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Founding Dean Spotlight: George E. MacKinnon III, PhD, MS, RPh, FASHP, FNAP

Dr. MacKinnon was appointed founding dean of the School of Pharmacy at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) in 2015. He leads the MCW School of Pharmacy in delivering a dynamic and innovative Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) curriculum and works to expand pharmacist care models in collaborative approaches with colleagues at Children’s Wisconsin, Froedtert Health, Zablocki VA in Milwaukee and other clinical partners. His service to boards includes the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin and Vivent Health. Currently serving as AACP Council of Deans Chair-elect, he will ascend to chair in July 2024.

Read Dr. MacKinnon’s full biography

George E. MacKinnon III, PhD, MS, RPhAs MCW’s Dean of the School of Pharmacy, what do you consider to be your biggest responsibility?
To embrace the values, aspirations and the deliverables of what the Medical College of Wisconsin has stood for the past 125 years. We at the School of Pharmacy have articulated a strong mission and vision that aligns with the four missions of MCW. What helps keep us grounded is our focus on: “learn, innovate, engage and advocate.” We strive to deliver on those four key areas for our students, and it creates boundless opportunities.

We didn’t envision the MCW School of Pharmacy just to produce graduates. We also envisioned we would help move the pharmacy practice forward in team-based care. I think formatively changing practice is a much longer process than opening a school, matriculating students and graduating them. The larger responsibility is bringing together the largest healthcare disciplines in the country (medicine and pharmacy) in tandem with our partners in the MCW School of Medicine.

When you were hired as the Founding Dean of the School of Pharmacy, what intrigued you about launching the program? And being the first one in this leadership role?
Being a native Wisconsinite, I always believed that southeastern Wisconsin, through MCW, should have a school of pharmacy at an academic medical center. That’s where the strength lies in advancing practice, education and research. Almost 20 years ago, in my role as vice president of academic affairs with the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), I had a conversation with leadership about the creation of a school of pharmacy in the Milwaukee-land area. I always knew there was interest in it, but what intrigued me was having the right alignment with the right leader – and that’s Dr. Raymond (MCW President and CEO John R. Raymond, Sr., MD). When you create a new school, you need buy-in from the president to make this happen appropriately. Dr. Raymond exhibited that. I knew from his work with other deans of pharmacy that I knew quite well that he was the kind of leader I wanted to work with – and he had assembled a great team at MCW.

What are the biggest assets and strengths you bring to the Dean of the School of Pharmacy role?
I’ve had the great luxury of opening four schools of pharmacy, have evaluated plans for subsequent others and conducted feasibility studies across the nation, so I know what it takes to have a high-quality Doctor of Pharmacy program. The other unique part is that I am a pharmacist, and I’m currently the only dean in the state who is a pharmacist. I think that just gives a different vision of how you’re going to oversee your school or college going forward. I always lead with how certain things impact our profession, how they impact our ability to take care of patients, the research impacts and how things impact our connection to the community. Then I overlay that with the academic perspective – making connections with other disciplines, policymakers and community members.

I took the ‘StrengthsFinder’ assessment, used to identify opportunities in a person’s career trajectory. My strengths were strategic, responsible, futuristic and relator – or person who is able to connect people yet get things done.

What is the best advice you ever received?
Do what you’re good at – not what others want you to be good at.

I went through one of the top three pharmacy residency training programs in the country for producing leaders in health systems (i.e. chief pharmacy officers). Back then, most of the graduates aspired to became directors of pharmacy, but I became a clinical director within a pharmacy department and a faculty member. I’ve always been in leadership roles, but they’ve taken different forms. Last year, I was the recipient of the Durant Lecture Award from my residency training program, which acknowledges individuals over their career with respect to what they’ve done to advance residency training, education and practice. I’ve cut my own leadership path by advancing the pharmacy profession through innovation in education and practice.

What is something people don’t know about you?
I love the sport of basketball and refereed through college, which I enjoyed immensely (and wish I would have kept it up). During college, I served as a big bother for Big Brothers Big Sisters. I had two older sisters, but not an older brother. It was neat to get involved and mentor a little boy for two years.

Where did you grow up? How did that impact you?
I grew up in North Central Wisconsin in Marshfield. It was a small town with lots of rural characteristics and farming all around us. The difference was that we had the Marshfield Clinic, so there was exceptional healthcare being delivered to people.

Healthcare was always a discussion in my family. My grandfather was the physician up in Northern Wisconsin known as the “country doctor,” along with his wife a nurse. My mother was a clerk at Adler’s pharmacy. Because of her ability to speak her native language of Spanish, oftentimes she was brought to the medical center to interpret. My dad worked on 100% commission for his entire career, so if he took a week off, there was no pay. He rarely took a vacation. His and my mother’s work ethic was really ingrained in me.

What is your favorite book?
A book that I gave out to all our inaugural faculty and staff is called One in a Billion. It's a Pulitzer Prize winner about the work done on whole genome sequencing at the Medical College of Wisconsin. I wanted the staff and faculty to know that this is a place where incredible work has happened – in this case, saving a little boy’s life who had a rare disease that was never diagnosed before. They did a whole gene sequence on him, found the sequence and were able to diagnose and treat him. What I wanted people to realize when we opened the School of Pharmacy was that these are some of the giants surrounding us at MCW. It’s just incredible work, and if it had been done in Los Angeles or Boston, it would have been a movie by now.

What do you like to do when not at work?
I love being outside and traveling with my family. No matter where we travel, we tend to find the ability to enjoy wine and food together.

Please tell us about your family.
I met my wife, professor Karen MacKinnon, during pharmacy school at UW-Madison. I’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to work together in a very atypical fashion over so many years as collaborators at four different pharmacy schools. Both of us are pharmacists and so is my oldest son. My next son is a radiologist, and my daughter is in the business field.

In one of the books I wrote, Understanding Health Outcomes and Pharmacogenomics, the dedication reads, “To my wife and children who have endured the countless hours taken from them by me overseeing the research and production of this work – not to mention the dinners, which have included a healthy serving of pharmaceuticals, a side of healthcare and a dash of politics on any given evening.”