"I am not a joiner. And I don't see myself as a do-gooder."
Dr. Nancy Nickman, professor of pharmacotherapy in the College of Pharmacy is adamant about that. “I describe it as holding a kite string for somebody and making sure nothing snips that string while they’re trying to do something that’s important to them.”
For 30 years Dr. Nickman has been holding the string that connects her classroom to community needs. Her work has garnered her national recognition in the form of grants, as well as the top prize for community engaged faculty, the Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award. Presented in 1996, Nickman recalls, “I didn’t know who Thomas Ehrlich was at the time and it wasn’t like you could just Google it. I knew who Robert Coles was but I didn’t appreciate it until many years later that Robert Coles had gotten the first award and I’d gotten the second one.”
Nickman joined the U’s faculty in 1987. She taught a class she calls a re-introduction to bedside manner – a required course for all pharmacy students. “Originally, when I came the class was taught having students do a term paper on some topic of their choice.” Nickman knew that wasn’t good enough and wanted to create a course with a more people focused approach.
At the same time, the Bennion Center was looking for proposals from faculty interested in creating new courses or altering existing courses to include what at the time was called service learning. Nickman proposed partnering with community agencies looking for volunteers to serve in existing programs. First year students would visit in pairs the homes of elderly residents affiliated with the Salt Lake County Housing Authority. The housing organization would get the home visit help it needed. Students would encounter real-life situations that related to their future patients.
That was more than 20 years ago. Not only has Nickman continued the partnership with the Housing Authority, but as the pharmacy program grew she also reached out to include Horizonte School, Utah Food Bank, Community Nursing Center, Promise South Salt Lake, Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services, and even the 4H program. “Not the pigs and cows but the after school ‘Let’s build rockets’ program,” she explains.
Nickman tells community partners, “You’re helping me help them become the type of pharmacist you need in the community.”
She says classroom time becomes even more valuable in the context of community engagement. “I can teach you all about socio-economic status and who is not likely to pick up their prescriptions,” Nickman explains.”
What she can’t teach is what that looks like, feels like, and sounds like in the community. When a student sits across from somebody who says, “Yeah, I eat cat food because that’s all I can afford,” Nickman says, “That’s not just another book learned fact. It’s a very different experience. It’s one you don’t forget.” She adds, “Students come back with some lessons that I couldn’t have designed for them. It changes the way they think about what it means to be a pharmacist but I think, more importantly, what it means to be a member of a community.”