The Alumni Association of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences held their third-annual Alumni Awards which honored three outstanding alumni, spanning three generations of pharmacists.
Psychedelics and Palliative Care
The Horizon Alumni Award was presented to Kristin Speer, PharmD, graduate of the Class of 2012. Dr. Speer has spent the ten years since graduation making a name for herself in pain and palliative pharmacy practice, and more recently in psychedelic medication therapies. In her acceptance speech, she described a pivotal moment in her career.
A medical doctor had been treating a terminally ill patient with extremely high doses of morphine, and yet, the patient was getting no relief. She was also suffering from severe depression and existential distress. The physician reached out to Speer for her medical expertise. She recommended a medical regimen of ketamine, an old anesthetic with psychedelic properties that has benefits at low doses to treat resistant pain, depression and anxiety. This therapy, in combination with skilled spiritual care, provided immediate relief for the patient, who was able to experience her last days free from pain and distress.
“This was a time when a physician reached out to me, a pharmacist, asking for advice,” Speer said. “Ketamine is an existing, unique tool. As more and newer psychedelic substances are legalized for medical use, pharmacists will play a critical role in understanding how these medications work and providing this expertise to patients and to the entire health care team.”
Sensing the growing role that psychedelic medications like ketamine will continue to play in patient health, Speer co-founded the Psychedelic Pharmacist Association and started her own LLC consulting business. This young pharmacist sees psychedelic-based medicines as a game-changer for palliative care, mental health and more.
From Tragedy Comes Opportunity
The Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to Laura Tyndall, PharmD, and RPh from the Class of 1982. During her 40 years of practicing pharmacy in Pennsylvania, Dr. Tyndall not only witnessed many changes in the pharmacy industry, but also ushered in many of them herself. As she explained in her acceptance speech, it was all fueled by a string of mysterious hospital deaths in the late 80s and 90s across New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
When it was finally revealed that the serial killer was a nurse who injected deadly doses of medication into IV fluid bags, Dr. Tyndall recognized a profound need for medication security and better patient records. Enter the era of medical informatics – the intersection of information science, computer science and health care.
Armed with her medication expertise and a passion for protecting the well-being of patients, Tyndall soon found herself laying the groundwork for informatic systems in hospitals across the region.
In addition to her critical role in pharmacy informatics, Tydall was a pioneer in home intravenous pharmacy therapy, healthcare software development, and narcotics tracking systems.
“The University of Colorado gave me the best, solid foundation for my pharmacy career,” Tyndall said. “From graduate school, though software vendor development and leadership roles I’ve had, I owe it all to the education and relations built here at CU Pharmacy.”
Humble Beginnings Lead to Stellar Success
Ed Skaff, RPh, from the Class of 1959, is many things; a pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and, by all accounts, an exceptionally well-loved husband, father, and grandfather, as indicated by the numerous family members who were on hand to see him receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pharmacy Alumni Association.
Dr. Louis Diamond, dean emeritus of the School of Pharmacy shed light on Skaff’s humble beginning and tireless work ethic in his opening remarks. According to Diamond, Skaff comes from a family of immigrants and grew up in impoverished communities in southern Colorado, stocking produce in his father’s grocery store. In those days, grocery stores could sell only a limited amount of over-the-counter drugs. Observing the professionalism of pharmacists in drug stores made Skaff think of pharmacy as a career option.
As Skaff said, “Lifting crates of lettuce was heavy and boring. So, I decided that dispensing medicine would be a more interesting and a prestigious career.”
While attending the University of Colorado, Skaff met his wife Karen and put himself through pharmacy school by working at the local McDermott Drug Store, still in operation today in Boulder.
Shortly after graduating with his registered pharmacist (RPh) degree in 1959, Skaff set about owning and operating, not one, but three pharmacies across the front range. These pharmacies, however, were much more than just a place to get prescriptions filled. As Diamond tells the story, it was not unusual to see Karen, Skaff’s wife, in the back of the pharmacy cutting fabric for a customer or assisting in numerous capacities.
Over the years, as Skaff’s business ventures grew, he made philanthropy and priority. In the 1980s he made a major gift to the School that helped complete the top floor of the Pharmacy Building when it was located on 9th Avenue in Denver. Today, the top floor conference room in the current pharmacy building is named in his honor. In 2018 Ed and Karen Skaff established the Skaff Endowed Scholarship to help promising students with their financial needs in acquiring an education at CU Pharmacy.
In his acceptance speech, Skaff recognized the enormous changes that have taken place in pharmacy careers and the ongoing need to support pharmacy education.
"There were twenty-nine students in my class," Skaff said. "It is amazing how fast the pharmacy field has changed... today's pharmacy responsibilities include how to council patients, operate medical clinics, and much more. Today's pharmacy is a very, very challenging profession that is always changing."
Skaff and his wife established an endowed scholarship in recognition of the evolving field and hardships that today's students face.
"We want to offer aid to students aid, and our hope is to continue to help pharmacy students for generations to come," he said.
The Pharmacy Alumni Awards Event kicked off a Homecoming weekend of alumni-related activities, including tailgating in Ralphie’s Corral on the Boulder campus and a special recognition of the alumni award winners during the Homecoming football game.
See more photos from the Alumni Awards here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cupharmacy/albums/72177720303242245