Ariel Thurmer, PharmD, is the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin’s 2024 Pharmacist of the Year. Thurmer began her pre-pharmacy studies at Concordia in 2009 and earned her doctorate in 2016.

The Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin (PSW) annually bestows this honor to an individual who has made significant, influential, and sustained contributions to pharmacy practice in Wisconsin and who is responsible for having a positive impact on patient care. PSW will officially recognize Thurmer at its Annual Meeting in August.

Thurmer now works as System Clinical Manager of Pharmacy Services for SSM Health, a Catholic, not-for-profit health system serving populations throughout Wisconsin, Southern Illinois, Missouri, and Oklahoma. With more than 40,000 team members at 300-plus physician office/outpatient sites, Thurmer is one of many SSM providers to live out the organization’s mission of revealing the healing presence of God through exceptional health care services.

Jessica Benjamin, PharmD, a system clinical director for SSM Health, describes Thurmer as someone who is passionate about pharmacy practice advancement.

“Ariel has an incredible work ethic and exudes positivity; she always keeps the patient at the center of her work,” Benjamin said. “She has demonstrated an incredible ability to drive efficiency through our EMR and create a framework for practice advancement for SSM Health inpatient pharmacists. To do this across more than 20 hospitals is no small feat.”

Read on to learn how Concordia paved the way for Thurmer to make a Christian impact in the health care arena.

Why did you choose Concordia?

For my undergraduate experience, I really wanted a Christian college that was far enough (but not too far) away from home, since I grew up in a small town. I was already extremely passionate about becoming a pharmacist when I began to explore colleges, and, thankfully, Concordia had recently started a pre-pharmacy track and was a comfortable one-hour commute from my childhood home.  

When it came time to choose a pharmacy school, I really liked how family-oriented Concordia felt, even in the graduate programs. Undergrad and graduate programs are challenging and stressful at times! I was so blessed to have professors, mentors, and colleagues who were free to share their beliefs with me, pray with me, pray with me, and know their guidance came from a beautiful place of faith-based compassion and servanthood.

How does faith play a role in your life/profession today?

My desire to serve and my passion to give back to our communities is my faith in action. I work to make all my decisions, personally and professionally, through a lens of foundational trust in God. I am so grateful for all the people He has placed in my life along the way to get me to where I am now.

In your opinion, what are some of the roles/most important functions of a pharmacist?

If you were having a problem with your heart or your brain, who would you want looking at it? A cardiologist or a neurologist, right? Why? Because they are specially trained to see the details within those organs. 

Similarly, pharmacists specialize in medications. In my opinion, if you have any type of diagnosis that requires intricate medication therapy, you absolutely want a pharmacist as part of the team. This would apply to all settings: 1) primary care to support preventative care medication management measures, 2) community pharmacies to make sure you are safely getting what was prescribed and have the easiest access to a medication specialist, and 3) at the bedside when your body is working through a stress-filled, acute situation and not regulated like it normally is.

What made you want to become a pharmacist in the first place?

I am a second-generation pharmacist. I grew up watching my dad put his knowledge into practice and demonstrate the value of the profession to our neighbors and friends. He was a director of pharmacy for the hospital in our community. I would regularly go there to join him for lunch, and those visits were a formative part of my childhood. I remember learning how to count with M&Ms using a pill counter; I learned the alphabet by double-checking that the pharmacy team organized the medications on the shelves correctly.

What I remember most is how my dad made himself available to anyone looking for more medication information, and he was an amazing example of what it means to provide exceptional care to your community.

Were there any specific people at Concordia who shaped your views of pharmacy for the better?

All my School of Pharmacy professors at Concordia were amazing, and, to this day, they will go out of their way at conferences to come and say hello! It truly is a family at CUW, and I felt supported both in my faith and professional growth during my time there. 

To name a few: Dr. Melissa Theesfeld was my advisor, mentor, and now, professional friend. When I went to her in my third year to announce I was expecting my daughter, she never let me think I couldn’t do both – have a family and a career. She made sure to help me set realistic expectations so that I could be successful as a new mom and a growing pharmacist.

After I had my little one, Dr. Kassandra Bartelme and former CUW faculty member Dr. Laura Trainer showed just how much passion they have for women’s health. Continuing the desire to make sure I would succeed, Kassandra found a room for me to pump that was in the School of Pharmacy and supported the conversation with other professors around my need to leave class 10 minutes early and arrive slightly late to effectively pump. Since my maternity leave was short and sweet at only three weeks, Laura checked in on my mental health regularly, knowing that being away from my baby put me at risk for postpartum depression.

Just as these professors cared for you, how do you now pay it forward to others as a professional?

I am one of five System Clinical Managers for SSM Health. My focus areas include pharmacy practice and drug shortage support, and multidisciplinary support for acute care, neurology, behavioral health, pediatrics, and women & neonatal.

As a System Clinical Manager, I wear many hats. I am an advocate, a liaison, an ambassador for patient-facing pharmacy services by working with our multidisciplinary teams.  On pharmacy-specific goals, I am one of the project managers strategically working the opportunity, drafting communications, facilitating steering committee calls, developing, and rolling out education, and all the things following go live.

Describe some of the ways you’ve gone above and beyond in your career to warrant this honor from PSW.

For pharmacy practice, my role is to actively listen and participate in conversations about how we can better imbed pharmacy services that improve the quality of patient care. In this way, we work as ambassadors to our internal teams and keep advocating for ways to move pharmacy forward. 

Alongside a team of ministry pharmacy clinical managers and dedicated Integrated Healthcare Transformation (IHT) analyst support, I and the System Clinical Manager team have been working to align our 23 hospitals’ current state for pharmacy practice while laying the foundation to give it room to grow. In 2022, our first step as a team was to build our electronic medical record to work with the pharmacist to push forward information concerning medication management, better prioritizing patients throughout their day. Not only does the tool support pushing information to the pharmacist instead of them having to search through the chart, it also collects metrics around the clinical work pharmacists are completing on each patient.

What went into the implementation of this new tool?

From June 2022 through July 2023, we set in motion the large-scale project of aligning a foundation for pharmacy practice across SSM Health. I coordinated the calls, facilitated the agendas, drove analysis and improvement of feedback, lead the group in developing standard work documents supporting interpretation of the tools, prepped and delivered all education, organized go-live teams for each phased roll out, and was present onsite for all go-live weeks. 

Once the foundational tool was in place, the leadership team desired to hand over optimization and further growth of the practice tool and standard work to the patient-facing pharmacists doing the work. This is when our General Medicine and Critical Care Councils were put in place (around July 2023), and they have been given the voting ability to develop the services being provided. The success and growth within SSM Health around the pharmacy practice is hugely due to the 600-plus pharmacists who believed in the vision, desired the best for their patients, and stepped up to keep making it successful! I am honored to have played a part in it all!

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Concordia University Wisconsin’s School of Pharmacy is one of only three PharmD offerings in Wisconsin, and Concordia is the only private Christian university in the state to host a pharmacy school. CUWSOP graduates routinely earn high pass rates on national certifying exams, with last year’s cohort earning the second-highest NAPLEX pass rate in the region. Graduates also routinely exceed national residency match rates.