It’s not often you hear about a pharmacist providing expert commentary on a national stage. Once you realize it’s Dr. Philip Almeter ‘09, however, it makes perfect sense.
Almeter has encountered a few obstacles along life’s journey. Yet, he has been relentless in his pursuit of excellence in his profession. His proven leadership and administrative skills as Chief Pharmacy Officer at the University of Kentucky Healthcare in Lexington is leaving an indelible mark on the practice of pharmacy. As a shining example, Almeter was chosen to testify before a U.S. Senate Committee on the reasons behind drug price increases as well as discuss pharmaceutical supply chain and quality issues with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy earlier this year.
There are other illustrations of his leadership acumen. Along with his UK Healthcare role, Almeter is an adjunct faculty member in the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy; an active member of American Society of Health System Pharmacists; and the chair of the Kentucky Hospital Association’s Pharmacy Committee, just to name a few.
However, the path Almeter traveled to complete his training was a bit rocky. He started out as a chemistry major at Augusta University, despite being unsure about a professional goal. After a conversation with a friend, he began to consider pharmacy. To test the waters, he asked alumnus Barry Bryant ’81, owner of Barney’s Pharmacy in Augusta, for any kind of job in his business. His two weeks of persistent requests finally paid off; Bryant hired him as a cashier. The opportunity allowed him to learn more about the field and UGA’s College of Pharmacy, especially from another alumnus and mentor, Dr. David Pope ’04. The Augusta native then set his sights on pharmacy school in Athens.
Despite completing all the prerequisites and being interviewed, Almeter was not accepted to UGA College of Pharmacy on his first application. Pivoting, he worked to complete his biology degree at Augusta University and applied again. His second attempt proved to be fruitful; after interviewing with Ken Duke ’77, retired CoP faculty member; Dr. Marjorie Shaw Phillips, (then) pharmacy manager for the Research and Residency Program at Augusta University Health and CoP adjunct faculty member; and Dr. Joe DiPiro, the current associate vice president for Health Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth and a former professor at the UGA College of Pharmacy, Almeter was admitted. “I am so glad they took a chance on me during my second round,” said Almeter. “When I run into these three, I like to remind them of the gratitude I have for allowing me admission into this career.”
On many fronts, Almeter’s first semester was memorable. He quickly became involved in student organizations, including Kappa Psi and the American Pharmacy Association – Academy of Student Pharmacists. He developed lasting friendships with fellow classmates, many of whom he stays in touch with today. Most importantly, he met the love of his life, Dr. Heidi Kirk ’09, one month after arriving in Athens.
However, the beginning of his second semester took an unexpected turn. While driving back from Augusta to Athens for the start of classes, Almeter’s car veered off the road and rolled several times and landed in a ditch. He spent over a week in ICU at (Piedmont) Athens Regional Medical Center with a severe head injury and was later transferred home for physical and occupational therapy. Remember reading the word “relentless” earlier in this story to describe Almeter? Despite being told by his neurosurgeon to take a year off, the young P1 student was eager to return to pharmacy school as quickly as possible. He met with Dr. George Francisco, the College’s former associate dean, who walked the recovering student to the UGA’s Registrar Office to help him re-enroll. Dr. Francisco also worked with each of Almeter’s instructors to develop a strategy to catch him up, as he was three weeks behind in his classes. Along with Francisco’s efforts, Kirk, his new-found love and now a constant source of support, kept a second binder of notes and provided him with transportation. The work of “Team Almeter” paid off. By spring break, the first-year student was back on track. “I am a living testament to the amazing power of the College of Pharmacy’s faculty,” he said. “They were all committed to my recovery and success.”
As time progressed, Almeter’s interest was piqued by the work of pharmacists in hospital and healthcare settings. He spent his fourth year at the College’s extended campus in Augusta, where among other rotations, he worked in the Medical ICU at Augusta University. Dr. Trisha Branan ’06, currently a CoP clinical associate professor, was his preceptor, and she urged him to pursue a residency. Following graduation, he accepted a PGY1 residency at the University of Virginia Health System, where he completed a management rotation. “I saw a side of pharmacy I had never been exposed to before,” he explained. “I liked the ability to support front-line staff.”
To keep Almeter at UVA, Dr. Gary Johnson, the director of pharmacy, created a PGY2 residency in health system pharmacy administration where Almeter would be their first resident. Following his residency, he continued at UVA, managing supply chain for acute care operations.
A year later, he was recruited by the University of Kentucky HealthCare to work on acute care on a larger scale, as well as supply chain and business development. He served in evolving management and pharmacy operations roles and eventually became Chief Pharmacy Officer, the role he serves in today. Coincidentally, he worked closely with current College of Pharmacy Dean Kelly Smith ’92, 93 during her leadership tenure at the UK College of Pharmacy. “I always enjoyed collaborating with Kelly during our shared time at UK,” said Almeter. “She always was a source of positive energy and considered a role model by our students and residents.”
When asked about the rewarding and challenging aspects of his profession, Almeter commented, “I don’t do much direct patient care, and at times, I feel like I’m missing something. However, I get a lot of satisfaction from the support I provide the pharmacy staff and team members who serve on the frontlines of patient care.”
He offered words of advice to PharmDawg students who are trying to determine their career path. “Explore every avenue you can as a student. I was convinced I wanted to work in critical care, but after my experience in administration, I took off on a new trajectory. The fourth year of pharmacy school can have an incredible influence on your career direction. Discover what you can, glean from rotations, and find the right role models to learn from. UGA’s faculty represent such a diverse background in areas of pharmacy practice. I spent many hours meeting with faculty to get a better idea of what I should do. Building relationships with faculty and being able to bounce ideas off them allowed me to explore a larger number of career paths as a student. To this day I still re-engage with them as a source of support and friendship. To that end, I would like to give special thanks to Dr. Trisha Branan ’06, Ken Duke ‘77, Dr. Robin Southwood, Dr. Phillip Greenspan, Dr. Rusty May, Dr. Dianne May ‘88, ‘90, Flynn Warren ‘70, and the late Dr. Henry Cobb ‘69, ‘80.”
The best part of Almeter’s story is saved for last. During their fourth year of pharmacy school, Almeter and Kirk were married at the UGA Catholic Center. “Heidi is my (s)hero,” he said. “I am only successful because of her love and commitment. She and our four children are everything.”
Their children range in ages 7-13. Besides spending time with family, Almeter enjoys the outdoors, coaching his children’s soccer teams, and woodworking. Of course, his parting words for readers–