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Good Medicine

Dr. Arcelia Johnson-FanninArcelia Johnson-Fannin passionately believes in the seriousness of her work as a pharmaceutical professional and educator - as much as she believes that the lives she holds in her hands should be tended with great care.

And in her years of experience, Johnson-Fannin, a tall, graceful woman who carries herself with poise, has come to believe that appearances can determine the measure of trust that one is given.

It's that belief that holds sway over the rules of her classroom - rules she's enforced for 27 years.

No jeans. No shorts. No T-shirts, halter tops or any other “unprofessional” clothing.

Johnson-Fannin, founding dean in the Feik School of Pharmacy at the University of the Incarnate Word, demands and expects much more - inside and outside the classroom.

“This level of education is intense,” said Johnson-Fannin, who holds a doctorate. “The presentation of the students should be such that it says, 'I understand the importance of what I hold in my hands.' There are people out there looking at you - people whose lives you're taking in your hands.

“I want graduates who, when I'm 80 years old and I see that a UIW student is caring for me, I'll breathe a sigh of relief. I'll know that I'm in good hands. If I have to be some kind of crazy fool in the process, I will.”

She's not kidding. In spite of the good humor that stretches a smile across her face, Johnson-Fannin's eyes speak of deep conviction and determination.

It's the same look that she wears in her picture as the December pharmacist in the Aetna 2005 African American History Calendar, which celebrates the history and heritage of notable African-American pharmacists. Johnson-Fannin is featured as the first woman and only black female to be founding dean at two new pharmacy schools - one at UIW and another in Tallahassee, Fla.

Born into a family of teachers in the Northeast Texas town of Linden, Johnson-Fannin said she never expected her life to take the path that it has. Early in her childhood, she had vowed never to teach.

A childhood illness introduced her to pharmacy science - and the first female pharmacist she had ever met.

"I just thought that was so neat,” Johnson-Fannin said. “The medicine she gave me that night made me feel so much better. I decided that I wanted to do what she did.”

An extraordinary student, Johnson-Fannin finished second and third grades simultaneously and was valedictorian of her high school class. She earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Dillard University in New Orleans and another bachelor's in pharmacy from Columbia University in New York.

She was first in her doctoral class at Mercer University in Atlanta.

Johnson-Fannin tested the waters of retail pharmacy at New York's Montefiore Hospital but soon was recruited by Florida A&M University, or FAMU, in Tallahassee, where she helped develop the clinical pharmacy program. A year into the job, she became the first director of the pharmacy degree program. She still fondly remembers giving out the first doctoral degree.

During her 20 years at FAMU, Johnson-Fannin spent a year in Saudi Arabia, teaching pharmacology at a women's medical school.

In 1997, Johnson-Fannin moved to Virginia, where she headed the development of Hampton University's pharmacy program. Her husband, Dr. Larry Fannin, was hired as an associate dean.

During Johnson-Fannin's last year at the university, her graduating students' passing rate on the board exam, which certifies them as pharmacists, hit 100 percent.

That's what interested administrators at UIW, said Terry Dicianna, UIW provost. An in-person interview confirmed that Johnson-Fannin was UIW's best choice for pharmacy director, he said.

“She has a warm personality,” Dicianna said. “People are attracted to her personality. She's a dynamic and successful woman who will do whatever it takes to make this a successful program.”

“It will be an enormous high for me to watch that oath ceremony, to see those first students walk across the stage and to have this program succeed.”

“It will be an enormous high for me to watch that oath ceremony, to see those first students walk across the stage and to have this program succeed.”

She is a woman of presence,” said Joseph Dean, dean of the McWhorter School of Pharmacy at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., who helped in UIW's dean search. “She is a woman with boundless energy, exceptional vision and considerable leadership skills. When she enters a room, she makes a difference.”

As a professor, Johnson-Fannin's passion for pharmacy is highly contagious, according to her former students. They consider her a model professor, said Dr. Vivian Johnson, director of pharmacy services at Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas.

“She challenged us to do our best,” said Johnson, who studied under Johnson-Fannin for four years at FAMU. “She had high expectations of her students and wanted to make sure they got the most from her instruction. She was a tough professor, but we knew she wanted to see us do well.”

UIW's pharmacy school will not open until fall 2006, when students will begin the year with a white-coat ceremony - a ceremony where the first class will pledge to prepare themselves as best they can for the pharmacy profession, Johnson-Fannin said. The first students will graduate in 2010.

