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Karl Fiebelkorn

Published July 24, 2014


The past few months have been quite busy for Karl Fiebelkorn: He was awarded the prestigious 2014 Bowl of Hygeia, which recognizes pharmacists with records of outstanding community service and civic leadership, and he was promoted to senior associate dean in the Department of Pharmacy Practice.

Fiebelkorn, a graduate of two UB programs (Department of Pharmacy Practice and the School of Management’s MBA program), has spent 19 years as a School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SPPS) administrator and professor. Talking to him is a lesson in the 36-year history of the business of community pharmacy practice, as well as the evolution of UB pharmacy practice education.

Where did you work before UB?

KF: I worked at Cleve-Hill Pharmacy as an intern for a year and a half, and then as a pharmacist for two and a half years. Then I worked at Fay’s Drugs for 16 years.

How did you wind up at UB?

KF: David Triggle, the former dean of SPSS, called me at work in 1995. (I had been teaching a UB pharmacy/business course part-time at the school since 1990, which now is a required course). He phoned me and asked that I call him back after my shift was done.  That was 11 p.m. at night. I returned the call at 11:30 that night. He offered me my former mentor’s position, who had recently passed away. I took over teaching what is now the course PHM 530 — Pharmacy Law — and as editor of the Pharmacy Law Letter, which is now online. I’ve been a pharmacist for 36 years and a full-time faculty member for 19 years.

Why would a registered pharmacist get an MBA?

KF: Health care is a business; pharmacy is a business. If you work as a pharmacist, it really helps to understand the business management side of things. Health care needs to be more efficient in the use of resources in treating patients.

I’ve been fortunate to work for two very successful pharmacies in the Western New York area: Cleve-Hill Pharmacy, which was one of the first five pharmacies in the country to become computerized back in 1979, and Fay’s, a publically traded company with 80 stores throughout New York State.

The owner of Cleve-Hill, Joseph Voelkl, was a visionary. He predicted that someday computers would keep score at bowling alleys and money would be available through automatic teller machines. This seemed like science fiction at the time. You have to understand that when I first became a pharmacist, everyone paid in cash for drugs; now with the advent of the Affordable Care Act, almost everyone has some type of insurance. Back then, the amount of paperwork for different kinds of coverage was unbelievable. There would be dozens of forms in triplicate for Medicaid and Medicare. And it all had to be filled out by hand for the pharmacies to be compensated. General Motors’ was the first drug plan to issue a prescription card.

How long have you worked at UB?

KF: Five years part time and 19 years full time this December.

What drew you to pharmacy?

KF: A family friend was a pharmacist. I had five siblings and we all worked in a pharmacy called Miller’s Drugs. I learned from the supervising pharmacist his insights and rapport with customers. It appealed to me. He took me under his wing and encouraged me to go into the field.

You are senior associate dean for student, professional and community affairs. What does that mean? Describe what you do?

KF: I was just promoted on July 1. I follow and advise pharmacy practice students from the time they first arrive until they graduate. Many of the graduates keep in contact with me on social media and many look to me for professional advice. I show them the importance of becoming involved in professional organizations and community projects. I offer to them networking opportunities. As an example, we invite our students to purchase business cards so they can impress potential employers and colleagues during meetings and at conferences. We offer a local networking program twice a year with 50 area pharmacy leaders for the first 150 students who sign on. This gives students a chance to practice their “soft skills.” Each event is overfilled and the pharmacy leaders and students have given us very positive feedback.

The modern-day pharmacist is no longer seen as your friendly neighborhood pharmacist. Pharmacy practice has expanded in so many ways. Our graduates work in several dozen different venues, from drug manufacturers, research, specialties like long-term care and diabetes management, doctor’s offices, government agencies,  hospitals and community health centers. Pharmacists are a valued part of an interprofessional health care team, wherever they are.

You seem to get a lot of gratification from working with students. What is it about students that keep you in the game?

KF: Students keep you fresh and on the ball. And that keeps you young because you have to stay ahead of their questions. Students are also technologically advanced; professors have to stay ahead of that curve.

What is your favorite part of your job?

KF: In a word: students. (Fiebelkorn opened his file cabinet and took out a folder of thank you cards from students; he also puts them on the wall of his office.)

Is there one thing — a project, award, initiative — that you are especially proud of?

KF: The 2014 Bowl of Hygeia and when my students came in first in the 2007 National Community Pharmacy Association Pruitt Schutte Business Plan Competition.

You have been deeply involved in lobbying for laws that would allow pharmacists to extend health care to all who need it. How did you get involved with that? How can pharmacists be part of the solution in terms of helping fill the void of primary care?

KF: I think it was because of exposure to working interprofessionally with other health care disciplines. When you work interdependently in a health care team, you realize that health care delivery isn’t and should not be the center; it is the patient who is at the actual center. When you understand this, the answer to questions about primary care become much more fundamental. Who can provide immunizations to the underserved in the community? Who can work with the physician to change insulin dosages for patients? In the end, it is all about serving the needs of the individual and the community.

The Affordable Care Act is about working interprofessionally, which creates a climate where the patient is healthier and the system of delivery is more efficient.

How will pharmacy change in the next five to 10 years?

KF: I think you’ll see pharmacists working more collaboratively with physicians — more like the way nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants do.

Also, pharmacy is becoming more and more about wellness. Collaborative Drug Therapy Management, or CDTM, is much more a health team collaborative. Pharmacists will be advising physicians on drugs and drug interactions.

Across the country, pharmacists are prescribing in conjunction with the physicians orders.

Pharmacogenomics: UB was the first school to offer this course. Someday we will enhance a prescriber’s capability in prescribing medications based on the patient’s genetic profile. We will help choose the best medication outcome for a particular patient for a given condition.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you wished I had?

KF: I want to make sure that I mention my wife, Tina, who is the director of the Western New York Chapter of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacy (i.e. long-term care). She is a certified geriatric pharmacist and she has bent over backward to let me fulfill my dreams and aspirations. I want to thank her for her never-ending support for me to do all that I do.