MISSOULA – In small towns across Montana, pharmacists do much more than just dispense medications. They serve as a vital health care resource for their patients, providing important health screenings and education for conditions like diabetes and asthma.
To grow the number of community pharmacists in Montana and across the United States, The ALSAM Foundation created the University of Montana’s Skaggs Scholars Program in 2010. The scholarship provides financial assistance to five pharmacy students per year who are American Indian/Alaskan Native or another underrepresented minority.
Among the recipients is Skaggs Scholar Jessi Cahoon, who received the scholarship in 2012, 2013 and 2014. After graduating with her Pharm.D. in 2015, Cahoon completed a residency at Community Medical Center in Missoula, then accepted a position as an ambulatory care pharmacist for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Pablo.
“The scholarship offers inclusion in a wonderful network of people,” said Cahoon. “The scholarship coordinators, faculty mentors and other recipients eased the isolation of being a Native American student with many barriers to success. The support of my mentors emboldened me to pursue the highest goals of pharmacy.”
The Skaggs Scholars Program has been highly successful in its goal of recruiting more Native American students. When the scholarship was created, UM ranked fourth among pharmacy schools nationwide in enrollment of Native American and Alaska Native. Now, as of the 2016-17 school year, UM has the largest number of Native American students in any pharmacy program in the country.
As they graduate, they are making a difference for Montana. Currently, all 30 practicing pharmacists in Montana who identify as American Indian/Alaska Native are UM Skaggs School of Pharmacy alumni.
The impact of their past generosity has inspired The ALSAM Foundation to permanently endow the scholarship. With their $1.25 million gift, they are ensuring that UM can continue to attract and support Native American students in pharmacy.
“The education of minority and underprivileged students and providing pharmacy services to rural communities were both goals of L. S. Skaggs,” said Ronny Cutshall, president of the foundation. Skaggs was a retail giant who, building on top of a business his father started, pioneered innovative merchandising techniques that revolutionized the grocery and drug store businesses.
“The ALSAM Foundation hopes the Skaggs Scholars program will continue to satisfy these goals.”
Howard Beall, associate dean of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy at UM, says that the scholarship fund will have lasting effects on the quality of health care in Montana.
“The scholarships will provide opportunities for future generations of Native American students to pursue their dreams of becoming pharmacists,” he said. “Many will then return home to serve and strengthen their communities.”