New Faces of UAMS Leadership – Ken Olsen, Pharm.D., College of Pharmacy Dean

Ben Boulden

Keith Olsen, Pharm.D., College of Pharmacy Dean

It wasn’t until Keith Olsen, Pharm. D., had finished running over the top of Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon that he realized that legendarily difficult slope already was behind him. 

The Boston climb had been made easier because of an earlier marathon experience over a longer slope in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah.

Similarly, it was his background of previous successes and accomplishments in pharmacy education, clinical care and research that led to his selection as the new dean of the UAMS College of Pharmacy and prepared him to meet the challenges of his new job.

“Keith Olsen has over two decades of experience as a teacher, researcher and leader at an academic health center,” said Stephanie Gardner, Pharm. D., Ed. D., UAMS provost and former dean of the UAMS College of Pharmacy. “He will bring new ideas, enthusiasm, and a true passion for pharmacy education. Dr. Olsen is well equipped to take the college to the next level of excellence.”

Olsen succeeded Gardner as dean Nov. 1, but that wasn’t the first time their paths had crossed. Olsen, while working

Keith Olsen Pharm.D., College of Pharmacy Dean

Keith Olsen
Pharm.D., College of Pharmacy Dean

at UAMS from 1985-1993, served on the search committee that hired Gardner in 1991 as an assistant professor.

Though familiar with UAMS, Olsen wasn’t looking for a new job when he first was approached about the dean’s position last year. But when he took a look at the college he was impressed with its progress under Gardner in graduation rates, research and fundraising, Olsen said.

“It’s a great challenge to continue the advancement of the college where it already has come from and build on its accomplishments,” Olsen said. “Considerable dynamic change is taking place in health care education. I really am glad to be a part of an equally dynamic UAMS leadership team that is embracing new initiatives like interprofessional education where students from several professions learn about, from and with each other to improve patient outcomes.”

Another new initiative UAMS has incorporated in the last few years is the patient-centered medical home where health professionals — physicians, pharmacists, nurses and others — work as a team to address patients’ immediate and long-term medical needs. Olsen noted that the College of Pharmacy has been a leader in working with the other UAMS colleges to educate health care professionals to work in this new model.

Olsen’s experience as a pharmacist started in 1980 when he received a doctor of pharmacy from the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy.

It was while practicing in an Oklahoma City hospital in the early 1980s, that he was drawn to UAMS for his first stint. He wanted to work on an academic medical center campus and determined UAMS fit the bill. He worked in drug analysis, critical care research and practice, and taught classes in the college.

Family and some appealing research opportunities eventually led him from Arkansas back to his native Nebraska, initially as an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) College of Pharmacy in Omaha. Starting in 2007 and until his return here, Olsen served as chair of the college’s Department of Pharmacy Practice and also as an education and research manager in the Nebraska Medical Center there.

Looking forward, Olsen said he wants to maintain the college’s excellence and use it as the foundation to continue its progress.

“We also want to build on the scholarship that already is established and increase our total funding as well as the faculty investment in scholarship,” Olsen said. “I mean scholarship in a broad sense because some might not bring in the money but may advance patient care.”

Additionally, he hopes to establish some faculty and student exchanges with universities in China with which he already has academic ties.

“Dean Olsen has a strong background in pharmacy practice in an academic medical center,” said Jeanne Heard, M.D., Ph.D., former UAMS provost. “The emphasis on team care and patient- and family-centered care makes the need for a dean with that experience very important. He knows how to partner with physicians, nurses and other health care professionals and can use that knowledge to help UAMS and the College of Pharmacy be even stronger in these areas.”