November 24, 2013

Preparing Student Pharmacists for Alternate Career Paths

by Kelsey Schultz, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Suburban Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine

During my years in pharmacy school many friends and family members asked me the dreaded question, “What are your plans after graduation? Which pharmacy chain will you work for?”  Most people who asked about my post-graduation plans assumed I would work for a community pharmacy such as CVS or Walgreens.  They see these places of employment as the “traditional” role of a pharmacist.  While in pharmacy school, I became more aware of the numerous career opportunities a degree in pharmacy affords.  I became more and more aware of the disconnect between what the general public sometimes perceives the role of a pharmacist to be and the many roles pharmacists now play in healthcare today.  Today’s pharmacy graduates have a much wider range of career opportunities such as “IT” (information technology) pharmacist, medication safety officer, public health pharmacist, antibiotic stewardship pharmacist, and many more. Pharmacy graduates’ opportunities can be further widened if pharmacy educators expose students to the numerous available career paths early enough in the curriculum.1  Many colleges and schools of pharmacy have developed formal ways for students to learn about new career opportunities including elective courses in specialized areas of practice, developing dual degree programs, and offering certain “tracks” in the curriculum such as a “research track” for those interested in going into academic or the pharmaceutical industry.

Elective courses are a great, relatively simple way for pharmacy schools to introduce new, unique specialty areas of practice to student pharmacists. During my time at my alma mater, Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, I had the opportunity to take several elective pharmacy courses on topics such as diabetes care, nutritional support, internal medicine, nuclear pharmacy, ambulatory care, and pain management.  The diabetes care elective helped prepared me for an ambulatory care rotation where I spent a week at an American Diabetes Association (ADA) sponsored summer camp for children with type 1 diabetes.  During the rotation I was part of an interdisciplinary team that monitored and adjusted the campers’ insulin regimens. The elective and rotation exposed me to the unique work and responsibilities of ambulatory care pharmacists.

A recent study examined the career preferences of student who completed an elective academic pharmacy course.2 The course was offered to first, second, and third year pharmacy students and included online and face-to-face classroom sessions. The course content included topics such as educational theory, student motivation, lesson and outcome planning, teaching strategies, assessment, instructional technology and design.  Students’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes towards academia were measured by pre- and post-course assessments, quizzes, journal entries, and interviews. The results found that after completing the course, forty percent of the students stated they were considering academic pharmacy as a career.

Another report described the creation of a research elective “track” for pharmacy students and how successfully promoted research-based careers. The research track consisted of 12 credit hours of didactic instruction, independent research, and seminar courses.  Doctor of Pharmacy students and recent graduates provided feedback regarding the research track through face-to-face, email, and telephone interviews. Student feedback was very positive.  Four out of five students were considering graduate education or research-based employment at the end of the course. 3 Although these elective courses seems to positively influence students toward a particular career path, I think students also need to explore on their own to identify potential career areas of interest.

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) recently published recommendations on the future of pharmaceutical sciences and graduate education in which they recommended the development of dual degree programs.4  Several dual degree programs exist, including the PharmD and JD (Juris Doctor) for those who are interested in healthcare law, government and regulatory agencies, as well as patent law.  The PharmD and MBA (Masters of Business Administration) program trains future pharmacists in leadership, entrepreneurial, and business roles.  Other degrees that student can earn concurrently with the PharmD include a PhD, MPH (Maters in Public Health), MS (Masters in Science), MSHI (Masters in Healthcare Informatics), and MHA (Masters in Healthcare Administration).5

The University of Georgia’s (UGA) College of Pharmacy is an interesting example of a college that initiated a unique Regulatory Affairs Professional Program in response to interest from members of the Georgia Biomedical Partnership, a group looking to bring science companies to Georgia. The Regulatory Affairs Professional Program offers both certificate and master’s studies and normally takes two years to complete. The program trains student pharmacists for jobs at companies that work on the development of new drugs and medical devices. Dr. Svein Oie, Dean of the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy, shared an interesting thought on the change in pharmacy practice settings over time. He said:

We see an increasing trend toward much more clinical, the specialty that can be in the hospital, in ambulatory; it can be in a number of different settings where our graduates are now working. In contrast to where we were 30 years ago, when we educated students to be knowledge-based about various compounds and drugs, we are now training them to be more patient-oriented. 6
It is through new elective courses, curriculum “tracks”, dual degree programs, and post-graduate training that schools and colleges of pharmacy are preparing student pharmacists for new and alternate career paths.  While these approaches are a good start to exposing students to non-traditional employment opportunities, students must actively discover the career path that best matches their personal interest.

1.  DiPiro JT. Preparing Our Students for the Many Opportunities in Pharmacy. Am J Pharm Educ. 2011;75: Article 170.
2.  Baia P and Strang A. An Elective Course to Promote Academic Pharmacy as a Career. Am J Pharm Educ. 2012;76: Article 30.
3.  Surratt CK, Drennen JK, Bricker JD. The “Research Track” Concentration, a New PharmD Elective Option. Am J Pharm Educ. 2005;69: Article 90.
5.  PharmD Dual Degree Programs.
6.  Lightsey E. Pharmacists for the Future. Georgia Trend. 2011:33-37.

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