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The Catalyst

Women's History Month 2014 - Spouse volunteer, advocate force behind duo's success

By Cindy Abole
Public Relations

Drs. Cecily and Joseph T. DiPiro join S.C. College of Parmacy-MUSC campus dean Dr. Phillip Hall at a board dinner.
Drs. Cecily and Joseph T. DiPiro join S.C. College of Pharmacy MUSC campus dean Dr. Phillip Hall, left, at the Board of Visitors/Trustees dinner. photos by Anne Thompson, Digital Imaging

Cecily DiPiro makes it look easy.

Behind the smart glasses, kind brown eyes and infectious smile is a woman who has proved that she can have it all by doing it her own way.

DiPiro is the wife of Joseph T. (Joe)  DiPiro, PharmD, executive dean of the South Carolina College of Pharmacy. Originally from central Connecticut, the couple met in pharmacy school and together have blazed a family–career trail that’s been an incredible journey for them and their family.

A pharmacist in her own right, DiPiro has learned to skillfully achieve a work-life balance in managing family, career and community service work. She’s forged her own life path drawing on her own skills, experiences and self-confidence to make good decisions for herself and her family.

DiPiro grew up as the oldest girl among four boys within a middle class, blue collar family. Her mother, Rose Victor, was a physical therapist who worked part–time in a private clinic. “Mom set the example of family balance and career early on. Despite the responsibilities of marriage and family, she still managed to stay connected to her career,” said DiPiro.

She remembers when she first considered pharmacy as a career. DiPiro was a teenager working part–time as a waitress in the neighborhood Walgreen’s store. She often waited on the store pharmacist who would talk to her about future plans and college.

Always a good student, DiPiro excelled at science and math. “He shared some college advice and convinced me that pharmacy was a great career and that’s how I came to study it at the University of Connecticut,” she said.

The DiPiros met as they both worked a hospital pharmacy rotation as pharmacy students at Yale–New Haven Hospital. Upon graduating, each pursued a different path. She chose to complete a one–year hospital pharmacy residency at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia while Joe began a three–year combined PharmD residency at the University of Kentucky. After completing her residency, the couple reunited, got married in 1979 with DiPiro moving to Lexington for the next two years. From the start, both decided to place more emphasis on Joe’s career. They also agreed to make family a priority before their first son, Matt, was born.

In 1981, the family relocated to North Augusta, S.C. where her husband was hired as faculty with the University of Georgia’s College of Pharmacy where he taught at the Medical College of Georgia Hospital. Their family grew with the births of Anne and Thomas. Yet DiPiro’s plans and dreams never took a back seat, they were only delayed.

When the children were older, DiPiro returned to school in 1993 to begin a Bachelor’s of Science to PharmD program at the University of Georgia. She completed the program in 1995.

“Over time, I learned that hospital pharmacy has been a great profession and fit for me. It offered me a variety of job skills and experiences, plus a good work–life balance. But like other professions, it can be challenging to maintain skills and competencies while growing as a professional. This is especially true while raising a family,” DiPiro said.

From there, she worked both full–and part–time in MCG’s hospital pharmacy department. DiPiro continued to enjoy success in her job working in various areas and eventually became skilled as an oncology specialist. She credits the guidance of several skilled pharmacists including Mary Wallace Johnson and Jere R. May. They eventually became good friends and mentors.

Throughout her career, DiPiro has always managed to work with students. She was able to do more of this after she earned her doctorate and later worked as an adjunct professor where she trained and precepted students completing their general hospital pharmacy rotation.

“Mentoring has always been very important to me. I’ve always been proud of my role as a hospital pharmacist and working within an academic medical center where one’s contributions to patient care are genuinely valued.”

After 24 years in North Augusta, the DiPiros relocated to Charleston in 2005 as her husband was selected as the university’s first executive dean heading the combined pharmacy schools at MUSC and the University of South Carolina–Columbia. It was a significant time for them both as their children left for college and they suddenly became empty nesters. “It was the start of a new chapter in our lives. For me, it also was a time where my day–to–day activities didn’t revolve around the children and my job,” she said.

