Retirement Spotlight: Merrill Norton

Training Students in Addiction Pharmacy is Dr. Norton’s Legacy

Dr. Merrill Norton credits his mentor, Dr. Douglas Talbott M.D., the founder of Talbott Recovery in Atlanta, for instilling a teaching philosophy that he applies to this day: “See One, Do One, Teach One.” This adage, coined in 1890 by Dr. William Stewart Halsted who taught surgical residents at John’s Hopkins Hospital, basically prescribes a method of teaching in which a student is taught a process or skill, actually performs the process on his/her own, and then applies this new-found knowledge by teaching others. “This makes for independent learners, who in turn, become critical thinkers and listeners,” explained Dr. Norton, Clinical Associate Professor in CAP, who will retire January 1, after more than 14 years at CoP.

A 1973 alumnus of the College, Merrill returned to UGA in 2006 for many reasons, one of which was to earn his Doctor of Pharmacy, which he did in 2008. Another compelling draw – to develop a curriculum for his professional passion of addiction pharmacy. Considered a national expert in the field, Merrill frequently is asked to speak all over the country on the subject. Along with numerous other credentials, Merrill is a Certified Addiction Counselor II, and his specific areas of expertise include: addiction, psychiatric and pain management medications; addiction counseling and treatment modalities; psychopharmacology of psychotropic medications; and pain management of the addicted patient.

“The field of addiction pharmacy is so complex. It is critical that our students not only learn about this critical component of pharmacy, but that they have practical and experiential training as well,” he said. “Collaborating with my colleagues and this College, I have worked diligently to assure that our students have been afforded these opportunities for learning and training.”

Dr. Henry Young, Interim Department Head for CAP, was quick to offer praises for the retiring Merrill. “One of the many things I’ve always admired about Dr. Norton is his unbridled passion… passion for his students…passion for his chosen profession….passion for his family. “When Merrill says or does anything, he does so with conviction and a sense of purpose.  And his students, as well as the College are all the better for it.”

Enjoy reading about Merrill’s passion for his students and how his legacy will be felt at this College for years to come.

When did you start at the College?

I started working at the college as an adjunct clinical assistant professor in November 2006. Just prior to that appointment, I was as an addiction pharmacy consultant working with national treatment programs with the management of addicted patients who were experiencing severe mental health and pain management issues. My mentor, Dr. Douglas Talbott M.D., had given me the instructions, “see one, do one, teach one” as an addiction pharmacy expert. He wanted me to teach other pharmacists about the disease of addiction and how to treat it.

Why were you interested in joining the college?

I had a couple of reasons for wanting to join the college. The first one was to obtain my Pharm.D. degree and the other was to develop addiction pharmacy curriculum for pharmacy schools. I also was very interested in getting season football tickets for my beloved Georgia Bulldawgs!!!!

What positions did you serve in at the College? 

Temporary clinical assistant professor, clinical assistant professor, and clinical associate professor.

Who was a mentor or special person for you at the College of Pharmacy?

I have had several mentors while at the college. The first was Dr. Randall Tackett, who encouraged me to come to the college to teach. Drs. Bill Pope, Bill Spruill, and Susan Fagan were instrumental in helping me get a teaching position and were very helpful to me in the early days of my academic career. Henry Cobb Ph.D. became my day-to-day mentor as I continued my academic research in studying risk factors for addiction in student pharmacists. All of these individuals were tremendous in their encouragement for me to pursue an academic career.

What was your most indelible memory of the College?

I have several indelible memories while at the college. The first is winning an Emmy for my work on a documentary about prescription drug abuse while I was precepting students at the Athens Area Commencement Center (AACC). Another memory was becoming the major professor for two Ph.D. students, April Brown and Samah Al-Shatnawi, which was such a labor of love. The final memory is my involvement on the College of Pharmacy Wellness Committee, which gave me the opportunity to watch students overcome their substance abuse issues and continue their pharmacy education to graduation.

What was your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job was working with our students on their APPE rotations at the Athens Area Commencement Center—to teach my passion to the next generation of pharmacists—what a treat!!!! I watched so many of them literally change their negative attitudes towards working with substance use disordered patient to developing a desire to help patients recover. Amazing stuff!!!!

What is your lasting legacy at the College?

My desire is that the addiction pharmacy curriculum that I help develop will continue to be taught at the level of importance that will be necessary for future pharmacists to be effective in America’s drug epidemic. Pharmacists need more education on substance use disorders in these desperate times of COVID-19.

What will you miss the most?

I will miss the students’ eagerness to want to become helpful practitioners. I also will miss coming to the college and being connected to some of the best pharmacy practitioners and researchers in the state and nation. I have always said that I will be a student forever and my colleagues at UGA CoP have helped me accomplish that goal by teaching and showing me many new concepts and treatments in today’s pharmacy. Thank you all for showing the best that pharmacy academia has to offer.

What do you plan to do in retirement?  

My plan for retirement is to go back to my consulting role a couple days a week for two weeks out of the month. The rest of my time, I plan to oversee Carol’s (his beloved wife) hopefully improving health and play lots of golf.

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