UH Hilo pharmacy alumna serves remote villages in Alaska

For her exceptional job performance and volunteerism, pharmacist Jill Gelviro received a “Living Our Values Award” from her employer for her commitment to the foundation’s mission and vision of wellness.  

By Kiaria Zoi Nakamura.

Collage of photos of Jill Gelviro at St. Paul: Filling syringe, with mask, at St. Paul sign, the village in snow, sign at the St. Paul Health Clinic.
Anchorage-based pharmacist Jill Gelviro recently embarked on a trip to remote St. Paul Island, Alaska, to deliver much needed COVID vaccines to the community. Courtesy photos.

An alumna of the pharmacy college at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is now serving the residents of 55 remote villages across the Aleutian Islands and Southcentral Alaska.

Jill Gelviro in uniform.
Jill Gelviro

Rovigel “Jill” Gelviro, PharmD, a member of the first graduating class at the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy in 2011, is now part of a unique health system bridging the gap of health disparities for those living in remote areas facing many challenges related to weather, geography, and social barriers.

“I have the pleasure of working closely with care teams of providers and community health aides located both on our Anchorage campus and at offsite locations in rural health clinics,” says Gelviro, who serves as a lieutenant commander for the U.S. Public Health Service and as an advanced practice clinical pharmacist with the Rural Anchorage Service Unit (RASU) Operations Support of Southcentral Foundation (SFC). Southcentral is an Alaska Native health care organization and one of the state’s largest medical providers. “Both roles have given me the opportunity to expand my experience in pharmacy as well as outside of my profession as a pharmacist.”

The care teams most often work remotely through telepharmacy and telemedicine, using automated dispensing units in the villages to provide access to care.

“We do our work remotely, reaching our patients and providers via telephone and electronic communications to make interventions, manage disease states and provide education on medication and medication therapy management,” says Gelviro. This system can be thought of as a medical vending machine where patients can pick up prescriptions for orders that have been filled electronically.

Village buildings with snow and sky expanse.
The remote village on St. Paul Island, Alaska, where Jill Gelviro helped deliver much needed COVID vaccines to the community. Courtesy photo.

But not all work is done remotely. There are times Gelviro is dispatched to the villages to perform maintenance and upgrades to the dispensing units, provide staff support and training to the remote health clinic staff, and to conduct community outreach. These physical missions are what she loves most about her job.

“My most favorite part is traveling out to the Alaska villages and meeting the patients and staff that I work with face to face,” she says. “My most recent trip was to St. Paul Island to deliver much needed COVID vaccines to the community.”

For her exceptional job performance and volunteerism, Gelviro received SFC’s “Living Our Values Award” for her commitment to the foundation’s mission and vision of wellness.

A family of service, a life of service

Gelviro’s father is a two-time Vietnam veteran of the U.S. Navy and her mother is a medical technologist. After graduating from high school, she felt compelled to follow in her parents’ footsteps.

“Inspired by my father’s military service and my mother’s work in the medical field, I joined the U.S. Air Force and served as a pharmacy technician and medic,” she explains. She also wanted to take advantage of the educational opportunities that would be offered to her in the military.

During her years of service, she obtained an associate’s degree in pharmacy technology and bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry. “It was during my time in the Air Force that I found my passion in science, chemistry, medicine, and patient care. The pharmacy profession seemed to be the perfect balance of all those areas I wanted to pursue.”

Gelviro left the Air Force in 2005 after which she received an offer to work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the D.C. area. She remembers, “My boss at the time was a pharmacist with the U.S. Public Health Service, and after my two years of working as a pharmacy logistician, he reminded me of why I got out of the Air Force.”

Finding the UH Hilo pharmacy program

In 2016, Lieutenant Commander Jill Gelviro returned to her alma mater UH Hilo to visit the pharmacy college and participate in the Class of 2020 White Coat Ceremony. Above, she stands with guest speaker Rear Admiral Scott Giberson, an influential pharmacist who held top posts in the Obama administration. Courtesy photo.

