Dr. Bisrat Hailemeskel is a full Professor and Vice Chair in the Department of Clinical & Administrative Pharmacy Science, College of Pharmacy, Howard University (HU). He is also the Director of Drug Information Services & Co-Director for International Grants at UH. Professor Bisrat received his Bachelor of Pharmacy and Master of Science degrees from Addis Ababa University and Doctor of Pharmacy degree from University of Toledo. He joined Howard University in 1997 as an Assistant Professor and was later tenured, with promotion to an Associate Professor in 2004.
Prior to joining HU, he was an adjunct faculty at the University of Illinois, Medical College of Peoria, where he taught pharmacokinetics to medical residents. He was a Clinical Coordinator at Methodist Medical Center, and a Drug Information specialist pharmacist at St Francis Medical Center, both in Peoria IL.
Under his leadership, the Continuing Education (CE) Office ay HU awarded over 1,600 continuing CE hours in just one year to companies and organizations, including AmeriHealth Caritas, SNAPhA, Georgetown University Hospital Pharmacy Department, Ethiopian Pharmacists and Pharmaceutical Scientists’ Association in Diaspora, Ghanaian Pharmacists Association, Network of Ethiopian Diaspora Healthcare Professionals and others. Besides overseeing the CE Office, he also served as the Co-Director for International Programs at the College at HU. In this role, he worked extensively with physicians, nurses, and pharmacists both locally and internationally by providing medical and pharmacotherapy training opportunities. In his effort to fight the opioid crisis in the US, Prof Bisrat received about $90,000 grant funding as a principal investigator in 2018 to provide educational activities to pharmacy professionals in the D.C. metropolitan area. As a professor, he has taught various courses in both the traditional and non-traditional Doctor of Pharmacy programs. Besides teaching pharmacy students, he also has taught courses designed for physicians, nurse practitioners, and occupation therapists, both nationally and internationally. His area of teaching was on pharmacotherapy in mental illness and neurological disorders. He has also coordinated and taught Drug Information Course at HU for over ten years.
His involvement in teaching and working with Ethiopian colleagues started in 2007 with a grant from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief & the Health Resources and Services Administration through the American International Health Alliance. As a result of this project, he travelled multiple times to Ethiopia to help in re-configuring pharmacy curriculum. The grant funding lasted for about 8 years which ended 2 years ago. During the funding period, his participation and initiative led to the Bachelor of Pharmacy degree program being extended from 4 years to 5 years, with a year dedicated to bedside teaching. The modified 5-year curriculum was later approved by the Ethiopian Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health and is now the standard curriculum in all 18 public pharmacy schools.
Professor Bisrat Hailemeskel introduced the novel concept and the principles of drug information services in Ethiopia. Today, almost all universities and major teaching hospitals that have pharmacy programs have established and successfully run drug information centers in their respective institutions. Professor Bisrat travels to Ethiopia on a yearly basis to teach several graduate clinical and advanced pharmacotherapy courses at the Black Lion Hospital, Addis Ababa University. As a result of his close ties to Addis Ababa University (AAU), he established the first international clinical rotation site at Black Lion Hospital for HU pharmacy students to experience a bedside training by working along with students locally. About 3 to 4 students travel with him every year to receive a 5-week clinical training at Black Lion Hospital.
From 2004 to 2005, Professor Bisrat served as a secretary and member of the executive committee of the Ethiopian North American Health Professionals Association (ENAHPA). During this time, he travelled multiple times to Ethiopia to promote cardiovascular health in the country and to teach advanced cardiovascular pharmacology course, which was a 2-credit hour graduate course in the Department of Pharmacology, College of Medicine, AAU. Here in the United States, he founded the Washington Nursing and Allied Health Sciences as a private school to help Ethiopians to have a short-term certificate training to gain an easy access to jobs. The school received its license in 2007 from the District of Columbia Educational License Commission to operate as a post-secondary school in the District of Columbia. The school later changed its name to Nationwide Training Institute and offered the first pharmacy technicians certification program in the District of Columbia. For many years to follow, it was the only private school that offered pharmacy technician training in the District. The School later expanded its services and included Home Health Aide & Dental Assistant Certification Programs. After 10 years of operation when the school moved to Maryland with a different business focus, it had graduated over 3,000 students.
Professor Bisrat has authored/co-authored over a hundred abstracts and has delivered numerous continuing education podium and poster presentations at various national and international professional and scientific conferences. He has also made appearances at various TV and radio programs on topics related to safe use of medications and herbal products. He was interviewed on: Helen Show, EBS TV, Elshaday TV, and Ethiopian National TV. He was also a frequent invitee to speak on multiple medication related issues on Voice of America. His presentation on “Medical benefits of common household spices and herbs” on Helen Show had over 30,000 viewers. His interview with newly pharmacy graduates of HU was also seen by thousands and was very motivational for many viewers to consider the field of pharmacy as a future career.
