Empowering the next generation of pharmacists

Rita and David Caldwell continue their long-standing connection to Dalhousie by establishing a new bursary for historically under-represented students.

Signing up for “Introduction to Chemistry” was the beginning of a chain reaction that would transform the life of Dr. Rita (Campbell) Caldwell (BScPH’74, MHSA’94).

It began when she first stepped on campus in 1970 and began a long relationship with Dalhousie that has spanned more than 50 years — as a Pharmacy student, alumna, professor, administrator, parent and as a donor.

Another relationship began when Rita sat beside a friend of a friend in the introductory chemistry course — engineering student David Caldwell (BSc’73, BEng’75) from Hardwood Lands, N.S. They soon found themselves studying together in the Killam Library, walking across University Avenue to the Student Union Building for frequent coffee breaks, and attending the Pharmacy Ball. In 1974, they married in Rita’s hometown of Moncton, N.B.

The Caldwell connection to Dalhousie continued when their children enrolled. Their daughter Jennifer (MBA’02) is a government accountant, and son John (DipEng’02, BEng’07) works as an electrical engineer.

Last January, the Caldwells made a joint decision to endow a student bursary. It celebrates their shared values over nearly 50 years, and their family’s enduring association with Dalhousie.

“It was a joint decision, but it was Rita’s idea,” says David. “Rita’s kind heart went out to those who need a helping hand.”

“David and I were fortunate and had scholarships and bursaries that helped us,” recalls Rita. “So, I reached out to the Director of the College of Pharmacy because I wanted to know where they saw a need, to be sure we could align with their goals.”

As a result, the Caldwell Family Bursary is now open to students studying full-time in the College of Pharmacy who demonstrate financial need. Preference will be given to students who self-identify as belonging to historically under-represented groups.

When Rita was a professor and later the director at the College of Pharmacy, she always appreciated interacting with students.

David and Rita Caldwell visit the Burbidge Building, home of the College of Pharmacy. (Danny Abriel photo)

“Working with students was always the most fun,” she says. “I enjoyed seeing them accomplish their goals.”

Since retiring in 2014, Rita has maintained her connection to the university.

“My graduating class consisted of 45 students,” she says. “We were a very close group and many of us have stayed friends over the years. Since retiring, I play bridge a couple of times a week with former classmates.”  

Another way that Rita stays involved with the College of Pharmacy is by working to identify a location for a permanent archive. Its goal is to offer a glimpse into the traditional practice of pharmacy, when the pharmacist primarily compounded and dispensed prepared medication. Over the decades, the pharmacist’s scope of practice and education has evolved to meet changing needs and offers a more inclusive focus on patient care.

“For many people today, a pharmacist is their only access point to the healthcare system,” says Rita. “It is lovely to see a broader recognition of their skills and the expanded scope of practice, including prescribing and vaccinations. Certainly, we see with the pandemic how much pharmacists have done to support their communities.”

The Caldwells recognize the significance of preparing pharmacy professionals for the region, and the particular importance of serving diverse communities. The establishment of the Caldwell Family Bursary means that diverse pharmacy students will be better supported during the time they are preparing to serve the community.

— Amanda Pelham