With the encouragement of her FEMA supervisor, Gelviro began looking for pharmacy schools to apply to. Her decision to attend UH Hilo happened rather serendipitously. The university was one of the few schools still accepting applications and her spouse just so happens to be a Hawai‘i-born UH Hilo alum. She says her spouse spoke highly of the campus and its programs. She became a part of the pharmacy college’s inaugural cohort in the fall of 2007.

Looking back on her experience, Gelviro is thankful to have wound up at UH Hilo. She believes that other students can benefit from the unique learning environment “where the campus and class sizes are small enough to have a more personalized experience with the faculty.” She found this quality especially helpful because after having spent eight years in the Air Force, she was not fresh out of undergraduate studies like many of her classmates. She dedicated a lot of extra time and effort to redeveloping her own unique learning style and study habits.

Gelviro also found inspiration through her mentors Carolyn Ma, now dean of the college, and Lara Gomez, associate dean for academic affairs: Ma encouraged her to pursue a residency, and Gomez challenged her with difficult rotations. Gelviro says that these experiences taught her the value of resiliency and eventually opened up more opportunities for her pharmacy career.

Gelviro graduated from UH Hilo in May 2011 with a bachelor of arts in pharmacy studies and a doctor of pharmacy (PharmD). She says she was honored to have made history as being a part of the first inaugural class. Looking back at her experiences, she says, “I will forever be grateful for the foundation UH Hilo provided for me in getting me to where I want to be in life.”

Shortly after graduation, Gelviro went on to complete a postgraduate year-one pharmacy residency with the Indian Health Service at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. After completion of her residency in Phoenix, she continued as a clinical pharmacist and U.S. Public Health Service officer with the Indian Health Service.

After hearing of an opening with the Alaska Native Medical Center, she was offered a position with their Southcentral Foundation’s Primary Care Clinic. She quickly jumped at the opportunity to be stationed in Alaska near family and friends.

More good work

At left, photo of memorial flagpole. At right, Jill and her brother stand next to the updated bronze section showing wars between 2001 and 2018.
At left, the American Pharmacists Association’s Flagpole Memorial stands in the front of the national headquarters of the American Pharmacists Association in D.C. At right, Lieutenant Commander Jill Gelviro of the U.S. Public Health Service stands with her brother Justin Gelviro, on May 14, 2019, above the new section. Jill Gelviro created the initial conceptual design for the updated plaque showing conflicts between 2001 and 2018. See inset for details of the design, which was dedicated in 2018 (click photo to enlarge). Courtesy photo of Jill Gelviro; photos of flagpole and inset of bronze section provided by the APhA.

Gelviro provided the initial conceptual design for an update to the Memorial Flagpole that stands in front of the national headquarters of the American Pharmacists Association in D.C. The memorial is dedicated to all pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who have served in the armed forces during conflicts in which the U.S. is engaged. Originally dedicated in 1948, the memorial is periodically updated to include recognition of recent conflicts. The newest plaque, dedicated in 2018, depicts and showcases the “Joint Federal Pharmacy Services Effort” during the Global War on Terrorism, and includes a timeline of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom at home and abroad.

As a member of the military, another  project that Gelviro is extremely passionate about is her work as a leader for the Soldier’s Heart Program, a project of Southcentral Foundation. The program is designed to help combat veterans and first responders understand and address the effects of post-traumatic stress and provide information, tools, and methods to help cope with symptoms. As a mentor, Gelviro teaches different grounding techniques that are meant to change how participants view and react to the outside world.

Continuing the family legacy of service

Being in the service and working as a pharmacist are two distinct careers that keep Gelviro balanced through their common goal of helping others, a passion nurtured in her as a child. Growing up, she would travel with her family to the Philippines where she would watch her mother and grandmother work side by side with the local community in farming.

“I often heard stories of their generosity as well as their willingness to create jobs and educational opportunities for those less fortunate,” she says. “Since their passing on early in my life, I have had the passion (to carry) on their legacy of serving the vulnerable and underserved communities.”

 

Story by Kiaria Zoi Nakamura, who is earning a bachelor of arts in English with a minor in performing arts and a certificate in educational studies at UH Hilo.