By Sydney Slotkin DuPriest
Alan McKay (MS 78, PhD 80), founding dean emeritus of the Shenandoah University Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy, was named the 2017 University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.
McKay completed his master’s and Ph.D. in health care administration, now called pharmacy administration, from the University of Mississippi in 1980 under the guidance of Mickey Smith (PhD 64), then chair of the Department of Health Care Administration.
“Everybody at Ole Miss was like family and it took away the fear,” McKay said. “Mississippi has a way of accepting people and letting them feel comfortable with who they are.”
After completing his master’s degree, McKay, feeling overwhelmed with school, work and family, decided to tell Smith that he wouldn’t be pursuing his Ph.D.
“And Mickey looked at me and he said, ‘McKay, I see smart people come and I see smart people go. The ones that make a difference are the ones who don’t give up,’ McKay recounted. “Everybody has to have somebody who believes in them.”
McKay received his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Mercer University in 1975. After receiving his master’s and Ph.D. from UM, he became an assistant professor at Mercer University College of Pharmacy. He joined the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in 1983 before moving to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences as chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice in 1990. He began his penultimate position as the founding dean of Shenandoah’s School of Pharmacy in 1995 and retired in August 2016.
“Starting a new school of pharmacy 22 years ago was a big challenge,” McKay said. “You can’t just tell people what you want done and what you think is important. Sometimes you have to demonstrate.”
Since retiring, he has continued to use his experience as the director of Shenandoah University’s Design Innovation Center and as a member of a task force charged with creating a new medical school in Northern Virginia.
During the planning of the medical school, McKay wrote a curriculum proposal that focused on team-based education, known as a fusion curriculum. As part of his proposal, students from all healthcare disciplines would take a three-week break from their specialized curricula every semester and work together to solve healthcare problems using information technology and genomics, a practice called precision medicine.
“We are trying to intentionally incorporate into the next generation of health professionals an understanding and appreciation of two things: one, that technology is changing under your feet and two, you’re not going to solve all the problems yourself,” McKay said.
In addition to his visionary approach to healthcare education, McKay’s colleagues know him as a caring educator who is deeply interested in the well-being of his students. John Bentley (MS 96, PhD 98), chair of the Department of Pharmacy Administration at UM, referred to McKay’s transformative effect on others.
“Part of it is role modeling,” Bentley said. “We see in Alan someone who has strong values, has a vision for where he wants to go and can see things beyond where a lot of people can see; but it’s also just taking an interest in people. Alan sees qualities in people and is able to help develop them.”
David D. Allen, dean of the UM School of Pharmacy, says the winner of this award is chosen based on character, leadership and contributions to the pharmacy profession.
“Alan McKay is one of the most insightful and forward-thinking pharmacy educators I’ve met, and an exceptional representative of the School of Pharmacy,” Allen said. “I’m very pleased we can honor him in this way.”
The School of Pharmacy presented McKay with the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award at the annual School of Pharmacy Alumni Weekend Banquet on April 8.