Professor Bisrat received a Fulbright scholarship to teach and conduct research in Ethiopia for one year at Addis Ababa University in early 2000. As a result, he received letters of recognition from a member of the United State Senate, the Unites States House or Representative, the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, and the former President of HU. About 4 years ago, he was also selected to serve as a Fulbright visiting professor by the US Department of State. He received many other awards and recognition letters. In 2018, he received a Certificate of Recognition from the College of Heath Sciences, AAU for Outstanding Contribution to Pharmacy Undergraduate and Post-Graduate Education, a testimony his sustained service since 2007. In 2010, he received Distinguished Faculty of the Year award from the HU Alumni Association. Other awards he received include: Letter of Appreciation from the US Bureau of Education and Culture Affairs; and Certificate of Appreciation for outstanding work and contribution to the implementation of the Doctor of Pharmacy Program at HU. In 2003 along with other fellow pharmacists, established the Ethiopian Pharmacists Association in North America and served as president until 2007. For his 4 years of service, he received a certificate of recognition from the Association members. The Association later joined the larger Ethiopian-based healthcare professional group, ENAHPA.
As a clinical pharmacist, he participated in various hospital-based national and international committees. He served as preceptor for many traditional and non-traditional pharmacy students, residents, and fellows. He has also served as principal investigators for many research projects. He received a certificate of recognition for serving as a member of Investigational Review Board (IRB) and a member of the pharmacy residency program advisory committee.
Professor Bisrat received over $1.3 million in grants and contracts serving as a principal investigator and over $5 million as co-investigator for various research projects from USAID, CDC, HRSA, PEPFAR, and other national and local government and non-governmental agencies. He has also served as a grant reviewer for many governmental and non-governmental granting agencies including the Agency for Health care Research and Quality (AHRQ’s), United Negro College Fund, Minority Access, Inc., and the HU Strategic Framework of Action Faculty Advisory Panel (Fund for Academic Excellence).
Prof Bisrat Hailemeskel is a Christian actively attending church regularly. He is also father of two children, Beza Bisrat who is a graduate of Northwestern University with a Bachelor of degree in Chemical Engineering currently working for one of the major food producing companies in the United States, and Abel Bisrat, who is currently a senior in College attending University of Maryland.
Q and A’s
P2P e-Health Newsletter (P2P e-HN): Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Professor Bisrat Hailemeskel (BH): I was born and grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I attended grade and high schools in Addis Ababa and graduated from Addis Ababa University. The only time I left Addis before coming to the United States was to go to Nazareth which happened right after college when I was assigned to work as the first pharmacist at then called Halemariam Mamo Hospital.
P2P e-HN: How were you drawn to the field of pharmacy?
BH: I got to pharmacy school by accident. It happed after visiting a family member, who at the time, held a high position in the pharmaceutical sector of the country. Prior to that, I was admitted to study medicine at Addis Ababa University and started attending classes. After a short period of time after the start of the first semester, I made a decision to transfer out of medicine. This happed during the early years of the Derg regime. The main reason for my decision was based on the rumor going on around campus regarding those who study medicine. We were told at the time that. upon graduation, we will be deployed to rural areas of the country where there is no drinking water, public transportation, or electricity. They told us that we will be like what is known as “Barefoot Chinese doctors”. That scared me so much that I decided to change my major. I did not know who to consult. So, I went to visit my relative who was working, at the time, in a high position for the Derg government. During my visit, I was impressed with his excessively large and luxurious office, the high office he held, and the quality of his office furniture. I then asked him what he studied in college and he told me that he is a pharmacist. That was enough for me to convince myself to request a transfer to a pharmacy school.
P2P e-HN: As someone who is close to pharmacy education in Ethiopia, can you comment on the future of the field there?
BH: I hope in the coming years, clinical pharmacy or patient-oriented pharmacy services are expected to expand further to a point where it impacts many lives in every sector of the country. Currently, most of the schools of pharmacy are heavily involved in teaching clinical pharmacy topics and thus they are on the right path. Although access to quality of medications is a major challenge in Ethiopia just like most other developing countries, with the expansion of clinical pharmacy service, I am hoping some level of improvement will forthcoming. As the level of the service expands, the level of inefficient and improper use of medications will be getting high attention and hopefully, there will be a reduction in medication misadventures.
P2P e-HN: What is the secret to your impressive professional success?
BH: I gave full credit for all my success to the Lord, the Almighty God who has given me his unlimited blessings, strength, and his wisdom. He opened up several opportunities, brought key and supportive people in my life, and financial and other resources needed for the success of my achievements. Of all, this journey would not have been possible without the support of my immediate family, close friends, and colleagues.
P2P e-HN What extra-academic activities are you involved in?
BH: As a business owner in the real estate market, I bought several rental properties in the District and Prince George County, Maryland and provided rental houses to many recently arrived Ethiopians with no credit or background history in the USA to qualify for rental apartments. I, along with my wife Elizabeth Asfaw, opened a franchise retail business, and by so-doing helped many Ethiopians by offering them jobs as they arrived in the USA.
P2P e-HN: What do enjoy doing in your spare time?
BH: I am a big believer in proper diet and exercise. I exercise a lot particularly walking, swimming, and strengthening exercises.
P2P e-HN: Is there any advice you would like to offer to young people regarding the profession of pharmacy?
BH: I recommend for the young not to try to do it on their own alone. With the expansion of the internet and technology, there is a temptation for the young to be more isolated and less social. My advice is to consider seeking the guidance of others, pray for success, and to do your utmost best.