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Alumni Became Stronger Healthcare Professionals and Leaders, Thanks to the Military
Written by Lauren Whetzel-Siburkis
Published on August 15, 2014
Col. ERIC SHALITA P’86 never imagined he would lead pharmacy efforts during the evacuation of more than 20,000 refugees and pets from the Philippines after a deadly volcanic eruption in 1991. After all, serving as a pharmacist in the U.S. Air Force was not a part of his original life plan once he graduated from what was then Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science.
Now, recently retired after nearly 28 years of service, Shalita said pursuing a pharmacy career in the Air Force was among the best decisions he has made in his lifetime. Through his extensive career, Shalita’s skills were often put to the test while providing pharmaceutical treatment in challenging environments across the world, such as jungle pharmacies in Central America and military treatment centers in Iraq.
“My experience in the Air Force, undoubtedly, made me a stronger pharmacist and leader by providing me with a unique skillset,” said Shalita, who now serves as director of pharmacy at Desert Parkway Behavioral Healthcare Hospital in Las Vegas. “There were times I was in the middle of nowhere and relied on my pharmaceutics education from Philadelphia College of Pharmacy to compound different types of drugs.”
WILLIAM KELLY P’94 (second from left) returned to Griffith Hall with his family to be sworn in as a commander in the U.S. Navy.
Shalita, originally from the Philadelphia area, credits his decision to join the Air Force to his faculty mentorships with former University president and pharmacy professor PHILIP P. GERBINO P’69, PharmD’70 and former pharmacy professor BILL ADAMS, a retired captain in the Army.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do with my pharmacy career after college, and the advice I received from my mentors [at PCP] turned out to be life changing for me as an individual and a pharmacist,” he said. “They had confidence in me and thought I embodied the types of traits to lead a successful military career.”
He has since passed down the invaluable advice he received as a fourth-year pharmacy student to his daughter Jessica, who followed his footsteps and is now serving her first year as a pharmacist in the Air Force.
Unlike Shalita, pharmacy alumnus Cmdr. WILLIAM KELLY P’94 said his calling to join the U.S. Navy came several years after he graduated from PCP. He wanted to serve his country. And even then, Kelly admits his initial plan was to gain solid pharmacy experience during his three-year contract, then return to the civilian workforce.
“Within my first six months, I wholeheartedly knew I found what I wanted in my Navy career,” said Kelly, who joined the Navy in 2000, having completed his doctor of pharmacy degree at University of Illinois at Chicago.
Over the past 15 years, Kelly has served as pharmacy director at three naval hospitals across the world and honed his pharmacy and leadership skills through clinical pharmacy assignments that pushed him beyond his comfort zone. A native of Dunmore, Pennsylvania, Kelly is now deputy of the pharmacy department at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
“I encourage current students and recent graduates to explore their future career paths with open minds; had someone told me during my fifth year at PCP that this is what I would be doing today, I would have never believed it,” said Kelly. “My PCP education laid the foundation for what I’ve accomplished thus far in my career.”
Maj. LISA SHOFF BI’04
Because of his high regard for the University, Kelly returned to campus last year to be promoted to Navy commander in the presence of some of his former pharmacy professors and classmates, including longtime pharmacy professor DANIEL A. HUSSAR P’62, MS’64, PhD’67.
Both Shalita and Kelly said their careers in the military gave them the opportunity to further their education, travel across the world, and grow within their pharmacy careers. Alumna Maj. LISA SHOFF BI’04 said the Air Force has funded her dentistry education and allowed her to learn from some of the best experts in the field. She is currently completing her periodontal specialty training through the Air Force’s residency program and said she remains open minded as to where her dental career will take her once her military contract expires.
“The Air Force is a great way for graduates to gain invaluable job experience, even if they do not plan to make a full career out of the military,” said Shoff. “I’ve had the opportunity to give back to my education by participating in humanitarian missions overseas to provide free dental care to underserved children and families.”
Although Shalita, Kelly, and Shoff launched their military careers after their time at University of the Sciences, many alumni have attended the University during or after their service.
DAVID PRICE P’84 in 1973 (left) and today.
Alumnus Capt. DAVID PRICE P’84 is a prime example, as he came to the University with six years of healthcare experience as a hospital corpsman and pharmacy technician in the U.S. Navy. During his five years on campus, Price was a drilling reservist in the Navy and served with the U.S. Marine Corps and Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit as a corpsman.
Upon graduation, Price started his 24- year career as a commissioned naval officer and retired as a Navy captain. He completed his career as a pharmacy consultant to the Navy surgeon general and the pharmacy specialty leader for the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine, career advice to 140 Navy pharmacists. “My pharmacy education was instrumental in allowing me to move up through the ranks in the Navy,” said Price. “The rigorous coursework and faculty mentorships taught me perseverance and dedication to the pharmacy profession, and I am forever grateful for my time at PCP.”
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