By SHANNON O. WELLS
Amy Lynn Seybert’s roots at Pitt run deep.
She completed her undergraduate and doctoral education in pharmacy at the University. Following a residency in Florida, she returned to her alma mater, where she’s served the past 12 years as chair of the Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics.
With such a background, stepping into the role of dean at the School of Pharmacy might seem as natural as breathing. Seybert, however, doesn’t hesitate to clear up that misconception.
“I knew that I had a lot to learn,” she says of her pursuit of a dean position. “I was searching throughout the process, at other places too. I reflected on the areas (such as) ‘What would be different as a dean?’ like philanthropy, alumni engagement, fundraising in general. Those were things that I didn’t have a lot of experience in. So I kind of went into it knowing that I had a lot to learn.”
Still, there are clear advantages to leading a school where she has such strong personal connections.
“I’ll be honest, there are some surprises that I didn’t expect — that I didn’t know or that I’d have to figure out very quickly,” she admits. “But it’s that team (element). And I think it’s special because we’re here at Pitt. I do think we have that family-like atmosphere of people wanting to help. We have a similar work ethic, similar beliefs about getting the job done as a team.
“I think it prepared me because I knew the culture,” she adds. “I knew a lot of the ins and outs of policies and procedures, but I, in no way know everything.”
Seybert took on her leadership role in July, succeeding Patricia Kroboth, who led the pharmacy school for two decades. Recognized internationally for her work in pharmacy-based simulation education, Seybert was a trailblazer in the use of human-patient simulation in pharmacotherapy, clinical decision-making and medication safety skills in health care professionals.
Of the opportunities and challenges that come with the title of dean, she’s particularly excited about philanthropy and alumni engagement.
“I love people and I love connecting people together and learning about their interests — networking and things like that,” she says, adding that while the COVID pandemic changed the in-person teaching dynamic, it also inadvertently opened technological doors. “The last couple of years have been tough on all of us, but (meeting virtually, via Zoom) is a lot more efficient than trying to find a time to meet on campus or to just do a phone call. So learning how to use technology efficiently and effectively — I think there’s even more we can do in that area.”
Despite her new responsibilities, Seybert has no immediate plans to curtail classroom time. “Call me naive, but at this point I haven’t cut back on my teaching at all. I did a lot of simulation teaching even when I was department chair,” she says. “And maybe it’s the timing too, because of my courses in the fall term.”
Defining simulation research as a “highly immersive, critical-thinking environment that is safe, yet realistic to advance problem-solving skills for healthcare providers,” Seybert says she was “one of the pioneers, as we say, to actually get that threaded in the pharmacy curricula.”
That led to simulation research being approved by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), and the approach has grown substantially in the 15 or so years since, so “they’re in a lot more in the interprofessional environment,” Seybert says. “And I hope to see our school continue in that vein and really expand the interprofessional education opportunities with simulation.”
Seybert has collaborated for years with Jim Coons, a Pitt clinical researcher and pharmacy and therapeutics professor, coordinating and teaching a course based on pharmacotherapy and cardiovascular disease.
“We integrate simulations throughout it,” Seybert says.
Acknowledging he was “thrilled” when Seybert was selected to lead the pharmacy school, Coons says that, to him, “she has always been what Pitt Pharmacy is all about. She has long been at the forefront of innovation in teaching, a leader in numerous schoolwide and professional capacities, an advocate for advancement of patient care, and a great collaborator and mentor.”
Coons is confident Seybert will continue enhancing the school’s reputation for innovative research while bringing further prominence to clinical outcomes and translational research programs such as pharmacogenomics, implementation science and academic-industry partnerships.
“What I have always admired about Amy as it relates to teaching is her creativity and passion in wanting to try new things,” he says. “She has taught for 25 years but it seems like each year she has new ideas and approaches to engage the students, whether it be simulation-based learning, use of the virtual electronic health record, interprofessional education or virtual reality.”
As much as Seybert loves working directly with students, she realizes as dean she will need to respond to changing circumstances.
“I think I’m learning I might need to slow down a little bit in future years, but I love teaching,” she says. “I love combining the simulation and everything that I learned as a clinician and translating that to our students.”
Seybert may fit easily into the category of those who truly love the time they spend toiling at work, but she finds plenty that’s fulfilling when home and off the clock.
“I have two teenagers, so I just love spending time with them, whatever they’re up to. I just love being a part of it,” she says. “They’re in the marching band now. I just love going to watch their games and their festival.”
She’s also partial to local action on the ice. “I’m a big hockey fan. So I like to watch the Penguins. But (balance) is important to me. My kids are my life, and I get to spend a lot of time with them. That just makes me happy.”
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com.
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