By Jen A. Miller
When Lisa A. Lawson, PharmD, came to the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Sciences campus in 1982, she was focused on the job at hand: assistant professor of clinical pharmacy.
“My goal upon arriving at PCP&S was to become an outstanding faculty member in the area of pharmacokinetics, not an administrator,” said Lawson. She focused on her teaching duties, on scholarly activity, and on her practice, which she set up at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center.
Dean, however, is where she’s landed. This year, she became the first female dean of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. She also accepted the prestigious Barbara H. Korberly Professorship in Women’s Leadership and Health.
Colleagues credit her strong vision for the future of the college and ability to work with students and faculty as tools that helped her advance to the dean role.
“We moved to the Philadelphia area for the great career opportunities in pharmacy,” Lawson said. She had earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska and a doctorate of pharmacy from the University of Kentucky.
She met her husband, Gene Gibson, another pharmacy resident at the University of Kentucky, and after a three-year residency at University of Kentucky’s A. B. Chandler Hospital, the couple moved to Philadelphia.
When they started their family, she was the one who took a step back, which is why she said that her becoming dean now is especially significant.
“I had a nontraditional way of it in my professional life,” Lawson said. “I worked part-time to have more time with my family. I’ve had people say to me that they think I’ve balanced my professional and personal life well, though it takes longer to accomplish things.”
In 1989, she became director of the doctor of pharmacy program and then assistant dean in 1994, a position she held until 2006 when she became associate dean. George E. Downs, PharmD, dean emeritus and professor of clinical pharmacy, was dean at the time.
“She was the one who always kept me on the straight and narrow. She’s got the wisdom that goes with that,” said Downs. “She has the vision for where the University needs to go and where the pharmacy program needs to go.”
“Students love her. She understands them. She’s very sensitive to their needs,” said University President Philip P. Gerbino P’69, PharmD’70. “Many of the faculty have been her colleagues, and she is very respected by them. She’s an icon and mentor for young faculty. She has a way to bring young faculty along and get them to achieve at higher levels.”
When she became associate dean in 2006, she was part of a team that changed the doctorate in pharmacy curriculum to one that prompts students to be active rather than passive learners.
“We want to develop a personalized plan of learning from when they walk in the door. This would involve identification of preferred learning styles, developing professional and personal goals, and an assessment of baseline knowledge and skills. Students would be guided by faculty and peer mentors as they move through the program,” Lawson said. “We need to move away from just content delivery and make sure that they are actively engaged with faculty in a meaningful and sustained manner in the learning process.”
Her role, as she sees it now, is to lead PCP into a professional world that will be radically changed by new healthcare regulation affecting both practice and research.
She also sees herself not just as a role model for students, but also for colleagues who have faced the same confl icts between their personal and professional lives that she once did. “Since I’ve been named dean, I can’t tell you how many women faculty, students, staff, alumni, and parents have come up to me and said it’s an important event that there’s a woman dean.”
She’s enjoyed the path that got her here and is honored at taking over the role, especially at PCP, which has been her home for most of her professional career.
“PCP is the first and finest institution of its kind. My vision is to lead the faculty, staff, students, and alumni of PCP in its ongoing advancement as a premier pharmacy college.”