When she received the call from Dean Marie Johnson notifying her that she had been selected for the Cal State Fullerton Distinguished Alumna Award, Retired Rear Admiral Pamela Schweitzer (BA ’82) says she felt genuinely surprised and shocked, followed by a mix of emotions – disbelief, gratitude, and a bit of humility.
Despite Schweitzer’s impressive and varied accomplishments since she earned her degree in biological sciences from CSUF, including serving as the first female chief professional officer of pharmacy and assistant surgeon general in the U.S. Public Health Service, she says she has realized “the award is not about me.”
“It is about the incredible people, most importantly my family, who have supported and inspired me along the way,” Schweitzer says. “It serves as a reminder of the collective impact we can have when we work together toward a common goal.”
Schweitzer says she considers herself incredibly fortunate to have “stumbled into a career that allowed me to be part of this extensive network of colleagues who possess expertise, experience, and an unwavering passion for tackling the most pressing public health issues.”
That network has been able to confront both daily and emergent public health needs throughout the United States and around the globe.
“It is my sincerest hope that my personal career narrative can serve as an inspiration to the next generation of leaders to continue efforts to enhance the well-being of our communities,” she says. “This involves not only addressing immediate health concerns but also advocating for essential aspects of a healthy life, such as ensuring adequate housing, clean water, safe streets, and equitable access to healthy foods. These are the building blocks of a healthier, more resilient society.”
Giving Back to the College That Helped Shape Her Passion to Serve
Schweitzer is committed to nurturing interest in public health advocacy among those who will shape our future, and she and her husband also prioritize giving back to the College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics.
They have contributed to the Fullerton Arboretum through the TreeTober event during October 2023 and plan to contribute to Dean Johnson’s newly formed Excellence Fund and the expansion of the RADM Pamela Schweitzer and Mr. Paul Schweitzer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. That fellowship supports biological science students pursuing research addressing public health, social determinants of health, or health inequities and students planning to pursue a career in health professions or public health.
Regarding why she wants to give back to her alma mater, Schweitzer says, “My time at Cal State Fullerton was foundational for my educational journey. I had great professors and grad students [teaching assistants] dedicated to teaching, with a contagious enthusiasm for their respective subjects. During this time, I developed the essential skills and mindset required to delve deeply into subjects, laying the groundwork for a lifetime of intellectual curiosity and growth.”
“It is about the incredible people, most importantly my family, who have supported and inspired me along the way.”
Retired Rear Admiral Pamela Schweitzer (BA ’82)
During her undergraduate studies, Schweitzer originally wanted to be a medical technologist or a veterinarian. She remembers volunteering at the student health center and participating in CSUF founding faculty member Miles D. McCarthy’s Health Professions Program and being inspired by speakers who came in from health-related fields to share their career and personal journeys. Her pivotal decision to pursue a career in pharmacy took place when she was a graduate student doing part-time maintenance work at the Cal State University Desert Studies Center at Zzyzx.
Over the course of her career, Schweitzer had the opportunity to work on several agencywide projects demonstrating interagency collaboration, creativity, resilience, and strategic thinking to influence national transformation. She initially went to Washington, D.C., as part of the team involved in implementing the Affordable Care Act. Later, her name was put forward to serve as assistant surgeon general and 10th chief pharmacist.
Schweitzer’s mother, brother, and sister also attended CSUF, and she would often attend baseball and basketball games with her brother, an ardent supporter of Titan sports. Even though she moved away from California shortly after she completed her Doctor of Pharmacy degree and a residency at UC Irvine Medical Center, she periodically returned to visit family in the area.
“I remember stopping by a few times to visit some of my grad student friends and once giving a presentation about the public health service, but it was not until several years after we started our family that I had the pleasure of reconnecting with the college, thanks to Michael Karg and Dean Johnson reaching out,” she says. “This rekindled connection allowed me to once again be a part of the impressive academic community at CSUF and embrace the sense of nostalgia that comes with returning. In hindsight, those undergraduate years were a critical chapter in my life’s narrative, as they played a pivotal role in shaping my decision to eventually pursue a career in a field that resonated with my passion and sense of purpose.”
Retired – But Only From One Role
Since she retired, Schweitzer has been working on a number of projects.
“Supporting the COVID-19 response took a lot of my time for the past few years,” she says. “I worked with a number of stakeholders to increase communities’ vaccine access using pharmacies, which included addressing reimbursement and reporting to state and federal registries and authorities related to scope of practice. I also helped to host and disseminate a PBS documentary about misinformation.”
Schweitzer was also part of a team of authors that worked for two years on a National Academy of Science Engineering Medicine report published in February 2023 called “Achieving Whole Health: A New Approach for Veterans and the Nation.”
She says it is a people-centered approach to healthcare that changes the healthcare conversation from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What matters to you?”
For the past three years, Schweitzer has also worked with a director/producer on a documentary about the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, called “Invisible Corps,” and has been helping to distribute the film among colleges and organizations around the country.
“In general, I continue to support the pharmacy profession and national efforts to increase access to public health initiatives, especially in rural and underserved communities,” she says. “I also just attended my first Cal State Fullerton Philanthropic Foundation Board of Governors meeting in September, and I hope, as I get further into this role, to become an informed voice for the College of NSM within the board’s discussions. I aim to leverage my unique perspective and insights to contribute meaningfully to the Foundation’s mission and its broader philanthropic endeavors, and I look forward to opportunities to collaborate to advance our shared goals.”
On February 8, 2024, Schweitzer will join Dean Johnson; Marina Zarate, director of Academic Advising, Training & Professional Development at the Undeclared and Academic Advising Center; Monique Garcia, athletics academic advisor at CSUF; Lauren Meier, assistant director of the Health Professions Advising Office; and Yuying Tsong, associate vice president of Student Academic Support, to host an event on campus, which will give students the opportunity to see the Invisible Corps documentary and learn about public health careers and the USPHS Commissioned Corps. Local public health service officers will be present to share some of the work they do.
“It is more important than ever for students to pursue fields that make a tangible impact on public health – to solve issues like climate change, health equity, mental health crises, and health misinformation,” Schweitzer says. “Beyond the traditional health professions, public health includes disciplines such as engineering, scientific research, and environmental studies. Having been more engaged with CSUF and the College of NSM in recent years, I can affirm the institution is playing a vital role in providing the foundation for students to pursue careers that impact public health.”