Students in Dr. Keith Veltri’s class on infectious diseases know they’re listening to an expert whose first-hand knowledge of the pharmacy world colors all his lectures. Dr. Veltri, one of the founding faculty members of TCOP, has spent the last twenty-two years as a practicing pharmacist in Montefiore Hospital in NYC. During the early nineties, he served a critical role on a multidisciplinary team of doctors and nurses working to combat HIV-related fatalities.
“While HIV wasn’t a death sentence at that point, there were very few drug regiments available and there were fatal complications,” Dr. Veltri recalled. “Infections were on the rise. Controlling the viral infections took a good amount of work. At the department meetings we talked about the patients who were at-risk of not taking their medication and developed strategies for them. We used different tools—pharmacy calendars, incentives—to entice them to come for the drug regiments. We gave them metrocards, for example. It was really fulfilling to see our patients recover from what was once a certain fatality.”
During his tenure, Dr. Veltri also witnessed the evolving role of a pharmacist from a medication provider to an active member of a hospital staff. “Pharmacists became responsible for identifying high-risk patients and vaccinating them for a variety of diseases on discharge,” said Dr. Veltri. Under his watch, the hospital moved from the 20th percentile in vaccination rates to the 100th.
Dr. Veltri joined the faculty of TCOP when the school began in 2008.
“We were a brand-new school and there was a lot of work to be done,” said Dr. Veltri. “Seeing all we accomplished since then inspires me and makes me want to continue.”
“This is the most fulfilling job that I’ve had in my professional career.”
“I’ve had many different careers in pharmacy and I think teaching—preparing the next generation of pharmacists—is the most fulfilling job I’ve had in my my professional career,” Dr. Veltri said.
Dr. Veltri believes that part of his success as a teacher stems from his interweaving of real-life examples in his lectures. His classes are never dry as Dr. Veltri is never short of a story that occurred on his daily rounds.
“If you bring in real-life examples into the lecture, students understand the rationale,” he explained. “The goal isn’t to memorize the material, but understanding the rationale of why and what you’re learning and how you apply it.”
The other thing that sets Dr. Veltri apart is his dedication to his students. Dr. Veltri’s students’ choice nominations overflowed with stories of students describing their close relationship with him. Several students mentioned Dr. Veltri’s habit of checking in on the study hall to see how students were doing throughout the day. Dr. Veltri said his close relationships with his students stems from his own experience as a pharmacy student.
“I was afraid to ask my professors questions,” recalled Dr. Veltri. “I was concerned about the responses. For my students, opening that level of communication is critical. Students should be comfortable asking faculty or preceptors questions without being belittled. I think treating students with respect is key.”
That perhaps is an understatement for the reserved professor. A moment later, he added, “Sometimes I feel like I’m a father figure and that my students are like my children.”