Scaling Innovation


AACP’s new Transformation Center will promote and disseminate innovations in pharmacy practice and education to further optimize patient care.

By Athena Ponushis

Against the backdrop of a pandemic, pharmacists are taking more active roles in public health. Pharmacy schools are rethinking the reach of education, delivering healthcare to communities that need it. To amplify this work, AACP has established the Center to Accelerate Pharmacy Practice Transformation and Academic Innovation. The AACP Transformation Center hopes to become a center of attention, lifting up the work of members to help pharmacy reach the heights of its potential. The center will share the stories of members who are reaching people in need of healthcare so pharmacy can further its mission to improve health outcomes for all populations.

“The launch of the center is very timely because we are in an era of change,” noted Melissa Murer Corrigan, executive director of the center. “A number of changes have happened the last couple of years related to curriculum, teaching methods and innovation. We have also seen innovations in practice that we could not have envisioned before. The center will help build and scale these changes. I think that’s one of our greatest endeavors as a center, to not only promote, highlight and encourage innovation, but allow it to scale up and happen in more places.”

Corrigan sees the center’s mission to accelerate pharmacy practice transformation and academic innovation as a true means to improve health outcomes and reduce health disparities. She pointed to Dr. Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir, (“Dr. JAM”) assistant professor of pharmacy at Loma Linda University School of Pharmacy and a critical care infectious disease pharmacist, as an example of someone working to magnify and rectify health inequities in minoritized communities. She saw that the COVID-19 vaccine clinics in California were not reaching the most vulnerable populations. She talked with her journal club and her colleagues and asked, ‘What can we do? What can we do differently?’ They reached out to Black churches, engaging pastors, to reach the Black community where they live, learn and pray. Vaccine rates increased significantly and Dr. JAM’s work was published in The Lancet Global Health.

“A lot of the initiatives that we are talking about in pharmacy relate to education and that’s what Dr. JAM provided. She questioned why is there vaccine hesitancy, how can we educate the most vulnerable about the vaccines and what does that look like moving forward. She has continued to support the important role of the pastors and has worked collaboratively. These are the principles that we are talking about with the center,” Corrigan said. “So, I just stand in awe of Dr. JAM and others who are out there trying things. It’s their work that we want to uplift at the center.”

Opportunity Abounds

Corrigan has built her career on blazing trails and bringing groups together. She led the national Scope of Pharmacy Practice Project in 1992 and guided the creation of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board in 1995. In her role as executive director of the transformation center, she intends to work with pharmacy organizations as well as other disciplines in the broader healthcare ecosystem. She’s eager to learn from those doing innovative work in higher education, connect with foundations supporting innovative work, like the Gates Foundation or Lumina Foundation, and she’s interested in talking with people who are doing disruptive things in areas like digital health.

“We are not alone in doing this work,” Corrigan said. “And I think the transformation center has an openness to it, what I call a ‘come with us’ attitude. We want to know, how do we widen the path? How do we bring groups together? We will look at strategy, mission and values, and say, ‘Join us.’ That’s how we will align our efforts.”

When Corrigan thinks of all the work member institutions and individual members are doing, when she thinks of folding their work into the center, she hears one word clearly: opportunity. She foresees the center elevating values that are intrinsic to pharmacy—curiosity, accessibility, empathy—as well as what she believes to be the power of transformation: collaboration.

Masked staff at COVID-19 Vaccination site.
Dr. Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir (far right), assistant professor of pharmacy at Loma Linda University School of Pharmacy, reached out to Black churches in her community to increase vaccine rates. AACP’s new transformation center will share such examples from members and scale up these innovations.

“We are looking at project models we can replicate, scale and grow to truly focus on medication use optimization, improving health outcomes and reducing health disparities. We are looking at our relationships with other healthcare disciplines. How can we learn from them? And we are looking at how do we address big-picture issues, whether that be related to policy or building up our pharmacy workforce pipeline, what does that look like?” she said.

Corrigan believes the pervasiveness of health disparities and the toll of the pandemic affirm the need for the transformation center. “We need the center now because pharmacists are mission critical in the healthcare ecosystem,” she emphasized. “We have been through a lot the last couple of years, and if anything, I think covid has taught us that having pharmacists around the table is vital.”

She considers innovations that are happening now, such as a pharmacist in Iowa who created a vaccine taxi program for community impact, the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy’s project, “Advancing Kidney Health Through Optimal Medication Management,” and the Academia-CPESN Transformation (ACT) Pharmacy Collaborative, a collaboration between colleges/schools of pharmacy and clinically integrated networks of community-based pharmacies. “There are so many things happening that we want to amplify,” she said. Sometimes a pharmacist or a professor will have an idea but they don’t know how to follow it through. That’s where a case study or a toolkit comes in. The center hopes to become a hub where these resources reside so those who are willing will find ways to engage in interprofessional collaborative care.


