Neil Shaver is helping pharmacy students at High Point University (HPU) learn some of the most important lessons of their training. Neil is part of a collaboration between the HPU Fred Wilson School of Pharmacy and River Landing that provides students with valuable insight into how to communicate effectively with patients in the real world.

As a retired pharmacist with nearly 47 years of experience in military hospitals, retail settings and teaching hospitals, Neil provides a double dose of insight to the students he mentors.

“The students learn how to converse with customers, assist them and help them deal with the problems of an older population,” says Neil. “But also as a retired pharmacist, I can share experiences that they can’t hear anywhere else.”

And the interaction has had a positive impact on his impression of the next generation of pharmacists. “I like to see people who are really dedicated to the profession in it and serving in it.,” adds Neil.

“I’m seeing that HPU has touched a sensitive and very important area of a pharmacist’s life,” he continues. “not just knowing the medicine and the products but dealing with people who have a medical problem… and how to be sensitive and compassionate to the needs of the patient.

“I’m amazed at seeing the students pick up on this… realizing the customer’s satisfaction with the conversation is just as important as the medication… the need to have confidence in their pharmacist…”

With doctors and pharmacists working much more closely in hospital environments, Neil suggests that the ability to collaborate is critical, as well. “In hospitals, the pharmacist is part of the team developing a treatment plan for patients,” adds Neil.

Even though the sessions are only supposed to be an hour long, they tend to run over without even batting an eye. According to Neil, students and residents don’t realize the time because finding the answers and getting it right is so important to the students.

So far, Neil has been mentoring two students, a third year and a fourth year, and has just added another. And the sessions have allowed the students and residents like Neil to form bonds that endure outside of the program.

“It’s good for residents to meet with (the students),” he says. “And to see that there are people out there entering professions that care and that they know what they are doing. And we can be proud of them.”

However, the benefits to the profession and, ultimately, to the care provided to patients when these students become pharmacists, are what make the program meaningful and worthwhile. “I can see that (these students) are thinkers, consummate professionals,” Neil explains, “with a good sense of priorities and a sense of give-and-take. It’s been a delightful experience for me.

“We’re sitting in the middle of fantastic medical leaps forward, and on the edge of creating medical methods and drugs that will improve the character of people’s lives.”

After serving 22 years in the U.S. Air Force as a pharmacist all over the world, including a year of duty in Vietnam during the war, Neil retired from service in 1989. “I retired on a Friday,” says Neil. “And Monday went back to work at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.”

He took over the role of buyer for the pharmacy department. “I joked with them that I spent all of their money,” says Neil. He was also involved in manufacturing some of the medications in the big teaching hospital and teaching a few courses.

“And I enjoyed every opportunity. Each was different and challenging in ways that helped me grow as a person and in my profession,” says Neil. He retired in 2009, before moving to River Landing in 2016.

As for the students, Neil has one final piece of professional advice. “I caution them to always have an open ear. To listen. That is key… and I think they’ve picked up on that.”

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