For Johnson-Fannin, a lover of puzzles, each individual piece holds promise and excitement.

“I love seeing things that are bits and pieces coming together,” she said. “It will be an enormous high for me to watch that oath ceremony, to see those first students walk across the stage and to have this program succeed.”

She'll do what it takes, she said, to embrace her students and ensure that they make it - extra study sessions, introducing her students to community professionals, placing them in part-time jobs, removing them from part-time jobs if their grades start to fall, sending them to national meetings.

But she won't make it easy.

“Nobody will graduate from the pharmacy school who is not ready,” she said.

Johnson-Fannin jokes about a “crying tree” - the place where her former students would gather at grade time and lament their marks.

She says she can't promise that UIW will never have its own “crying tree.”

What she can promise is that the graduates of her program will change the face of pharmacy service in San Antonio.

The Feik School of Pharmacy will likely have its greatest impact in addressing the shortage of pharmacists in rural regions and in providing access to Hispanics interested in pursuing pharmacy as a profession.

Texas currently has a shortage of 400 pharmacists, a scarcity that's even more acute in the state's rural areas. Nationally, there's a shortage of 8,000 pharmacists, according to a story in the AARP Bulletin. That shortage, according to the Bulletin, is expected to worsen by 2020, when it could reach 140,000 nationally.

And while Hispanics now constitute the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the country and in Texas, just 3.6 percent of pharmacists nationwide are Hispanic. That's the same percentage as in 1984, when Hispanics comprised a much lower percentage of the country's population.

Unlike nearly all other pharmacy programs in the nation, Hispanics are expected to comprise a sizeable portion of the UIW pharmacy program's enrollment. That's because half of the Incarnate Word student body is Hispanic, a figure that closely mirrors the percentage of Hispanics in the San Antonio population.

Early inquiries about the program are showing that to be the case - 60 percent of the students who are interested in applying have been Hispanic, although the program is open to all qualified students regardless of racial or ethnic background.

Given the very low numbers of minority pharmacy graduates nationwide, Johnson-Fannin said she's developing a strategy that will ensure UIW has its own pipeline of minority applicants.

“We have plans to secure grants that will allow us to work with minority students at the early high school years to help them be prepared to enter our curriculum,” Johnson-Fannin explained. “And, we will work with our matriculating students to help them be successful using venues like tutorial sessions, recitations, and monitored peer-group teaching.”

The Feik School of Pharmacy will be located at the corner of Hildebrand and Devine, on property the University acquired near Incarnate Word High School. Groundbreaking for the School is expected to occur sometime in the early part of spring. University officials added that the building could be finished by August of next year.

The pharmacy program received a shot in the arm at the end of the summer when Congress passed a transportation bill that earmarked $2 million for UIW to use for the School's infrastructure.

The $2 million will help fund a multi-level parking garage as well as access roads and pedestrian walkways that have been designed to address the issues of parking, safety, and public access associated with this facility.

“The paper plans have shaped up very well,” Johnson-Fannin said of the building's design process. “It has been a wonderful experience working with the architects in bringing the plans from ideas to drawings.

“It's a purpose-driven plan, specifically created with the variety of needs of the pharmacy program,” she added. “The building will be beautiful. We can hardly wait to move in and show it off!”

There are approximately 90 pharmacy programs nationwide; just five of them are located in Texas.

The UIW program will be the only one in the state based at either a private or faith-based university. It will also be the only one in the country to offer an optional bilingual certificate track in Spanish.

According to the AARP Bulletin story, starting salaries for pharmacists can be as high as $100,000 in some parts of the country, not including signing bonuses and relocation expenses. Spanish-speaking pharmacists can usually command much higher starting salaries.

Even when all of the above is taken into account, Johnson-Fannin said the UIW program will ultimately be distinguished by two traits: personal attention to the students and a focus on the details.

“On the one hand, we will be no different than any other school in Texas,” she explained. “We will offer a science-based curriculum that provides students with the tools needed to pass the board and be successful pharmacists. We will do all necessary to be an accredited pharmacy school.

“On the other hand … professionalization of the student starts early,” Johnson-Fannin continued. “We intend to produce a pharmacy school graduate who is capable of practicing in any setting, who understands the need to further their education, formally and informally, and practicing pharmacists who use their position in the medical community to promote good health.”