We are looking at project models we can replicate, scale and grow to truly focus on medication use optimization, improving health outcomes and reducing health disparities. We are looking at our relationships with other healthcare disciplines. How can we learn from them? And we are looking at how do we address big-picture issues, whether that be related to policy or building up our pharmacy workforce pipeline.

Melissa Murer Corrigan

“When we talk about transformation and innovation, I also want to put out there that sometimes things aren’t going to work,” she continued. “In this world of social media where everything’s curated and looks so good, you hear about things and it’s like, ‘Oh, they hit it out of the park.’ The reality is, when you try something new, there are going to be bumps in the road, or not even bumps—you may go off the road—but the key is to pick yourself up and figure out what happened so you know what to do differently in the future. When you look at it that way, these missteps are lessons that help us grow and do bold things. I hope the center will be a way for us to learn these lessons collectively.”

Corrigan also sees pharmacists playing a more active role in an area that cannot be talked about enough: mental health. “First, we need to take care of the caregivers. It’s tough right now and we need to make sure pharmacists are taking care of themselves as they are taking care of their patients,” she said. “Second, we talk about the accessibility we have in pharmacy, being in the community…mental health is a concern and the idea of pharmacists playing a role is something we are just touching on.” Pharmacists tend to see patients more than physicians do, so Corrigan looks forward to seeing the role the center can play in meeting the need for mental healthcare.

Introductory Steps

One of the center’s first leading actions will be its Bridging Pharmacy Education and Practice Summit, which will be held simultaneously at six regional locations in early June. “It’s really living our goals, in that we are working with other planning partners to bring it together,” Corrigan said. The summit will focus on four content areas: competency-based pharmacy education; professional identity formation; optimizing the continuum of learning from Pharm.D. to postgraduate education; and continuing professional development and lifelong learning for pharmacists.

Engaging members at six locations across the country allows the center to gather a larger group. Event planners anticipate 50 attendees at each site, drawing roughly 300 people to participate in the two-day summit. “We currently have about 150 individuals who have expressed interest and the caliber of people, their leadership expertise and background, there’s just a super amount of excitement about this work,” Corrigan said.

The agenda suggests an interactive and engaging summit. Participants will draft consensus and recommendation statements for what should come next. “We are really trying to think through the richness of how do we utilize our relationships and partnerships to make this a living, breathing, ‘what’s next’ activity, so after we have these deep, thoughtful discussions and presentations and reflections, we have a way to keep things going,” she explained.

Shortly after the summit, the transformation center will host a session at AACP’s annual meeting to inform and interest members. The poster theme for 2022 will be “Bridging Education and Practice,” allowing schools to feature their work around innovation and transformation while helping the center identify potential collaborative efforts moving forward. “We know that there’s so much already happening out there and we cannot wait to learn more,” Corrigan said.

With a goal of sustainability, Corrigan would like all deans at all pharmacy schools to know, “It’s within their leadership that we are looking to scale and grow these initiatives and activities, so to have them involved would be important.” The center also recognizes faculty, who are working with learners each day, and would like to glean from their curriculum how to train pharmacists for today and tomorrow, especially for emerging, innovative roles. Likewise, the center recognizes learners.

In the first week of her role as director, Corrigan attended the Academic Leadership Fellows graduation. “I felt this energy, and what I was thinking as I sat at my table, watching and celebrating their accomplishments, was how do we harness the power of these leadership fellows?” she said. “I see the leadership fellows being an integral part of the center.”

The transformation center will soon name its expert advisory council, assembling a group across disciplines and geography to lend diversity of thought and experience to help steer the work of the center to expand the scope of pharmacy. “Really figuring out what’s the best use of our time and resources is where we are going to look to this expert advisory council to give us insight based on their experience in real-world healthcare settings to help us identify what we should focus on,” Corrigan said.

She believes the future is bright but still looks to history and feels inspired to lift up the work of someone like Zada Cooper, the first female tenured professor of pharmacy in the country, the first secretary of AACP, the mother of Kappa Epsilon and Rho Chi. “She was fearless. She created multiple organizations after the Spanish flu, so I look to Zada, her life and her legacy, to learn from her work as we ponder what’s coming next. I am very optimistic. And I am thrilled to be part of an organization that Zada was so supportive of and loved. I just feel like it’s an exciting time.”

Athena Ponushis is a freelance writer based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.