Kim Garza named American Foundation of Pharmaceutical Education Mentor of the Year

Published: September 10, 2019
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It’s common among those who enter the pharmacy profession to do so out of a desire to help people. For some, that passion extends to the classroom.

Kim Garza’s passion brought her back to Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy and earned her the 2019 American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education William M. Heller Mentor of the Year Award.

An associate professor in the Department of Health Outcomes Research and Policy, Garza teaches in both the Pharm.D. and graduate programs and played an instrumental role in curricular redesign for the Practice Ready Curriculum.

“I left a career in clinical pharmacy practice to become a faculty member because of my strong passion for graduate education and student mentoring,” she said. “The most rewarding part of my job is to see students succeed in their studies and later in their careers. Being there to guide students through the challenges of graduate school and helping them to thrive in our program is so fulfilling to me.”

Garza earned her bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and her Pharm.D. from Auburn, earning the latter in 1999. She completed a residency and worked in hospital pharmacy in Birmingham, Chattanooga, Tennessee and West Virginia before pursuing graduate degrees at West Virginia University. Garza completed her Master of Business Administration in 2006 and her doctorate in health outcomes research in 2010. She returned to Auburn and joined the pharmacy faculty in 2011.

“As a hospital pharmacist, there was something really rewarding about seeing a critically ill patient recover and I miss that in a way, but what was even more rewarding was when I passed along clinical knowledge or demonstrated a particular skill to another health care professional and they said, ‘thank you, this will help me take better care of my patients,’” explained Garza. “It occurred to me that my ‘place’ in the world may be in educating the next generation of health care professionals. Likewise, if I could apply my knowledge to conducting health services research, then train future researchers, my impact on patient outcomes could be broadened further.”

Garza’s research involves application of behavioral economic theory to study cardioprotective health behaviors, including medication adherence, diet and physical activity. Specifically, she studies incentive systems that help individuals overcome present-biased preferences in order to engage in and maintain preventive health behaviors.

The William M. Heller Mentor of the Year Award recognizes faculty who are nominated by their students and colleagues, for their guidance, dedication, leadership, instruction and encouragement.

“Dr. Garza always makes the student’s goals a priority,” said Natalie Hohmann, a graduate student pursuing a doctorate in the health outcomes research and policy option. “She finds ways to help students gain meaningful and real-world learning experiences and encourages students to develop and pursue their own research questions and find something that excites them about the field of pharmacy and health services research. Dr. Garza helps build up students’ experiences and networks so they will have a good foundation to start their own careers.”

Recognized by her peers at both the school and university level, Garza recently earned the inaugural Dr. Lucinda Maine Pharmacy Education Fellowship and was selected as the Outstanding Graduate Mentor by Auburn University’s Graduate Student Council.

Along with graduate students, Garza has also been active with pharmacy students, including Class of 2020 member Emily Peel, who was recently selected for an American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy-AFPE Gateway Award for her research project, “A critical appraisal of acute otitis media guidelines and systematic reviews using the AGREE II and AMSTAR instruments.” Garza is her advisor.

“Dr. Garza sincerely wants to know how you are doing. When she talks with you, you know she cares about you not only as a student but also about your well-being,” said Peel. “Her constant encouragement and willingness to listen has helped me to apply for opportunities and explore other pharmacy careers I would not have otherwise considered.”

Under Garza’s direction, graduate student Brandy Davis was recently selected as a prestigious Center for Clinical and Translational Science Predoctoral Clinical/Translational Research Scholar at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Davis was also selected as an AACP Walmart Scholar, a program that recognizes both students and their mentors.

“Dr. Garza is not only my mentor, but is also my role model,” said Davis. “She has shown me how to be the best I can be both professionally and personally. I look up to her greatly and know I would not have made it this far in my career without her. I am grateful beyond words to have Dr. Garza as my mentor.”

A former AFPE Pre-doctoral Fellow herself, Garza has a passion for graduate education and student mentoring. She chaired the AACP Social and Administrative Sciences Section Graduate Programs Committee for the past two years and is the incoming chair of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Graduate Education Special Interest Group.

“Students in the health care professions need the proper foundational knowledge to make the most optimal decisions in patient care. Equally as important, they need to learn clinical skills and how to effectively interact with patients, caregivers and other health care providers,” said Garza. “Having mentors that take an active role in learning is vital for students to develop these competencies and become practice-ready. Mentors also add that human element, the development of compassion for others that makes a good health care professional a truly outstanding health care professional.”

Auburn University's Harrison School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 percent of all pharmacy schools in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the School offers doctoral degrees in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and pharmaceutical sciences (Ph.D.) while also offering a master's in pharmaceutical sciences. For more information about the School, please call 334.844.8348 or visit the Harrison School of Pharmacy website.