Faculty Spotlight: Professor of Pharmacy Practice Mary Beth O'Connell

Professor of Pharmacy Practice Mary Beth O'Connell started her health care journey right here at Wayne State University, earning a degree in pharmacy in 1979 when it was still a bachelor-level program. She was among the first residents at Harper Hospital in 1980, and then in 1982 went on to earn her PharmD at the University of Minnesota.Mary Beth O'Connell

Jump to photo album

Upon graduation, O'Connell returned to Michigan for an assistant professor position at Ferris State University, then it was back to Minneapolis for a Kinetics, Nephrology and Transplant fellowship through the Drug Evaluation Unit at Hennepin County Medical Center the following year.

She became a University of Minnesota assistant professor in 1984, and an associate professor with tenure in 1991. O'Connell held that same title when she returned to the WSU Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in 2002, this time to stand at the front of the classroom. She was named professor with tenure in 2017, earning accolades along the way from the college the pharmacy profession.

O’Connell’s research and practice passions are geriatrics, women’s health, and scholarship of teaching and learning. She was a pioneer in creating pharmacy roles in ambulatory care, being one of the first pharmacists on an interdisciplinary geriatric ambulatory care team. She and her pharmacy resident created the pharmacist roles in the Detroit Medical Center geriatric clinics. As the only pharmacist on the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health Advisory Board, O’Connell added the pharmacy perspective, talents, and resources to conversations and projects.

In addition to helping students achieve their career goals, researching best practices in teaching and providing patient care, one of O'Connell's most satisfying accomplishments has been serving as a student organization advisor both in Minnesota, where she was named Outstanding Advisor of the Year at the national level by Kappa Epsilon, and in Detroit, where she earned Advisor of the Year honors from National Lambda Kappa Sigma in 2018.

O'Connell has held numerous leadership committee and officer positions in professional organizations through the years, including but not limited to being named president of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy in 2002. This year, she was presented with the Fred W. Arnold Public Relations Award from the Michigan Pharmacists Association for outstanding achievement and dedication to the pharmacy profession through community education and awareness. The year before that, the American College of Clinical Pharmacy honored O’Connell with its ACCP Education Award, which recognizes members who have made substantial and outstanding contributions to clinical pharmacy education. 

“Dr. O’Connell has been a dedicated educator at many levels within the Doctor of Pharmacy program,” said Department of Pharmacy Practice Chair and Associate Clinical Professor Lynette Moser at the time. “She embraces opportunities to mentor students through organizations, directed studies and challenging situations, and has made significant contributions to our program.”

Indeed, O'Connell aims to go the extra mile in everything she does, from teaching, mentoring and research to leading and making a difference. "Everyone needs vitamin O for organization," O'Connell said. "I’ve found I can never give more than I receive. Involvement in pharmacy, medical and health care organizations throughout your career — from student to retirement — is essential to improving patient outcomes and health care practice, policy, education and research." 

Mary Beth O'Connell Mary Beth O'Connell

Dr. O'Connell shared a few photos from her archives with us, including this look at her WSU undergrad days, when she attended a Kappa Psi toga party alongside fellow students and faculty, including Dr. Melvin F.W. Dunker, Kappa Psi's faculty advisor.

O'Connell takes care of business in the Hennepin County Medical Center pharmacy during her Kinetics, Nephrology and Transplant fellowship.

Mary Beth O'Connell Mary Beth O'Connell

"Try walking in the shoes of your patients to know how to help them achieve better health care goals," said O'Connell, shown here during the patient consent process with her ASHP Geriatric Fellow Peter Tortorice when she was a University of Minnesota assistant professor. "Use motivational interviewing to listen more and engage patients more in the process. Provide excellent pharmacotherapy plans accounting for various social determinants of health and patients’ specific goals and resources. Compliment patients on small changes. At times, patient care feels like a thankless job but know your efforts and wisdom do make a difference."  

Shown here with colleagues at the Minnesota State Fair, O'Connell played a major role in achieving unanimous support in 2001 of an expanded pharmacy scope of practice in Minnesota, the only state to get all legislators to approve such change in pharmacy responsibilities. 

Mary Beth O'Connell  Mary Beth O'Connell

O'Connell was honored by the ACCP after her 2002 term as president.

O'Connell with WSU Applebaum colleague Dr. Maureen Smythe at an ACCP meeting.

Mary Beth O'Connell Mary Beth O'Connell

From Détroit to Paris: O'Connell at the ACCP international meeting in France. Throughout her career, she has aimed to help move the pharmacy profession forward to improve patient care, education, research, and practice through change and policy.

O'Connell was a cofounder of the ACCP Geriatrics Practice and Research Network. She's shown here with fellow past presidents.

Mary Beth O'Connell Mary Beth O'Connell

Shown here with colleagues at an ACCP meeting, O'Connell believes that active participation in professional organizations is a lifelong endeavor. When asked where she sees the profession heading, she said: 

  • Bigger role in health care.
  • Expanded responsibilities, especially in community pharmacy.
  • Greater use of telehealth and home visits.
  • More technology.
  • Pharmacy technicians doing dispensing and billing aspects of practice and pharmacists doing direct patient care.
  • Hopefully an expanded scope of practice in Michigan and pharmacists added to CMS list of providers.

When she advises WSU Applebaum PharmD students like Michael Morris, O'Connell tells them, among other things, "Being a health care provider is an incredible career, for which you need to master the knowledge and skills, and become a lifelong learner. Together we can accomplish almost everything! Look for common goals, value diversity, resolve conflict with a win-win mentality, fully engage in patient care and all activities, fulfill your responsibilities, especially on teams, and help eliminate health disparities."

Mary Beth O'Connell Mary Beth O'Connell

O'Connell has been Wayne State's Lambda Kappa Sigma advisor since 2012, cheering for the chapter as it has won awards nearly every year. In 2018, she earned one of her own when she was named Advisor of the Year. Pictured from left: Natalie Brikho, Sara Denton, Leanne Olney, O'Connell and Debbie Bourquin Madsen.

In October 2019, O'Connell enjoyed lunch with WSU President M. Roy Wilson after she raised more than $1,000 — and biked 60 miles — during Wayne State’s Baroudeur cycling fundraiser, saying, "I owe this lunch to the many faculty, family and friends who contributed to my fund, which comes back to support our own WSU Applebaum Diversity Scholarship." 

Return to news