For his dedication, scholarship, and quiet leadership, the UCSF Pharmacy Alumni Association awarded Kishi, now Associate Dean for Student and Curricular Affairs, the 2017 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award.

Just two years later, he was recognized with a 2019 UCSF Campaign Alumni Award in “The Dedicated” category – a testament to his investment in UCSF’s pharmacy students.

“Don is that rare senior statesman whose contribution and influence are intertwined with the fabric of the School, students, alumni, and professional communities,” says Cynthia Watchmaker, MEd, MBA, Associate Dean of Student Affairs, UCSF School of Pharmacy.

A pivotal time in pharmacy

After graduating from UCSF, Kishi joined the School of Pharmacy faculty, during what proved to be the formative era for the practice of clinical pharmacy. In 1966, the Ninth Floor Pharmacy Project moved pharmacists up from the basement and onto the Moffitt Hospital wards to encourage more clinical interaction. The program blossomed through the early 70s, bolstered by the efforts of Kishi and his colleagues as they sought to see the invisible—the unmet needs. “You tried to figure out,” he says. “‘What is the need here and what is it that we could be doing to fill that need?’”

While the Haight-Ashbury exploded in psychedelia, Kishi focused on school, career, and the demands of a new family. And as a Japanese American during the prejudice and paranoia of mid-twentieth-century California – Kishi was born in a Colorado relocation camp in 1945 and soon after his family moved back to Sacramento – he recalls receiving clear messages at home: “Growing up post-war it was, ‘Don’t make waves. Fit in. Do well in school.’” 

Fortunately, Kishi loved pharmacy school, especially the fourth-year clinical application of everything he’d learned. After he joined the faculty, he and his new colleagues looked for ways their medication expertise could add value. They went on rounds with patient-care teams, took drug histories of unprecedented detail, and counseled patients on their take-home medications – an insight that intuited the coming of transitional care pharmacy. Kishi enjoyed problem solving the most. “It’s fun,” he says, his eyes lighting up. He loved puzzling out each case and trying to come up with the best solution.
“If you’d told me that I was going to be in a leadership position, I would have laughed at you,” Kishi says of his younger self.

A Dedicated Mentor

Kishi seems less surprised that mentorship has been such a fundamental part of his career.

“You need to go back to the beginning,” he says when asked about his earliest mentors. “My parents told me what to do, [but they also] gave me latitude and corrected my decision-making. They helped me to come to my own conclusions.”

That’s the tack Kishi takes with his pharmacy students, who arrive in his office when they are at a crossroads – navigating a tough family situation, struggling with a challenging course, or coping with financial burdens. “I ask questions [and I let] the individual come to their own decisions about what they should do,” he says. 

In five decades of mentorship, first as a junior faculty member and today as a senior faculty member and the associate dean of student affairs, Kishi has learned some important lessons. “You have to establish trust. You have to be open. You have to be a good listener,” he explains. “You can’t be afraid to share your own experiences – the good, the bad, and the indifferent.” 

And sometimes, Kishi says, being a good mentor means making yourself vulnerable. “I’m probably too open sometimes. But it really encourages people to share.”

Kishi is also using his seats on the boards of the Alumni Association of UCSF and the UCSF Pharmacy Alumni Association to inspire others to take on the mentorship mantle.  “UCSF’s alumni community is full of untapped potential,” he says. “They are a tremendous resource for our students, our schools, and our campus.”

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