Honoring A Lifetime of Contributions

Published on 16 February 2017

As grades are calculated and students prepare for break, the stress of final exams subsides across campus. But for Sister Mary Louise Degenhart ’60, ASC, MBA, FASHP, special assistant to the president, the anticipation extends beyond the last test. She waits to hear how the students she has mentored have fared. Slowly the emails come. Along with the passing marks are kind words from students appreciative of Degenhart’s time.

“To see students achieve success and have the ability to encourage them means everything to me,” Degenhart shared.

Connections like the ones she has made with students at St. Louis College of Pharmacy have defined her career in pharmacy. Her devotion to helping others succeed is one of the reasons Degenhart was selected as the 2016 Harvey A.K. Whitney Lecture Award recipient. Each year, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) recognizes an individual of high moral character, good citizenship and elevated professional ideals who has made outstanding contributions to health-system pharmacy. The Whitney Award is considered health-system pharmacy’s highest honor and one of the two highest in American pharmacy.

“It never entered my head that I would be a recipient,” she said. “It’s an honor for me, but more than that, it’s an honor for my family, my religious community and the College.”

The award comes as Degenhart celebrates 60 years in the profession. Several years before choosing pharmacy, Degenhart entered the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a vowed religious community of Roman Catholic women founded in 1834. There are more than 2,000 members of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ worldwide including more than 200 who live in the United States. After graduating from the College, Degenhart’s pharmacy career began at a 55-bed hospital in Murphysboro, Illinois.

“Starting out in a small hospital, I had the opportunity to do everything,” she said. “I was able to learn about all areas of pharmacy that way.”

For nearly half of her career, Degenhart focused on developing and growing pharmacy residency and pharmacy technician programs. She established programs at the University of Chicago and in Springfield, Illinois. She also helped hundreds of other programs through her work with ASHP conducting accreditation evaluations, a role that highlighted her passion for nurturing the growth of students and programs.

“At ASHP, we were in the accreditation business, not the disaccreditation business,” Degenhart said. “We were exploring ways to help pharmacy programs improve. I felt we were surveyors in the sense of upholding national standards and also consultants.”

In accepting the award, Degenhart presented an imagined conversation between herself and Harvey A.K. Whitney, co-founder of ASHP and the organization’s first president. During her speech, she made the case for the expanded training of young pharmacists, especially in community residencies, despite the changing climates within pharmacy and higher education. Degenhart used the opportunity to connect with the audience and encourage them to invest in and strengthen the profession of pharmacy – just as she has done throughout her entire career.

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