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University of Wisconsin-Madison

Driving Pharmacy Forward

Nancy Gilbride speaking with two PharmD students
Nancy Gilbride (BS '90, MS '93) (center) speaking with two PharmD students at the School of Pharmacy.

A new campaign aims to preserve the School of Pharmacy’s tradition of excellence by recruiting top student pharmacists from around the nation

By Katie Gerhards

Growing up, Ibrahim Jalal (PhD ’78) knew he wanted to become a pharmacist. But he also knew that his family’s finances were strained, as Palestinian refugees living in Jordan.

“My family tried to make sure that we had enough food on the table,” he says. “The most important issue was making sure that we got to attend public school.”

An excellent student, Jalal relied heavily on financial aid and scholarships to earn his bachelor’s in pharmacy from the University of Alexandria in Egypt and master’s degree from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. He returned to Jordan, but his educational journey wasn’t complete.

Ibrahim Jalal
Ibrahim Jalal (PhD ’78), senior corporate vice president of technical affairs at Hikma Pharmaceuticals PLC.

With a PhD as his next goal, he wrote to the dean of the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy, David Perlman, about his financial need and received a teaching assistantship. After earning his PhD, Jalal returned to Jordan and helped to grow Hikma Pharmaceuticals from a company of 50 to a company of more than 8,000. Today, he is the international company’s senior corporate vice president, technical affairs.

“I worked hard to achieve my dream,” says Jalal. “I completed the highest degree with scholarships, without which, I don’t know where I would have ended up.”

His experience motivated him to become one of the first donors in the School of Pharmacy’s newly launched Pharmacy Forward fundraising campaign for student support.

“Having reached where I am right now has made me believe that everybody needs education,” Jalal says, who has also supported two other scholarship funds at the School. “There are students everywhere who need financial support to achieve their dreams. That made me believe it is my duty to pay it forward in the form of a scholarship at the School of Pharmacy that made me who I am today.”

“There are students everywhere who need financial support to achieve their dreams.”
—Ibrahim Jalal

The Pharmacy Forward campaign — a seven-year campaign with the goal of raising $7 million to increase admissions scholarships — is aimed at providing support for high-quality students to attend the School of Pharmacy.

“This campaign exists to harness the support of our alumni,” says Steve Swanson, dean of the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy. “Our alums, like Dr. Jalal, are some of the most engaged and generous people I’ve ever met. They think of the School as a kind of catalyst for them and their careers and they know that the School helped prepare them to be really outstanding pharmacists, and they want to give back.”

Maintaining excellence in a competitive field

As of 2023, there are 142 pharmacy schools in the United States. Just 20 years ago, there were only 89.

“Nationally, there are fewer applications for pharmacy school overall than there were 20 years ago, while there are a lot more schools vying for the same students,” says Swanson. “For us to keep the margin of excellence that our predecessors have so well established, we need to be able to compete for the best and brightest students, not only here in Wisconsin, but nationally.”

The UW–Madison School of Pharmacy is continually ranked as one of the best in the nation in terms of the quality of its PharmD program, residency placement rates, and more. The School continues to attract high-performing students, but their attendance often hinges on finances: 91 percent of declined offers of admission are financial decisions.

Tom Thielke, seated, speaks with a PharmD student
Tom Thielke (BS ’67, MS ’69) speaking with a PharmD student at the School of Pharmacy.

Currently, the School offers more than 150 scholarships annually, averaging $2,000 each. But with an annual tuition of nearly $30,000, students may need more support, especially out-of-state applicants who face higher rates.

“We want the top PharmD students to choose Wisconsin,” says Tom Thielke (BS ’67, MS ‘69), former director of pharmacy at UW Health and current member of the School’s Board of Visitors (BOV). “It’s really a tragedy when finances become a barrier to come to a school that’s as good as Madison when you’re a top-quality student.”

Thielke joined the Pharmacy Forward campaign committee to help design the campaign’s goals.

“We’ve lost some very good students due to finances,” says Thielke. “We needed to figure out a way to offer more support to students of need to enable them to choose Wisconsin.”

To Thielke, ensuring the admission of strong students into the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy is synonymous with supporting the advancement of practice throughout the state.

“I’ve always said that our practice level across hospitals and community pharmacies in the state of Wisconsin is better than just about any place in the United States, and a lot of that comes from students trained at the University of Wisconsin,” says Thielke. “Ensuring top students get admitted will allow us to continue excellent pharmacy practice that we have in the state of Wisconsin. That’s why I volunteered to be part of this committee to help do this, and I plan to make a significant contribution myself.”

Giving back to advance students

Nancy Gilbride (BS ’90, MS ’93), principal and chief commercial officer of the RxClarity Group and member of the BOV and Pharmacy Forward committee, is very proud of her training at Wisconsin. She says she bleeds Badger red.

“I would do anything for this school that has given me everything,” she says. “I would not be where I am without my education at Wisconsin, which taught me how to think critically, listen actively, and always have grit.”

Gilbride says her education at the School transcends the science of pharmacy.

Tom McCourt speaking with a PharmD student who is facing away from the camera
Tom McCourt (BS ’80) speaks with a PharmD student at the School of Pharmacy.

“I have not secured a single role in my career without the Wisconsin network and without calling on my mentors, including Tom Thielke,” she says. “Likewise, when I’m looking for talent, I automatically think about the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy graduates across the country given the strong, trusted bond.”

Gilbride believes that the Pharmacy Forward campaign will also fuel diversity of thought as it lowers the financial barrier to student pharmacists from around Wisconsin and beyond, despite higher out-of-state tuition.

“It’s really important for us to get out-of-state students to Wisconsin because different perspectives enrich the learning experience,” she says. “This campaign will allow students to choose Wisconsin because they have the financial support to do so, enabling them to have what I believe is the most exceptional pharmacy training in the nation. The Wisconsin pharmacy community never settles, we go out and change the world.”

In the campaign’s first year, 15 new scholarships have been created, including Jalal’s, with almost $2 million raised. But there’s much more progress to be made to reach the School’s goal for student support.

Tom McCourt (BS ’80), another early donor to the fund, says that his dad, Arthur McCourt (BS ’53) — a pharmacist, clinical professor at the School, and a strong supporter of scholarships and fundraising — was part of his motivation to give.

“Ensuring top students get admitted will allow us to continue excellent pharmacy practice that we have in the state of Wisconsin.”
—Tom Thielke

“We’ve been very fortunate to come out of the School and make good livings, and it really is something that I think we’re obligated to give back,” says McCourt.

Gilbride echoes the sentiment.

“When Wisconsin pharmacy calls, we need to listen and act to contribute to its sustainability and growth, to pay it forward,” she says. “As alumni, the Wisconsin experience is imprinted in our hearts and our spirit. Let’s make sure that the legacy we’ve all built together thrives for generations to come.”

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