Walter Cathey, PharmD

IMG_2168With a track record of success spanning more than 50 years in pharmacy, Walter Cathey has made an impressive imprint on the profession.

His career has taken him from owning a community pharmacy to leadership roles in managed care to his current role as Special Assistant to the Dean for Diversity at the USC School of Pharmacy. His efforts were recently recognized by the California Pharmacists Association with the Bowl of Hygeia Award for his outstanding work.

“Dr. Cathey is one of a kind,” said R. Pete Vanderveen, dean of the USC School of Pharmacy. “He knows everyone and is always willing to help make a connection for faculty, students and even for me. He is invaluable to the work of our School.”

Cathey graduated with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from USC back in 1962 and has always been a dedicated and active alumnus. When he was president of the Institute for Community Pharmacy, he was instrumental in raising over $1 million dollars for pharmacy student scholarships. Personally, he has established a diversity scholarship at the School. In his current school role, he has created a model program to develop a pipeline of diverse students to be tomorrow’s pharmacists. The Pharmacy Explorers Program (known as PEP) offers mentorship, encouragement and the facts on what courses to take and what grades to make to gain admission to a good college and ultimately to pharmacy school.

PEP clubs have been in about a dozen area high schools, with students attending meetings regularly and special activities designed to encourage them to work hard and spark their interest in pharmacy and other health professions. Cathey attends the meetings but also sets time aside to meet with individual students as they chart their course, helping them through moments of doubt and insecurity and exposing them to the many opportunities that a pharmacy career offers. School scheduling and busing issues have presented challenges in expanding and continuing the program on some campuses so Cathey is now creating an attendant electronic PEP program to increase school outreach.

“Walter is always there for students, sometimes to help build their confidence and sometimes to sternly encourage them when they aren’t doing their very best,” says Dean Vanderveen. “He knows how to connect with young people – many of whom are the first in their family to go to college – and help them focus their efforts and realize their ultimate career goals.”

On the USC campus, Cathey works with both pre-pharmacy undergraduate students as well as current pharmacy students to help them navigate their coursework and the opportunities before them. Students quickly learn that he is a willing mentor who allows them to brainstorm projects and issues while offering a steady hand of guidance. If a student is having problems with course work, Cathey will match them with a tutor and keep them on track.

“When I started pharmacy school, it was an honor to be coated by Dr. Cathey at the white coat ceremony,” says recent graduate Folayemi Fashola. “I was comforted by his guidance as I took my nervous first steps in pharmacy school.”

As part of his role at USC, Cathey helped students launch a USC chapter of the Student National Pharmaceutical Association in 2008 which captured the national chapter-of-the-year award just four years later. The pharmacy students in the organization represent a tremendously diverse cross section of the school population and undertake an ambitious outreach slate of activities each year. They serve at dozens of area health fairs, providing disease screenings, immunizations and education to underserved members of the community. They also conduct HIV/AIDS education at the Central Juvenile Hall in East Los Angeles. Their efforts even extend internationally with projects in Mexico, Belize and Ghana.

“Dr. Cathey is tireless in his efforts to move students forward, to make connections that advance our profession and to increase diversity among the ranks of tomorrow’s health professionals,” said Vanderveen. “USC prides itself on the Trojan Family and Dr. Cathey truly personifies the spirit of that family.”