CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Michelle Easton is the dean of the University of Charleston School of Pharmacy. And she's a mentor, a friend, and, yes, sometimes a mom to the nearly 300 students. But lately, she just calls herself proud.
To date, 97 percent of the 69 new pharmacists in the class of 2010 passed the national certification test (called NAPLEX) on the first try, exceeding both state and national averages.
"We put West Virginia on the top of a good list," Easton said. "They are my kids. We nurture the students to have compassion, to help a patient have the best use of medicines."
Easton is proud that one-third of the school's graduates stayed in West Virginia, and more than half are working in Appalachia. That number is significant, because only one-fourth of the class was originally from West Virginia. The UC program works to improve healthcare in underserved regions of West Virginia and Appalachia.
According to Easton, nearly 15 percent of the class of 2010 is doing post-graduate work: six in pharmacy residency programs and three in clinical research fellowships. About 70 percent of the graduates are committed to practicing as community pharmacists, and 10 percent will practice in institutional settings like hospitals and nursing homes.
The New Orleans native started her tenure at UC in 2005, long before the pharmacy building was built.
"We started on the third floor of Riggleman Hall, and then expanded and moved to Cox Hall," she said of the rapid growth of the program. A significant appropriation landed by the late Senator Robert C. Byrd allowed the building that bears his name to be built.
Richard Stull, founding dean of the school, recruited Easton when she was the Director of Experiential Education at Hampton University in Virginia.
"Dick Stull reached out to me," Easton said. "He wanted the program to be centered on advocacy, and rooted in professionalism. Those are areas I had an interest in, as well."
Her first few months in Charleston had added stress, thanks to Hurricane Katrina. Weeks after she moved to the Mountain State, her parents' home was destroyed by the flooding. They came to Charleston to live with their daughter while their house was being rebuilt.
Easton received her bachelor and doctorate pharmacy degrees from Xavier University of Louisiana. She's worked in a retail setting, and she's presented public health-related seminars on topics including smoking cessation, mental health issues and professionalism.
Easton said she sees the challenges facing pharmacists in West Virginia. The rising problem with drug abuse is the focus of a clinic that helps former addicts.