Sam Shimomura, PharmD, already had a long and distinguished career at UC San Francisco’s School of Pharmacy when he decided to take a chance on an intriguing new opportunity. He was in charge of coordinating rotations for UCSF’s Irvine-Long Beach program when he heard about a new pharmacy school opening in Southern California.
“At UCSF I was a small fish in a big pond with no power or influence,” Shimomura said. “Here they gave us a blank piece of paper and said, ‘Start a pharmacy school.’ I had a chance to have a little more influence over curriculum and how things went. It was a lot of fun, actually.”
Shimomura, known as “Dr. Sam” to students, alumni and colleagues, joined Western University of Health Sciences in 1996, the year the College of Pharmacy (COP) welcomed its inaugural class of 68 students. The College developed an innovative block system where students focus on one topic for three and a half weeks rather than having three or four classes dividing their attention. Classrooms were designed to foster student-centered learning.
“We were able to not just do things the traditional way. We had a lot of different ideas unique to WesternU from the very start,” Shimomura said. “Everyone had different ideas, and we were able to meld them into the WesternU way to do things.”
His first role in the college was to set up clerkships. COP has increased the amount of experiential education for students through the years.
“People I think learn better when they actually do something rather than sit in a classroom and listen to someone else talk,” Shimomura said. “We’re lucky to have good sites and good preceptors.”
Shimomura took on a number of roles within the College, including Continuing Education Administrator, Assistant Dean for Professional Practice and Associate Dean for College Advancement. He is now an emeritus professor.
“In his 48 years as an educator, mentor, and colleague, Dr. Sam has touched the lives of close to 6,000 pharmacy students and residents,” said College of Pharmacy Dean Daniel Robinson, PharmD, FASHP. “He has had a truly remarkable impact on pharmacy education and the profession of pharmacy.”
Shimomura said he is most proud of the projects that helped others. Through the Vietnamese Pharmacists Association in the USA, Shimomura helped more than 300 Vietnamese pharmacists get retrained and licensed to practice in the U.S. Among them is Man Nguyen, owner of May Pharmacy in Westminster, California and president of the Vietnamese Pharmacists Association in the USA.
“Sam is very humble. He’s willing to do anything that needs to be done,” Nguyen said. “Everybody in our group who goes through that training always appreciates Sam and the others.”
Nguyen graduated from pharmacy school in Vietnam in 1974. But in the wake of the Fall of Saigon and Communist rule, he escaped Vietnam in 1980, spending six months at a refugee center in the Philippines and then immigrating to the U.S. He earned a computer science degree and worked for many years in IT before returning to his original profession in 1992. He took over May Pharmacy in 2006. His son, Kevin Dinh, is a WesternU College of Pharmacy student.
Shimomura and his colleagues from other pharmacy schools arranged for pharmacists from Vietnam to meet on Saturdays and Sundays at UC Irvine Medical Center to review material and prepare for the licensure test.
“I really appreciate every single one of them,” Nguyen said. “They gave us the opportunity to go back to what we were trained to do in Vietnam to get a better life for our family and our future in the United States.”
Under Shimomura’s guidance, WesternU received a Medicare Part D grant to provide outreach and education to the community. COP faculty review medications with patients and help them choose the best Medicare Part D plan to fit their needs. They sometimes save patients thousands of dollars by eliminating medications they no longer need or providing them generic options instead of brand medications. Shimomura also educates pharmacy students and faculty from other disciplines about Medicare Part D.
Shimomura also collaborates with the California Geriatric Education Center, based at the UCLA Multicampus Program in Gerontology and Geriatrics, to provide a review course for pharmacists wanting to become certified geriatric pharmacists.
“I was able to get pharmacists as faculty in teaching the course,” Shimomura said. “Before that it was all physicians teaching the course. We have more than a half dozen pharmacists involved. Before there were none.”
Although he is now retired, Shimomura plans on returning to campus periodically to help interview prospective students, give guest lectures and work in the WesternU Pharmacy. He is also serving as an expert witness in court cases and reviewing grant applications.
He will also devote more time to sports. He has San Francisco 49ers season tickets and he regularly attends San Francisco Giants spring training.
“My priority is to spend more time with family and friends,” he said. “I will try to balance doing volunteer work for professional associations and for WesternU, and consulting and doing part-time pharmacy work.”
Shimomura recently returned from a two-week trip to France, where he traveled from Paris to Nice.
“Along the way I visited wineries, museums, cathedrals, prehistoric cave paintings, Roman aqueducts, art galleries, farmers’ markets and some great restaurants,” he said. “During my trip I experienced the Tour de France, Bastille Day and France’s victory in the World Cup. What an amazing start to my retirement.”