Butler pharmacy director, Cranston resident honored by URI College of Pharmacy

KINGSTON, R.I. — January 19, 1999–The University of Rhode Island’s College of Pharmacy has named Cranston resident Walter D. Soja the “Preceptor of the Year” for 1998. Soja, who holds bachelors’ degrees in agriculture and pharmacy from URI, has been the director of pharmacy at Butler Hospital for 19 years and the clinical pharmacist at Hospice Care of Rhode Island. URI pharmacy students at both sites nominated Soja for the award, which honors his dedication and skill in working with pharmacy students during their clinical experiences. Henrique Pedro, director of experiential learning at URI’s College of Pharmacy, said Soja epitomizes what the College looks for in a preceptor. “He works extremely well with the students, and he also inspires them because he is constantly working on his own development as a professional,” said Pedro. Soja, who holds a master’s degree in pharmacy from Northeastern University, is presently pursuing his doctor of pharmacy degree at URI. “Our students see that this is a guy with persistence,” Pedro said. “He has also served on several committees here at the College, and is an adjunct assistant professor of pharmacy.” Soja, who oversees two other pharmacists and two technicians at Butler Hospital, a 117-bed facility for patients with psychiatric illnesses, normally works with six URI pharmacy students per year who experience the clinical side of psychiatry and psychopharmacology. Soja knows students may have certain reservations about working with patients with mental illness. Once Soja discusses the reality of mental illness and the students meet the patients, they become much more receptive and enjoy the experience. Soja stated, “The students wind up with a better understanding of mental illness and the medications used to treat it. We want our students to learn that the way they are going to have an impact in pharmacy is with clinical knowledge. We need pharmacists who know medications and people.” Soja, who grew up in Pawtucket, said many of his students come away with a heightened interest in psychiatry, and all have a better understanding of mental illness. Soja said he dreamt of becoming a pharmacist during his high school days while working at State Line Pharmacy on Broadway in Pawtucket. He said he learned a great deal from the owners, John and Aldo Albanese. “I worked the soda fountain. I delivered medications to people’s houses,” he said. “John and Aldo showed me how much fun you can have on the job.” As the clinical pharmacist at Hospice Care of Rhode Island, Soja, is responsible for pain management and resource control. Hospice provides comprehensive services for the terminally ill. “I tell students that we’ll be talking about drugs, but the vast amount of experience will be about death and dying,” Soja said. “Assistance with medications can only be part of the support. There is social and spiritual support. Students learn that they can go into a person’s home and be of help. They can’t help but be touched.”