Deborah Kavanaugh receives School of Pharmacy Alumni Achievement Award
Deborah Kavanaugh knew in high school that she wanted a career in pharmacy. Hard work, multiple jobs to save money and a University of Missouri-Kansas City Curator’s scholarship helped her receive a college degree and achieve her goal.
“Without the Curator’s scholarship that I received from UMKC, it would not have been possible for me to go to college,” Kavanaugh said. “The scholarship I received made all the difference in the world.”
In 1985, Kavanaugh graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the UMKC School of Pharmacy, making her a first generation college graduate. She went on to earn a MBA from Rockhurst College in 1992 and a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree from Creighton University in 1996.
Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes 16 alumni and one family with top honors. UMKC will honor Kavanaugh and other outstanding alumni at the 2016 Alumni Awards Luncheon April 21 at Swinney Recreation Center. The luncheon is one of the university’s largest events and proceeds support student scholarships. Last year’s luncheon attracted nearly 600 attendees and garnered more than $141,000 in student scholarships.
“Pharmacy is a great career that provided me with a wide variety of opportunities,” Kavanaugh said. “It allows me to contribute and give back in many ways.”
Today, Kavanaugh and her husband, Paul, have taken their love for travel to a new level as travel philanthropists. Discovering so many countries has opened her eyes to different cultures and suffering. They use travel as an opportunity to give back.
“Both my husband and I enjoy traveling and seeing the world,” Kavanaugh said. “Helping those that are less fortunate and providing them with resources that we have here in the U.S. is very rewarding. During our travels we look for opportunities to either help one person at a time or larger groups if at all possible. To date, we have been able to help people in Argentina, Cambodia and Nepal.”
The Kavanaughs have funded a charitable foundation that supports Westminster College, the UMKC School of Law, the UMKC School of Pharmacy and projects in Asia, South America and Africa. She has served as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board for the School of Pharmacy and the Pharmacy Foundation Board. She is also a past-president of both the Greater Kansas City Society of Health Systems Pharmacists and the Missouri Society of Health Systems Pharmacists. Currently, she serves as a member of the Operations Committee for the Blind Center of Nevada.
Their love for travel philanthropy started with a trip to Cambodia. “It was then that we decided that we wanted to help and give back to the children and people of Cambodia,” Kavanaugh said. “We partnered with the World Assistance for Cambodia and had a secondary school built for children in a small village. We continue to financially support the school with an English teacher, a victory garden, computers and school supplies.”
They usually visit the school every other year to see the children and encourage them to continue with their studies and to go to high school if they can. Kavanaugh said it’s important to her that the students attend finishing school, because it will provide them with many more opportunities. She knows that first-hand.
“Through hard work and dedication, I have been able to achieve far more than I ever imagined,” Kavanaugh said. “If there is something that I can do that makes a difference in a person’s life, it is very rewarding and satisfying. It is also important to let people know that they can do it. Being a first generation college graduate without financial support can help motivate people and encourage them to keep pushing to succeed.”
Kavanaugh’s career has included positions in retail pharmacy, hospital pharmacy and the pharmaceutical industry. During her time at the Kansas City VA Medical Center, she was the assistant chief of the pharmacy and a clinical pharmacist in the Renal and Hypertension Clinics. She’s also worked for a number of large pharmaceutical companies within the Medical Affairs Departments, which included medical information and clinical research, and served as an adjunct faculty member at the UMKC School of Pharmacy.
“Given my clinical experience at the VA Medical Center in the Renal and Hypertension Clinic, it was a good basis for going into the pharmaceutical industry and focusing on cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” Kavanaugh said. “Having this area of expertise has been extremely beneficial in both my personal and professional life.”
Educating people on proper use, side effects and compliance has come in handy for Kavanaugh. Approximately 30 percent of the American population have either high cholesterol, high blood pressure and/or diabetes.
When asked about her career and what she’s most passionate about, Kavanaugh said it’s her philanthropic work, specifically the support of the school in rural Cambodia.
“Volunteering allows you to choose where and how to make a difference. It’s easy to get inspired with a cause you truly care about – and it’s rewarding to see your direct impact.”
Kavanaugh’s personal mantra and words of wisdom: “Go to college and get a good education. It will provide you with many more opportunities than you can ever imagine. If someone offers to help you, listen and take advantage of it, but be respectful and appreciative. Never take anyone or anything for granted. Be appreciative of the breaks you get in life. Then give back yourself. No one gets there by themselves.”