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Servant, Student, Scholar

Published on 05 July 2016

The stress around finals extends at least a week beyond the last test for Sister Mary Louise Degenhart ’60, special assistant to the president. She’s waiting to hear how the students she’s mentored have fared. Slowly the emails come. Along with the passing marks are kind words from students appreciative of Degenhart’s time.

“To see students achieve success and have the ability to encourage them means everything to me,” she said.

Connections, like the ones she’s made with students at the College, have defined her career in pharmacy. Degenhart has been selected as the 2016 Harvey A. K. Whitney Lecture Award recipient. Every year, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) recognizes an individual of high moral character, good citizenship, and elevated professional ideals who has made outstanding contributions to health-system pharmacy. It is considered to be health-system pharmacy’s highest honor and one of the two highest honors in American Pharmacy.

“It never entered my head that I would be a recipient,” she said recently. “It’s an honor for me, but more than that it’s an honor for my family, my religious community, and the College.”

The award comes as Degenhart celebrates 60 years in pharmacy. Several years before choosing pharmacy, Degenhart entered the Adorers of the Blood of Christ. The Roman Catholic religious community was founded in 1834. There are more than 2,000 members worldwide including more than 200 who live in the United States.

After graduating from the College, Degenhart’s pharmacy career began at a 55-bed hospital in Murphysboro, Illinois.

“Starting out in a small hospital, I had the opportunity to do everything,” she said. “I was able to learn all of pharmacy that way.”

For nearly half of her career she focused on developing and growing pharmacy residency and pharmacy technician programs. She established programs at the University of Chicago and in Springfield, Illinois. She also helped hundreds of other programs through her work at ASHP.

“We were in the accreditation business, not disaccreditation,” Degenhart said. “We were exploring ways to help pharmacy programs improve. I felt we were both surveyors in the sense of upholding national standards, but also consultants.”

In accepting the award, Degenhart presented an imagined conversation between herself and Harvey Whitney. During her speech, she made the case for the expanded training of young pharmacists, especially in community residencies. As reflected throughout her entire career, Degenhart was once again looking to make a connection among those in the audience at the ceremony to strengthen the profession of pharmacy.

“There has to be a way we can figure this out,” she said. “There are a lot of possibilities and a lot we can do. The answer is among us.”

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