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Documenting the Evolution of Hospital and Clinical Pharmacy: Remembering the Career of Joseph Oddis

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is by William A. Zellmer, AIHP Advisor for Pharmacy Outreach and the President of Pharmacy Foresight Consulting.

A recently published tribute to Joseph A. Oddis (1928–2021), an extraordinary organizational leader in pharmacy, offers historical insights into the transformation of pharmacist education and pharmacy practice in the United States during the last four decades of the twentieth century. The entire August 15, 2021, issue of the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy (AJHP) (which is freely accessible at the preceding link) was devoted to the memory of Oddis, the first full-time Chief Executive Officer (1960–1997) of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), who died on February 24, 2021 (note: the downloadable .pdf version of this issue may be easier to read than the web version).

Joseph Oddis in 1984

Joseph Oddis at the Headquarters of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists in 1984. Image courtesy of AIHP Kremers Reference Files.

Oddis’s tenure at ASHP corresponded with a period of remarkable change in the education of pharmacists and in their role in patient care. In 1960, the minimum educational standard for pharmacist education was a five-year Bachelor of Science degree that emphasized the science and technology of drug products. A few colleges of pharmacy had switched to a six-year Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program for entry into the profession, and some offered the PharmD as a post-baccalaureate degree. In 2000, however, pharmacy education uniformly adopted a six-year (PharmD) degree program that focused on preparing pharmacists to be experts in the appropriate use of medicines—a concept generally referred to as clinical pharmacy.

Of particular relevance to those with an interest in pharmacy history will be the special issue’s Chronology that catalogues the milestones that advanced the pharmacy profession during Oddis’s career. This chronology cites, for example, healthcare legislation affecting the use of medicines, the evolution of pharmacy education, the development of clinical pharmacy practice, the creation of clinical specialties in pharmacy, the changes in the role of hospital pharmacists, the pioneering patient-safety measures related to medication use, and the formalization of pharmacy technician education.

The tribute also includes six influential articles written by Oddis at various points in his career. These reprinted texts reflect on the history of pharmacy, trace the evolution of hospital pharmacy and pharmacy education, and offer insight into one leader’s vision for the future of the profession.

Joseph Oddis in 1967

Joseph Oddis in 1967. Image courtesy of AIHP Kremers Reference Files.

In a 1966 lecture, for example, Oddis sharply criticized the meagerness of the pharmacy workforce in hospitals, noting that most pharmaceutical functions in institutional settings were being performed by nurses. At the time, only around 8% of the nation’s 120,000 pharmacists practiced in hospitals. Today, in contrast, an estimated 20% of the 320,000 American pharmacists work in hospitals. In his speech, Oddis cited studies suggesting that errors were associated with the preparation of up to 30% of the medicine doses given to hospital patients. He observed: “If drugs are important enough to give, it would seem they are important enough to give correctly more often than is now the case.”

The Oddis tribute also includes 43 brief essays of remembrance by family members, friends, and professional colleagues. Oddis’s leadership in expanding the size, scope, and influence of ASHP and his role in enhancing the overall stature of the pharmacy profession are common themes in the essays.

William A. Zellmer, a past president of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy and a retired staff member of ASHP, guest edited this issue. In an accompanying editorial, Zellmer cited Oddis’s “charisma and charm, passion for the profession of pharmacy, belief in the perfectibility of organizations, and patience for the long game in work and life” as important factors in his success.

The current CEO of ASHP, Paul W. Abramowitz, wrote that Oddis always considered “the establishment of pharmacy residency training standards and the influence of residency-trained pharmacists” as one of his greatest achievements. Abramowitz added:

With [Oddis’s] leadership, ASHP built upon the early work of [others] to establish standards for pharmacy practice and medication use in hospitals and health systems. … Similarly, current efforts to advance the roles of pharmacy technicians are founded in Dr. Oddis’s vision for the training and credentialing of these essential members of the pharmacy workforce.

John A. Gans, a past president of ASHP who later became the CEO of the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), praised Oddis’s work in establishing new uniform standards for pharmacy education:

[The] educational standards for pharmacists … had become divisive among practicing pharmacists in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Many of us believed that pharmacy would be a stronger profession if we had a single entry-level degree at the doctoral level. Because of Joe’s high esteem in the profession, I asked him to conduct a series of confidential meetings with the leaders of [the National Community Pharmacists Association (then known as National Association of Retail Druggists)], APhA, and ASHP. The three organizations issued a joint statement in November 1991 calling for adoption of a new entry-level doctor of pharmacy degree. This statement … became a key factor in resolving the issue. [W]ith his clear thinking, diplomatic language, and self-effacement, Joe moved pharmacy in the right direction.

ASHP past president David A. Zilz commented on Oddis’s innate leadership qualities:

Joe Oddis epitomized [executive presence] long before the term was invented. Think about the behaviors that are said to be part of executive presence: having a vision and articulating it well; understanding how others experience you; building your communication skills; becoming an excellent listener; cultivating your network and building political savvy; learning to operate effectively under stress; and making sure your appearance isn’t a distraction These facets of executive presence match perfectly the style and demeanor of Joe Oddis.

AJHP Joseph Oddis Cover 2021

Cover of the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy special issue devoted to Joseph Oddis. Image courtesy of AJHP.

Joseph Oddis’s leadership skills were tapped on the global level in 1984 when he was elected to a three-year term as President of the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), becoming the first non-European to head this association of national groups representing pharmaceutical scientists, pharmacy educators, pharmacy practitioners, and student pharmacists. Several commentators about this facet of his career credited Oddis with preserving and strengthening this unique assemblage of interest groups in pharmacy.

Guest editor Zellmer concluded that the special issue and tributes only hint “at the profound influence Joseph Oddis had on our field. For a more complete picture, we will have to wait for what historians say about the contributions of the Oddis Effect on the remarkable transformation of pharmacy in the last half of the twentieth century.”

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