Breadth of impactful leadership-building events earns Beta Alpha the title of 2020 Chapter of the Year
By Mary Magnuson
Last November, a classroom in the South Madison Community Partnership building held a group of caregivers hoping to improve their lives and mental health, as well as their ability to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. They were brought together by PharmD students in the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy’s Beta Alpha chapter of Phi Lambda Sigma (PLS), aka the Pharmacy Leadership Society, in an event that featured health care professionals from a variety of fields addressing the daily challenges these informal caregivers face. The event took nearly two years to plan, but the response made it worthwhile.
“For this being our first time putting on an event like this, we thought that it was extremely successful and made a positive impact on members of our local community,” says fourth-year PharmD student Kara Mudd, 2019-2020 PLS president, who helped organize the training.
Before beginning her clinical rotations in spring, Mudd presided over the School’s chapter of PLS, an organization made up of motivated pharmacy students dedicated to helping future pharmacists foster connections, develop their leadership skills, and serve their community.
“It was an amazing feeling to have the inspiring and impactful work done by our chapter get recognized on a national level.”
Service- and leadership-focused events like their Caring for the Caregiver clinic earned the School’s Beta Alpha chapter the title of 2020 PLS Chapter of the Year, out of 125 chapters nationwide.
“It was a huge honor and surprise for our chapter to receive the Chapter of the Year Award,” Mudd says. “It was an amazing feeling to have the inspiring and impactful work done by our chapter get recognized on a national level. It also served as a motivator to continue growing as a chapter and making a positive impact going forward.”
The Caring for the Caregiver training was the result of the chapter winning another national PLS award: the Charles Thomas Leadership Challenge, which garners proposals from chapters around the country for projects aimed at strengthening leadership skills, encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration, and addressing a pertinent issue in the profession. The winning team receives funding to make the proposal a reality.
“Our proposal was all about the advancement of the quality of life for not only the patients but also the caregivers,” says Katie Sherman, a fourth-year PharmD student and 2019–2020 PLS vice president. “We recognize that these caregivers, who aren’t doing this work professionally, make up millions of dollars of unpaid care that they provide for their loved one.”
The caregiver training and accompanying award is just one example of the numerous initiatives the Beta Alpha chapter has undertaken. In 2018, PLS launched an annual Community Service Challenge throughout the month of February, encouraging students and faculty across the School to form teams and give their time in various ways, such as volunteering at health fairs, creating cards for local nursing home residents, or decorating lunch bags for the Ronald McDonald House. This year, according to Sherman, participants volunteered for a combined 748 hours over 29 days — nearly double the volunteer time logged in the challenge’s first year.
“It’s a positive month, a feel-good month,” Sherman says. “Pharmacy students are really busy, but we’re also committed to using the free time that we do have to give back when we can.”
As one of PLS’ main goals is engagement in leadership, the Beta Alpha members created two new events in 2019. The first is the Leadership Gala, which connects their current members with School alumni, faculty, and other invited PharmD students to celebrate innovation and achievements by members.
The second inaugural event is Leadership Week, comprising different activities each day, such as a reflection on leadership styles and a session to hear from School leaders about what skills are useful in their positions.
PLS also hosts a series of breakfast talks throughout the year, featuring School of Pharmacy alumni and other pharmacists discussing their leadership journeys.
Angie Ngo (PharmD ’20) says PLS motivated her to get involved at the national level, and she served last year as a Midwest representative on the national PLS council, where she was often complimented on the Beta Alpha chapter’s impressive accomplishments.
In the three years Ngo was a member of PLS, she saw the group come into its own as a service organization and from there has continued to grow.
“Our organization shifted,” Ngo says. “People started asking, ‘How can we influence and make an impact and help others find their ability to lead? It’s great that we’re all in the org together, but what can we do with that? How can we make an impact?’”
Lindsey Skubitz (PharmD ‘20), 2018-2019 PLS president, says the dedication of the pharmacy students in PLS contributes to their success as a chapter and their ability to get the wider School of Pharmacy community involved.
“It all goes back to our members who are willing to help out if there’s a new event that someone wants to create,” Skubitz says. “It comes down to the members being excited about leadership, and that is what made things so fun.”
Now an alum, Skubitz looks forward to keeping in contact with the organization and seeing what new ideas future Beta Alpha members come up with.
“PLS was one of my favorite things about pharmacy school because I met so many great people, leaders, and mentors,” Skubitz says. “It helped me step out of my comfort zone to try new things. I had never been a part of implementing any projects before, and this organization gave me the opportunity to do that with a group of amazing people that really set the bar high.”