Dr. Rick Hess wasn’t even sure where Johnson City was located when he saw a job opening at a new pharmacy school at East Tennessee State University. “I had to look at a map,” he says.
That was more than a decade ago. Today, the Tampa native proudly calls his family’s relocation to this area “the best move we’ve ever made.”
Hess is among the inaugural faculty at the Gatton College of Pharmacy, arriving here in 2007 before the first students even attended classes. He worked as a clinical pharmacist in Atlanta for nine years before making the move to teaching.
“I loved teaching and there really wasn’t an opportunity for me to do that in Atlanta. I was also looking for a change of scenery so I started looking at schools of pharmacy and found ETSU,” he says. “As soon as I visited, I fell in love with it here.”
Hess embraced the opportunity to teach at a brand new college of pharmacy where he could “get in on the ground level” and help shape the culture of the school.
Hess grew up in Tampa, leaving Florida in 1994 to attend Mercer University Southern School of Pharmacy in Atlanta. He graduated with his Doctor of Pharmacy degree four years later and then stayed at Mercer to complete a post-graduate residency in community practice, specializing in providing diabetes care.
“Having elevated blood sugars can lead to all these complications and problems. From the start, that was just extremely fascinating to me,” he says. “And at the time I was coming out of pharmacy school, if pharmacists were getting involved in patient care beyond dispensing medications, it was with diabetes.”
After his residency, Hess began providing diabetes self-management education and became director for a pharmacy-based program while practicing in Atlanta.
“There’s so many people with diabetes and there is so much they should, and need, to know about it,” Hess says. “Diabetes is a debilitating disease. It is progressive in nature for most patients.”
Calling pharmacists “the most accessible health care providers,” Hess says he believes there are many opportunities for pharmacists to help their patients.
“Every time a patient walks in a pharmacy, the pharmacist has a professional obligation to make sure that patient knows how their medication is meant to be taken,” he says. “They also need to be asking the right questions to make sure it is being taken correctly and the patient can afford the medication.”
In addition to teaching in the Department of Pharmacy Practice at ETSU, Hess is an ambulatory care pharmacist with State of Franklin Healthcare Associates in Johnson City. There, he helps patients with education and management of their diabetes.
“I’m doing everything from teaching someone about nutrition to starting patients on insulin pumps,” he explains.
Fourth-year students join Hess at the practice site, putting what they learn in the classroom to the test in a real-world setting.
“Most adults learn best by doing. Head knowledge is different from experiential knowledge,” Hess says. “You can’t substitute those real-life experiences as far as educational opportunities go. I just love seeing the lightbulb go off with students.”
Hess and his wife, Dawn, live in Johnson City with their two children – daughter, Kaitlyn, 11, and son, Zachary, 9. Outside of work, Hess is very involved in his church and loves the outdoors, especially tent camping on Roan Mountain with his family.