Pharmacy Practice Chair Larry Swanson announces retirement

After serving 21 years as chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice at Campbell University, Larry Swanson, PharmD, has announced his retirement. This September he will end a successful forty-year career in higher education.


Swanson, who was named chair in 1991, has been an instrumental leader and mentor during his time at Campbell. He arrived only five years after the pharmacy program was established, giving him the opportunity to develop the clinical faculty and curriculum into the robust, successful training program that it is today.


He began his academic career in 1972 as an assistant professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. Swanson had earned his PharmD degree three years earlier from the University of Southern California. After graduation, he completed two years with the United States Public Health Service, followed by a one-year clinical residency at the Los Angeles County/University of Southern California Medical Center.


In the early 1970’s the clinical pharmacy movement was on the verge of expansion, and there was a need for clinical pharmacists to implement this type of curriculum into academic settings. With Swanson’s education and residency training, he was in the valuable position to help fill this need.


Searching for his first full-time job, a friend at Wayne State encouraged Swanson to apply, and it turned out to be a great fit. Only four years into his career at Wayne State, Swanson was asked to serve as assistant dean for admissions and student affairs. In 1978 Swanson’s dean and mentor took a job at Northeastern University in Boston, and invited Swanson to come with him. He accepted and led the clinical pharmacy program at Northeastern for 13 years.


In early 1991 Swanson was ready to make another job move, and the new pharmacy program in Buies Creek piqued his interest because it was a Christian university, and already offered an entry-level PharmD degree. Later that year, he was named chair, and Swanson and his wife, Susan, moved to North Carolina with their four sons. 


Over the past two decades the department has flourished under Swanson’s leadership. “He is very good at making decisions that affect everyone but also has the best interest of everybody in mind when making those decisions,” said Assistant Professor Paige Brown, who is a 2006 graduate of the pharmacy program. “That is a huge quality of a leader, and if you look it up in the dictionary, you would find Dr. Swanson in the definition.”


Since his arrival, the department has grown from 14 faculty members to 37. The department’s faculty boasts nationally recognized experts, and outstanding clinicians and teachers in their respective areas of practice, and five of those 14 original faculty members are still included on the roster. 


Expanding residency offerings from two to six, refining the curriculum, increasing faculty scholarship output, mentoring and developing faculty for promotions, and expanding Campbell’s affiliation with top-tier rotation sites are just a few areas of tangible growth over the past 20 years. He also led initiatives like the Top 300 Drugs Exam and the P4 presentation seminar, and facilitated the offering of the P3 missions elective and helped expand missions rotation opportunities.


But Swanson is not one to claim the spotlight for these achievements. “I don’t attribute any particular thing to me. My role as chairman is to make sure our faculty members have the resources to do their job effectively. If they have the environment and tools to practice, teach, and produce scholarship well, this will result in a great program for everyone,” he said.


Swanson has stayed consistent in his approach, and it rings true throughout the voice of the faculty. “He sets the big picture for us. We may discuss a lot of different approaches to get to that goal, but then he lets us accomplish it the way we feel is best,” said Gil Steiner, PharmD, associate professor of pharmacy practice, who has worked in the department since 2000.


His career hasn’t been all about the numbers. Instead Swanson has focused on the individuals he has been able to work with and mentor, not only faculty but students as well.


“He is a full package as to what you want as a chair, because he listens, he’s compassionate, and gregarious, but also serious when he needs to be. His other legacy is the love of Christ that he shows to all people, it is evident to everybody who knows him,” said Brown.


When reflecting upon his career, Swanson shared that one of the most rewarding experiences happened when a pharmacy student traveled abroad to complete a one-month missions rotation. Shortly after the student arrived at the clinic, she became very homesick and contacted Swanson about returning to North Carolina immediately. He knew she could have come home, but if that happened, she would have missed out on an incredible learning experience. After much prayer by Swanson and the staff at the clinic, the student was convinced to stay. When she returned home, she thanked Swanson for encouraging her to complete the rotation because of how much she learned at the clinic, but more importantly, how much she learned about herself and her relationship with God.


“That experience was a great blessing for me. We can teach our pharmacy students how to make a living but, if there is a spiritual dimension to their education, this will make a life,” Swanson said.


A great influence in the program, he knows both faculty and students need their own breadth of experience to prepare them for success.


“I think his role as chair gives him the opportunity to give other people opportunities,” said Steiner. “We will remember him for encouraging others to do the best they can, making sure faculty and our students know we are here for a bigger reason than just to go out and make money, and that there are people to be served.”


Photo: Dr. Swanson is a huge Campbell basketball fan. His favorite basketball memory is when Campbell went to the big dance against Duke University in 1992. With his love for Fighting Camel athletics, Swanson’s family started giving him camels. His collection has grown over the years, and he plans to find a place for his camels at home once he retires.