Class act: Donnie Sullivan receives third Balshone distinguished teaching award

April 23, 2024
Dr. Sullivan with Dr. McAuley, Dean Kroetz and Dr. Casper

Each year, as students carve out study spots across campus and the trees are in full bloom, Clinical Professor Donnie Sullivan, RPh, PhD, finds himself getting nostalgic. Spring's peak signals the end of another academic year and the graduation of another class of Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) students. 

“This is a sad time of year for me because my class finished up on Friday. I finished all my grading and now I’m looking at a summer off with little student contact until the fall,” Dr. Sullivan said. “The student interaction is what energizes me – it’s the best part of my job. So, these downtimes aren’t quite as exciting as the five to six hours a day that I get to see students during the school year.” 

Dr. Sullivan’s passion for making the most of his time with students hasn’t gone unnoticed. This year, he was chosen to receive his third Miriam R. Balshone Award for Distinguished Teaching in PharmD.  

This award is given annually by a vote of the graduating class of PharmD students. It celebrates educators within the College of Pharmacy who go above and beyond to support their students’ learning and growth. 


Driven by his passion to connect with students and help them toward a successful career, Dr. Sullivan is always searching for new ways to uplift students who step into his classroom. At times, this comes in the form of class talent shows, conducting student trivia or organizing a photo op with Brutus Buckeye to keep morale up during exam season. 

Dr. Sullivan, Brutus and student at exam photo op

“Dr. Sullivan is an exemplary professor who demonstrates kindness, empathy and a true passion for what he does,” wrote one student nominator. “My motivation to attend and participate as a student is highly driven by his dedication to teaching the class.” 

As the instructor of the Foundations in Pharmacy Administration 1 and 2 courses, Dr. Sullivan has the unique opportunity to shepherd students in and out of their PharmD curriculum.  

“It’s really special to bookend their time here,” he said. “I get to know them early on and then close out their college experience before they go on to rotations.” 

Above and beyond

Having taught pharmacy law for the past 27 years, Dr. Sullivan has established himself as a go-to faculty member on the topic here at Ohio State. Beyond introducing students to the world of pharmacy law in the classroom, he dedicates personal time and funds to preparing them for the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE). 

The MPJE is taken shortly after PharmD graduation and challenges students to make their way through a veritable obstacle course of pharmacy law. It’s a major checkpoint for pharmacists to pass through and requires plenty of preparation. 

Dr. Sullivan provides students with initial notes during their third year and gives them a comprehensive, self-published study guide in their final year. Finally, a week before graduation, Dr. Sullivan hosts a two-hour study session for P4 students.  

“The students study hard for this exam,” Dr. Sullivan said. “I just give them the tools along the way.” 

His support has paid off. The MPJE first-time pass rate for the College of Pharmacy’s Class of 2023 was 90.9%, ranking the college fourth in the nation. Through these outstanding results, it’s clear that Dr. Sullivan is a valued champion for graduating PharmD students. 

Keeping his study guide up to date as the field evolves each year requires hundreds of hours of Dr. Sullivan’s time and until this year, he has paid to have the guides printed on campus with his start-up funds. For the 2023-2024 school year, he was happily surprised when Dean Deanna Kroetz, PhD, BS Pharm ’85, stepped in to cover the cost. 

Focusing on the future

Despite his recognitions by students as an outstanding instructor, Dr. Sullivan still seeks ways to improve. 

"I always tell students, ‘Just because you graduate doesn’t mean our contact stops.’"

Donnie Sullivan, RPh, PhD
Clinical Professor, College of Pharmacy

Each year during spring semester, Dr. Sullivan recruits students from his Pharmacy Administration 2 course for a focus group. As they gather for lunch, Dr. Sullivan asks three questions: What do you like about the class? What would you change about the class? What would make your learning better in the class? 

“When you’ve been teaching the same material for 27 years, you can get somewhat comfortable with what you’re doing,” Dr. Sullivan said. “Listening to the students' concerns and ideas gives me unique ways of looking at what I’m doing and how I can continue to improve.” 

Taking the time to connect with students personally and academically and giving them space to share their experiences has allowed Dr. Sullivan to form meaningful relationships with his students beyond graduation. 

“I always tell students, ‘Just because you graduate doesn’t mean our contact stops,’” Dr. Sullivan said. 

Dr. Sullivan’s Balshone award will be recognized at the Class of 2024 Convocation and Hooding Ceremony on May 4, where he will give his awardee address.  

Speaking to a graduating class is typically an opportunity for a sentimental send-off but for Dr. Sullivan and his graduating students, it will mark only a transition in the relationships they’ve fostered for the past four years. 

PharmD News