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Assistant Dean Spotlight: Dr. Kimberly Bell, Chief of Pharmacy at Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center

The Medical College of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy is part of a premier academic medical center. Through partnerships with Froedtert Hospital, Children’s Wisconsin and the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center, students gain early, extensive exposure to a variety of clinical settings and world-class research in specialties such as precision medicine, pharmacogenomics, oncology, pediatrics, cardiology, neuroscience and psychiatry.

Starting in their first year of the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) curriculum, students participate in clinical rotations every Friday. One of their practice sites may be a short drive from campus at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center – or connected to campus via skywalk at Froedtert or Children’s.

The School of Pharmacy has appointed three assistant deans to help facilitate and maintain our close partnerships. This is the second of three spotlights on our assistant deans.

Kimberly Bell, PharmD

Kimberly Bell, PharmDKimberly Bell, PharmD graduated from the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy and completed an ambulatory care residency at the William S. Middleton VA in Madison. After residency she spent a couple of years working at Froedtert Hospital in the outpatient pharmacy and ambulatory care clinics before coming back to the VA. Kim joined the Milwaukee VA in 2008 and has served in multiple roles including Clinical Pharmacy Specialist in Oncology, Pharmacy Informatics Manager, Associate Chief of Pharmacy Operations, and currently Chief of Pharmacy. Kim precepts the Administrative Rotation for PGY1 and PGY-2 Medication Use Safety residents.

As Chief of Pharmacy at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center, what do you consider to be your biggest responsibility?
My biggest responsibility is to ensure that in everything we do as a pharmacy department, we’re upholding the mission of the VA, which is honoring America’s veterans by providing exceptional healthcare that improves their health and wellbeing. That’s the core of everything we do. I think of the VA as a special place that serves a special set of patients who deserve the best quality care we can provide. When we’re developing programs or looking at expanding services, I keep in mind “what can we do to further the care of our veterans?”

What’s your “why” for pursuing a pharmacy career?
My chemistry teacher in high school was a UW-Madison alumnus and encouraged his students to go there. He would randomly hand his students brochures of what he thought would be good careers for each of us. He handed me the pharmacy school brochure and told me, “I think you should look into this. I think you’d be really good at it.” I went to Career Day at UW-Madison to learn more and realized it sounded like something I would enjoy. I don’t know that I’d be where I am today had my teacher not handed me that brochure.

When deciding which pharmacy career pathway to pursue, what was interesting or exciting to you about working in veteran’s affairs?
I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I graduated from pharmacy school. When I was entering my fourth year of school, I picked a wide variety of types of clinical rotations. What drew me to ambulatory care initially was the ability to work with patients directly and impact their care. Once I got to the VA, I loved the connections I was able to form with patients and the true difference I was able to make.

I think the VA is a unique setting. We’re very much a closed system, so for the most part, our patients get all of their care here. Whether I’m working in a clinical setting or I'm in the outpatient pharmacy, I have access to the patient’s entire medical record. It’s very different from working at a community pharmacy in the outpatient setting. I think the other difference is that all pharmacists at the Zablocki VA have a scope of practice, so depending on the area where they work, they can independently prescribe medications. Having that prescriptive authority is huge for the profession of pharmacy.

What does your role as Assistant Dean for the Medical College of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy mean to you?
It’s an interesting and exciting role. It’s a way for the VA to connect directly with the School and show the next generation of pharmacists what we’re able to do through our practices. We have students come through our practice site to learn about what we do and keep them excited about the profession of pharmacy. We also host students for clinical rotations in standard inpatient and outpatient settings, as well as a few specialties.

What is the best advice you ever received?
I think back to my first job at Froedtert after I finished residency. I’ll never forget my supervisor sitting me down in his office and telling me to never stop asking questions – and to never accept the answer “because that’s how we’ve always done it.” So, always thinking deeper, looking at the bigger picture and continuing to question – I think that’s how we continue to grow. This is one of the things that excites me about working with students because I think students do a great job of keeping us on our toes and making us think.

Where did you grow up? How did that impact you?
I grew up in a small town just southwest of Milwaukee called Burlington, Wisconsin. My uncle was actually a pharmacist in a neighboring small town and owned his own community pharmacy. I had a little bit of an understanding of the connections he was able to make with people. Coming from a small town, everybody knows everybody. I think that’s a lot of what has gotten me through my career in pharmacy is that ability to make connections and get to know people, whether it be during my time with direct patient care or now my time in administration.

Please tell us about your family.
I have been married to my husband for just over 14 years now. He works in insurance and workers’ compensation underwriting. We have two daughters – one who is almost 12 and lives in the pool, and my 10-year-old spends all of her time either on the basketball court or the softball field. Outside of work, my weekends are spent watching them play sports. When we get some free time in the summer, we like to go camping and be outdoors.

What is something people don’t know about you
I come from a relatively large family. My mom was one of 13 kids, so I think I have about 45 cousins and just as many second cousins. My extended family gatherings and holidays were quite a big deal at grandma’s house.