Although DiPrio was committed to her role in supporting her husband and as an academic couple handling social and professional activities in a two–city life, she wasn’t ready to return to work as a full–time pharmacist. Rather, she was encouraged to commit her time and skills to new opportunities such as the MUSC Women’s Club.

Cecily DiPiro, center, serves as MUWC vice president of membership and poses for a group photo with 2013-2014 club officers. photo provided

With this group DiPiro thrived as she got to know people and their relationships and got involved in club functions. She was a very active member serving several positions including club president from 2012 to 2013. One of her proudest achievements with the group was maintaining and funding scholarships for MUSC students. Each year, the women would accomplish this solely through membership dues and some extracurricular fundraising.

Today, MUWC membership has grown beyond faculty spouses and female staff. Membership is open to any woman with any professional affiliation with MUSC.

DiPiro remembered serving as scholarship chair and empathized with many women applicants while reading their personal statements. “I realized that there are many paths students take to meet their goals and obtain their professional degrees. Many take non–traditional paths like myself, a mother with young children pursuing my doctorate degree, or another woman going through a career change. Each story is unique and each student is worthy of some type of support,” she said.

Current MUWC president Megan Zwerner got to know Cecily through the Women’s Club and their many activities. Zwerner was recruited by DiPiro to succeed her as past president and convinced her that she was capable of doing the job.

“Cecily is an incredible leader, consensus builder and clear thinker. She’s a gifted communicator and teacher and has a wonderful way of explaining complex topics so it’s clear and understandable. She’s been a great mentor to me and to other women in our group,” said Zwerner.

Finding a way to stay connected with her career, DiPiro worked part–time for a brief period in a local family pharmacy practice. Through these connections, she got involved as a diabetes coach with the American Pharmacy Association’s Diabetes 10–City Challenge. Modeled after the Asheville Project, the program grouped Charleston area diabetic employees with a local pharmacist to coach them in diabetes control and education. DiPiro has worked for seven years as a coach and accountability partner to dozens of individuals and families who live with this chronic disease. The project’s goal was to teach patients basic self–management skills and provide other support.

“My career as a pharmacist has been shaped by the opportunities around me. Other pharmacists were already involved in the diabetes challenge so I also joined. From working in acute pharmacy care to one–on–one patient care, working with people to help them make the best decisions is so rewarding and fulfilling. I’ve seen people turn around with their health and see the results,” she said. She hopes to continue this type of work as the DiPiros relocate to their new home in Richmond, Va. In January, Joe was named dean of the School of Pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University and will begin there this summer.

Women’s Club co–member Laura Patrick describes DiPiro as vivacious, creative and a giving person. She is a passionate volunteer to East Cooper Meals on Wheels, her neighborhood HOA and other community organizations. She’s also an avid gardener, Jazzercise enthusiast and friend. “Cecily’s been a great friend and advocate to the Women’s Club for so many years. Her departure is bittersweet but I’m happy that she begins a new exciting chapter in life. I look forward to visiting and staying in touch,” she said.

Husband Joe DiPiro has been her greatest supporter and advocate.

“Being dean can be a very demanding position and would be much more difficult without her support and active involvement. Over the years, it has ranged from assuring that our home life is stable to entertaining students and faculty at our home and looking after many day–to–day details. Cecily also has participated in meeting with college donors. Those who know us realize that she’s the real pharmacist,” he said.

Looking back at their time spent in the Lowcountry and South Carolina, DiPiro can only smile.

“Yes, there’s always a sadness in leaving colleagues and friends,” she said. “But Charleston is a nice and exciting place to live. I will certainly miss the people because it’s the people you work with and relationships you create and develop that matter and are important. I’m proud that Joe and I were as involved in the many activities at both MUSC and USC campus communities.”

Editor’s note: In honor of National Women’s History Month, The Catalyst will feature women who make a difference at MUSC.

March 27, 2014

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