TWO PHARMACY LEADERS WITH A PASSION for education have been presented with Honorary Membership Awards by the ASHP Board of Directors.
The awards, which recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to pharmacy practice, were given to Johnnie L. Early II, R.Ph., Ph.D., FNPhA, dean of Florida A&M University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Institute of Public Health, in Tallahassee, and to Peter H. Vlasses, Pharm.D., D.Sc. (Hon.), FCCP, executive director emeritus of the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) in Chicago. Both were elected for life by unanimous vote.
A lifetime of pharmacy leadership
Dr. Early was recognized for his nearly four decades of pharmacy education and his dedication to expanding opportunities for youth from various racial and ethnic backgrounds to explore careers in pharmacy practice and the pharmaceutical sciences. A charter member of the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA), Dr. Early has worked tirelessly to recruit diverse students and create more diverse workforces at the several universities he has worked for. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his contributions to pharmacy, including the 2018 ASHP-ABHP Joint Leadership Award, the Outstanding Alumnus Award from the Purdue University chapter of the SNPhA, the National Pharmaceutical Association’s Chauncey I. Copper Award, and the ABHP Wendell T. Hill Award. He also was among the first to be honored as a Fellow of the National Pharmaceutical Association.
Dr. Early “is a distinguished educator and visionary leader in pharmacy,” ASHP said a formal announcement. “He has been instrumental in addressing racial disparities in healthcare, expanding opportunities for BIPOC youth to explore careers in pharmacy practice and the pharmaceutical sciences, and developing a more diverse and culturally competent healthcare workforce.”
Home grown brew
Growing up, Dr. Early said he always had an interest in science and science fiction. But his first memory of being impressed by pharmacology was around age 5. He was sick, and laying in his bed, when his maternal grandmother came to the house and asked what was wrong. She felt his forehead, then went to the kitchen and rummaged through the knife drawer. The sound piqued Dr. Early’s curiosity (“The first thing I thought was surgery,” he laughed). Instead, his grandmother went out to the front yard, cut some leaves off a plant, and brewed him a warm, bitter tea to drink. Within 30 minutes or so, he felt better.
Years later, Dr. Early considered a variety of careers in the health sciences. As an undergraduate biology major at Fort Valley State University in Georgia, he was one of several students recruited directly by the dean of Mercer University Southern School of Pharmacy, Dr. Oliver Littlejohn. The day he started pharmacy school he was also invited to be interviewed for medical school. He explored public health and took the Dental Aptitude test where he was asked to carve a piece of chalk. Despite his dexterity, the chalk broke, and his career in pharmacy began. After graduating from Mercer, Dr. Early went on to receive his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in pharmacology/toxicity from Purdue University.
A dedication to academics
Dr. Early has had a long academic career, holding several positions at Florida A&M including program director of the Minority Biomedical Research Support Program, assistant dean for research, and dean. He then served as dean and professor for the Medical University of South Carolina and for the University of Toledo, in Ohio, before returning to Florida A&M in 2018 for his current role.
Inspired by the dean who recruited him to pharmacy school, Dr. Early has made a point of recruiting potential trainees in person when possible. Over the past two decades, he has established programs at the University of Toledo and at Florida A&M through which minority high school students spend a few days on campus learning more about pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences careers. Last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the course was shortened and put online, but students still got some hands-on experience, including making capsules.
“I’m a guy who likes to work,” he said. “And I’m always trying to figure out how to make my people and programs better. Every time somebody gets hired with us, and then is promoted and moves on to higher positions, I see that not as a loss but as an applause for the program.”
Grateful and humbled
Dr. Early, who started attending ASHP meetings when he first became dean of Florida A&M in 1987, said he was floored to receive a call from ASHP CEO Paul Abramowitz, Pharm.D., Sc.D. (Hon), FASHP, letting him know of the honorary membership award. “It was not in my thinking that that kind of award would be anything that would come my way,” he said. He thanked Dr. Abramowitz on the phone and, in his signature style, later in a handwritten note. “It’s a most significant award and something that I’m ever so grateful for.”