The Power of the Kentucky Connection
October 11, 2018
When Mary H. H. Ensom first chose to call the University of Kentucky (UK) her home in 1973, she was an engineering major at her father’s encouragement. Ensom’s father, Pete Huang, set an inspiring example for his three children as a distinguished civil engineering professor at UK. Nonetheless, her father’s passion for engineering wasn’t enough to prevent Ensom from realizing that her interests and talent were leading her in a different direction.
When Ensom applied to the UK College of Pharmacy, she vividly recalls her struggle to articulate her motivations to become a pharmacist in an essay. “I ended up listing such lofty goals,” she admits. “I wrote things like, helping mankind by making a significant difference in the well-being of patients, and have a fulfilling professional career.” To a young scholar, those goals can seem rather grandiose. However, after receiving a doctorate in pharmacy and four esteemed fellowships in two countries, Ensom proved her goals to be more of a prophetic nature.
From the time Ensom obtained her BS (Pharm) with the Class of 1978 and her PharmD in 1985—both from the UK College of Pharmacy—she has made a name for herself. Ensom has nearly 550 publications to her credit and has received roughly 85 awards for her scholarship, research, and service, all the while maintaining an impressive work-life balance.
She has worked as a hospital pharmacist, clinical pharmacist, and pharmacy professor, holding titles like Fellow, Preceptor, Director, Assistant and Associate Professor, Professor, Research Associate, Clinical Pharmacy Specialist, and Editor. When asked how UK has helped her in achieving her goals, Ensom’s response was succinct, “The Kentucky connection is second-to-none.”
In 2013, Ensom was the recipient of the Paul F. Parker Award, the most prestigious award from the UK College of Pharmacy Residency Program. She was recognized for her devotion in the success of the program and celebrated for positive impact on students and colleagues. When previous recipient Duane Kirking (’77) called Ensom to inform her of the news, she said she was in shock. “To have my name associated in any way with Paul Parker was a tremendous honor,” Ensom said.
During her remarks at the award ceremony, Ensom expounded on the Kentucky connection and what it meant to her. Taking the popular concept of degrees of separation, she converted it into degrees of connectedness.
“We all have various degrees of connectedness linking us to one another depending on which links you choose to view,” she said. “Professor to student, colleague to colleague, friend to friend. It’s these relationships, fostered by the University of Kentucky, that result in the exchange of sage advice and words of wisdom,” said Ensom.
“I owe much of what and who I am to the University of Kentucky,” said Ensom.
The level of awareness Ensom displays in regard to what it takes to motivate pharmacy preceptors, residents, and students can be traced back to when she was in her freshman chemistry class at UK. Her chemistry professor Paul Sears learned all 150 students by name by the second week of school. This had such an impact on Ensom she decided to follow suit. “I said to myself, ‘If I ever become a professor, that’s what I’m going to do.’”
Once Ensom became a professor, she set to work. “I’d photocopy the pages [from the yearbook] so that I could cut out the individual photos and make flashcards. I would study the yearbook photos to learn all my students’ names before the first day of class.”
The work that Ensom has done has undeniably made an impact on the work of her students and presumably her students’ students. In her words, “The teachings, research, and discoveries of my students will continue to propagate and make a difference now and in the future.” Thus, extending the Kentucky connection another degree.
“Seeing my former trainees and students become rising stars in the profession and knowing that I played a part in their professional development was one of the best aspects of my job and time spent at the University of Kentucky,” says Ensom. “How much better can it get than THAT?! If that isn’t a fulfilling professional career, I don’t know what is!”
Thanks to dedicated educators and scholars like Ensom, the UK College of Pharmacy family continues to grow each time it’s extended another degree of connectedness, effectively making the Kentucky connection exactly as Ensom described: second-to-none.