There’s always that one college course that students label as "killer”—and it’s usually a required course, meaning there’s no alternative if you want that degree. So why then is the intense (elective) course in critical care pharmacy—taught by Eric Mueller, PharmD, at the James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy—always full?
"It’s known as the ‘hardest elective’ in pharmacy school ... but Mueller’s love of pharmacy and teaching was evident in every slide and explanation. He made you want to learn the material because it just seemed so exciting,” one of Mueller’s former students, Danielle Lykins, PharmD (‘06), states in her recommendation that Mueller receive the 2011 Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Award.
Described by numerous nominators as both brilliant and humble, Mueller, a UC College of Pharmacy alum (‘99, ‘01), reacted to winning the award as those who know him would expect: "I accept this award in the spirit of my mentors. ... If I had a mission statement it would be to unveil opportunities and encourage students to learn outside of their comfort zone, because that’s the opportunity I was afforded. ”
And Mueller—a full-time critical care pharmacist at UC Health University Hospital, director of the critical care pharmacy residency there and coordinator of the college’s critical care pharmacy program—says he sees his role of adjunct professor and preceptor as an opportunity in itself.
His instructional reach also extends to the UC College of Nursing, where he teaches psychopharmacology and pharmacology to graduate students in the advanced nurse practice track, but he says, "If all I did was take care of patients and didn’t have the chance to teach or do research or other scholarly things, I don’t think my professional role would be as rewarding.”
What he does, his peers and colleagues say, is afford doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) students—and pharmacy residents rotating through the hospital’s critical care unit—experiences that will lead to confidence in the profession: a profession that has changed dramatically since becoming a licensed pharmacist now requires a PharmD degree.
When Mueller graduated from the PharmD program, he was one of 18 students and currently there are 90 students in the program. He was also able to secure funding for an additional critical care resident, where there had only been one spot when he graduated.
"My responsibilities as a doctor of pharmacy student were much different. I was a licensed pharmacist when I entered the PharmD program at UC, so I came with a knowledge base. Now, the challenge is to take someone who is not licensed and put them in a decision-making situation and validate that they can and are able to truly make an impact on a patient’s life from a pharmacist’s perspective.”
And with critical care pharmacy—especially so at UC Health University Hospital, the region’s only Level I adult trauma center—there’s an element of intensity, he says, that a "green” pharmacy student might not expect if it’s his or her first pharmacy rotation.
"We have a lot of responsibilities as pharmacists here that aren’t common at other hospitals. It’s trial by fire for sure for these students to have a surgeon asking them: ‘What did you just say and why did you say it?’”
But on weekends, when he calls students on rotation to run down their list for the day, there’s that moment, he says, "when you hear them grasp it,” which is one of the most rewarding for an educator. He adds, "I’m coming from a rich tradition at UC and I feel I have a duty to share every opportunity with students.”
It’s a sense of duty that is outwardly evident, says Pam Heaton, PhD, chair and associate professor in the division of pharmacy practice and administrative services at the pharmacy college. One need only meet Mueller and hear him talk about his profession in person, she says, to understand why the award is so well deserved.
"I believe that Eric’s greatest asset and gift to the students is his passion. Passion is difficult to define and difficult to measure, but when you are with Eric you feel it. His passion just pours from him. He is genuinely able to convey his love of the practice of pharmacy and his care of patients in such a way that resonates in deep ways with the students, and the students are motivated and inspired by his example.”