Carving His Own Path

Published on 12 July 2022

Encouraged by his father and in the footsteps of his brother, Robert Salter, B.S. ’70, MHA, Ed.D., enrolled at St. Louis College of Pharmacy and began his journey in health care, carving his own path from pharmacist to hospital administrator to educator.

As a Black college student in the 1960s, Salter’s first few years at St. Louis College of Pharmacy were lonely and challenging. But as he spent more time at the institution and got to know other students who lived in University City, Missouri, it wasn’t long before carpooling to class grew into friendship and support. Salter eventually became the first Black student to be initiated into Alpha Zeta Omega, one of the first pharmacy fraternities on campus.

When it comes to professors, Salter fondly remembers bonding over music with John Grotpeter, Ph.D., a professor of politics and history and St. Louis community theater actor, who is credited with establishing the institution’s theater program.

“My music background was in saxophone,” Salter explained. “Through our shared love of music and the arts, I was able to find support and encouragement from Dr. Grotpeter that helped me throughout my time at the college.”

Upon graduation and the passing of his pharmacy board certifications, Salter was hired as a pharmacist at SSM Health DePaul Hospital - St. Louis in Bridgeton, Missouri.  While working at the hospital, Salter got to  know his patients well, including the hospital’s administrator Anthony Bunker. Bunker recognized Salter’s talents and drive and invited him to his office to encourage him to explore opportunities in hospital administration.

From the moment he walked into Bunker’s office, Salter began to imagine a future in health care beyond pharmacy. Bunker, a member of the Saint Louis University Alumni Board, suggested Salter apply to the Master of Health Administration program at Saint Louis University. Salter earned a full-ride to the program, and after graduating, he was hired as a hospital administrator for Jewish Hospital, now known as Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

After a few years at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Salter went to work for the Central Medical Center in North St. Louis where he remained for 10 years before starting his own consulting business with a focus on long-term care.

After ten years in long-term care, Salter decided to take a sabbatical. It was during this sabbatical that his friends suggested he put his knowledge and experience in hospital administration to work in the classroom.

“I really didn’t know I had a gift for teaching,” Salter mused. “I guess there are a lot of things you don’t know about yourself until you find yourself in that situation. My whole family is in education, but I never saw myself in that role, but once you try it, and you get a good response from students, you have this moment of ‘I think I can do this,’ and it has been a really positive experience.”

When Salter first began teaching health care finance, he read a book by Michael Porter, MBA, Ph.D., Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at Harvard Business School, that introduced the model of value-based health care. His interest was piqued so much that he applied and was accepted to a once-a-year, week-long intensive seminar that brought professionals from across the globe together to learn from Porter who was then known as the “guru of value-based health care.”

After the seminar, Salter became the first educator in St. Louis to teach value-based health care from the perspective of the person who wrote the book on the topic.

Since 2015, Salter has taught health care finance at Washington University in St. Louis, but as health care and health care management continue to evolve, he continues to be a champion for pharmacists to practice at the top of their license.

“The current state of pharmacy does not leverage the incredible knowledge and expertise that pharmacists have to offer,” Salter said. “With the accelerated advancement of technology, robotics and artificial intelligence, the profession of pharmacy must evolve — and  a great role that few pharmacists have taken advantage of is the role of the physician assistant. Pharmacists are exponentially qualified to fill this role supporting physicians, while providing patient care and their expertise in drug interactions.”

Salter’s passion for making health care more efficient, effective and accessible was recognized in 2017 by UHSP when he was awarded the Distinguished Black Heritage Award for his outstanding commitment to community and health care leadership. In addition to this recognition, Salter served on the Alumni Council and as president from 2011 to 2017.

“Even though my undergraduate experience at the college was difficult, it helped me appreciate the fact that I could move ahead of myself and do more and be more,” Salter reflected. “If I had just cruised through my academics, that growth probably wouldn’t have happened. When it comes to advice for current and prospective students — just believe that you can be anything you want to be and that success comes in layers — your whole life, you are going to build on what you have already achieved.”

Pharmacists Preventing Suicides

Salter is the president of Pharmacists Preventing Suicides, a not-for-profit organization that educates pharmacists on how to take a more proactive approach when engaging with the at-risk patients they serve.

“What we encourage, in retail pharmacy specifically, when it comes to suicide prevention is for the pharmacist to take a moment and sincerely ask  at-risk patients how they are doing,” Salter explained. “Most people, if you ask sincerely, will tell you. And if you find yourself in a situation where it is clear this patient is motivated with a plan, you immediately switch into a different mode of how you communicate with this person in order to direct them to someone who can get them professional care.”

Pharmacists Preventing Suicides is just one example of how the accessibility and compassion pharmacists have for their patients can change lives and positively impact a patient’s quality of life.

This story was first published in the spring 2022 issue of Script Magazine. To view past issues of Script, visit the Script Magazine archive.

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