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Mariava Phillips
November 22, 2023

Stephen Eckel, BSPharm ‘95, Pharm.D. ‘97, M.H.A. ‘05, associate dean for global engagement and associate professor in the Division of Practice Advancement and Clinical Education at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, often tells his students to hold their careers with an open hand.  

He recently received the Individual Award for Career Achievement at the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) 2023 Pinnacle Awards, which highlighted his career of advancing the medication use process. Eckel also leads a two-year Master of Science concentrating in Health-System Pharmacy Administration. In addition to his roles at the School, he serves as residency program director for the two-year health system pharmacy administration and leadership residency program at UNC Medical Center. 

A self-described builder, he shared, “I’ve always tried to be a person bent on action. A lot of these roles and opportunities came about from just trying new things and seeing if it works or not,” he said.  

Although his father, Fred Eckel, RPh, M.S., worked at the School from 1966-2014, Stephen didn’t have the intention of becoming a career pharmacist. His plan was to use his pharmacy degree as a steppingstone to medical school, but he ultimately decided otherwise. “Pharmacy caught my attention because it’s intellectually stimulating, and I enjoyed the variety of opportunities that came with it,” he said.  

After receiving his Pharm.D. from the School in 1997, Eckel completed his residency at Duke University Medical Center before returning to Carolina as a clinical pharmacist at UNC Medical Center. However, he found himself moving into pharmacy administration. “That was not in my career plan, so I call myself an ‘accidental administrator’,” he said. During that season, Eckel enjoyed the challenge of improving systems and operations. 

“Stephen helped build one of the most robust clinical pharmacy programs in the nation,” said John Valgus, Pharm.D., M.H.A., executive director of pharmacy, triangle west region, UNC Medical Center. “He spearheaded several major milestone projects including American Society of Hospital Pharmacists (ASHP) Accreditation of post-graduate year two programs, implementation of innovative programs such as the residency teaching and leadership certificate and expansion of the program to one of the largest pharmacy residency programs in the country.” 

Through growing partnerships between the medical center and the School, including being the residency program director, Eckel transitioned to being on faculty in 2013, adding “accidental academic” to his resume.  

Eckel’s impact among students stretches far and wide as he has led over 200 residents. Working with students brings him a lot of new ideas and enthusiasm. He shared that he loves supporting pharmacists at the beginning of their careers because of their optimism and excitement for the future of pharmacy. 

Eckel wears many hats – from pharmacy administrator, residency director, global engagement leader to entrepreneur, but the most important to him are father and husband. “I’ve worked really hard to balance family and career – remembering the anchor that keeps me grounded,” he said. 

With his career in an open hand and many achievements behind him, more accidental successes are sure to follow.  

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