michel’s goal for the new curriculum is to move the School into the top five pharmacy schools in the nation, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

“She’s provided valuable insights on how to foster students’ career pathways and how we could better integrate our PhD and MS programs,” says Tran. “Her vision is to not only equip student pharmacists to become the successful pharmacists of today but to also provide them with the tools to become the pharmacists of the future.”

The second and third areas of Michel’s vision are to grow both research and master’s programs. These are areas where Jarrell believes Michel will make a significant impact. “Sarah is very accomplished in the research world,” he notes. “The research profile and portfolio of the School is well funded, and there are a lot of very seasoned investigators there. I’d like to see that grow even more.”

Collaborative Ally

Michel has experience in both fundamental and translational research and intends to continue with that work as it allows her to stay up-to-date with the most innovative developments in pharmacy. During her career she has seen the value of collaborations and fostered partnerships with agencies but also with other professional schools at UMB, such as the School of Dentistry.

“We’re enjoying a very collaborative time. There’s a broad sense of community and an emphasis on providing collegial support and building partnerships,” says Mark Reynolds, DDS, PhD, MA, dean of the University of Maryland School of Dentistry.

Reynolds has had many opportunities to work with Michel, particularly when she was president of the UMB Faculty Senate. A highlight of her leadership tenure was that she actively participated in the passage of a Statement of Shared Governance for UMB. Reynolds describes Michel as a thoughtful, engaged leader who places a high value on advancing pharmaceutical sciences and clinical practice from the perspective of the School and beyond the campus.

“I think she is someone who has been able to balance, extraordinarily well, education and science,” he says. “She clearly places great value in understanding her community within the School of Pharmacy, at UMB, and broadly in the profession.”

Michel says one of her proudest achievements has been having students complete their PhD in her lab. Current PhD in PSC student Madison Worth is one such student as well as president of the Pharmacy Graduate Student Association. Worth explains that Michel is highly motivated and interested in pushing the limits of science. She envisions that the same critical thinking and problem-solving Michel brings to research will serve her well as dean. Importantly for emerging pharmaceutical researchers, Worth says Michel serves as a mentor for students.

“Dean Michel is known for being an advocate, with students knowing they have someone to turn to when in need of support,” she says. “She is a role model, as her resilience, devotion, and adaptability are recognized by all students.”

She is also an expert listener, Tran says. “She has held Schoolwide listening sessions and is meeting one-on-one with all the faculty,” Tran explains. “She is transparent and fosters collaboration so that all individuals feel involved in Schoolwide issues.”

‘Inclusivity Is Key Strength Of Hers’

Given her interest in shared governance, equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) are a major factor in Michel’s five-part vision. Her commitment to EDI was important to Lotanna Ezeofor, a third-year PharmD student who served on the dean search committee and is president of the School’s Student Government Association.

“Inclusivity is a key strength of hers,” says Ezeofor. “Dean Michel ensures that decisions are made with consideration for the varied experiences and backgrounds within the academic community. Her commitment to inclusivity creates a sense of belonging, making all members feel valued and heard.”

Ezeofor says Michel is well-respected by students who view her as an exceptionally intelligent individual with a wealth of knowledge. “Moreover, her teachings in the Biochemistry course within the PharmD program are widely acknowledged as some of the School’s finest,” he adds.

Student well-being is important to Michel, who says that although the School is back to full in-person participation, post-COVID disconnectedness remains an issue. She is bringing back programs, like a yearly ice cream social, to re-engage students, faculty, and staff. “I want students to feel like UMB and our School buildings are their second home,” she says.

Ezeofor says he is impressed by Michel’s dedication to enhancing the relationship between students and the Dean’s Office. “As interim dean, she highlighted the importance of connecting with students, actively participating in student events, and making appearances during orientation for first-year students. Her commitment demonstrated that she truly wants students to feel supported.”

Today’s students are tomorrow’s alumni, and engagement with graduates is the fifth and final point of Michel’s vision. The School has more than 7,000 alumni, and Michel is eager to connect and learn from them. She’s already begun visits to alumni and welcomes them back to the School to share their career wisdom with current students through events like the Grad Gathering program she created.

Allen, the Board of Visitors chair, is looking forward to watching engagement with alumni continue to grow under Michel. “We all want to support where we trained, the University, the organization that helped us to be successful,” says Allen. “I think all alumni want to know what’s going on and to feel connected, and she’s well-positioned to do that.”

Power of Pharmapreneurship

Michel’s five-point vision aligns with the School’s commitment to Pharmapreneurship. Since launching the signature initiative in 2017, the School of Pharmacy has secured funding for and developed numerous academic, clinical, research, and community components under its umbrella.

“Through cutting-edge research initiatives and innovative clinical services, we create an exceptional environment that fosters and values Pharmapreneurship among faculty and students,” says Michel. “With flexibility and strategic thinking, we can push ourselves further, helping our students, faculty, and staff achieve their career aspirations and address our nation’s health care challenges.”

Michel has a deep understanding of pharmacy from an academic, research, and industry perspective. She’s demonstrated her leadership capacity and is respected by students and colleagues. The sum of these parts equals an incredibly strong foundation. It will serve her well as the challenges facing academia are significant, from fluctuating enrollment to competition for grants and other resources.

“I feel the excitement, the energy, and the enthusiasm that she brings to the role, which is an extremely difficult one and one that has been challenging for schools of pharmacy to fill,” says Allen, the former CEO of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists Foundation. “The fact that we have someone who cares deeply and has been a part of the success of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and wants that success to continue — that is exciting.”

Michel isn’t afraid of a challenge. “In research, it’s all problems that you have to solve,” she explains. “In this role, there are different problems that we will try to solve in a way that has a positive impact.”

Under Michel’s leadership, the School will not only reimagine what it means to be a student of pharmacy and to have a career in pharmacy, it will become even more of a leading voice speaking out for this exciting and ever-evolving profession.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of Capsule Magazine.

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