Pharmacy Times

CAREERS IN ACADEMIA: FULFILLING REWARDS AND OPPORTUNITIES

Author: George E.MacKinnon III, PhD, RPh

WHILE MEETING WITH PROSPECTIVE pharmacy students during on-campus interview days, I often point out that the doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree today is the ?engineering degree of the health sciences,? allowing graduates the opportunity to pursue and enjoy a multitude of professional practice opportunities.

Some health science programs are not as fortunate to have such a broad base of opportunities for entry-level practitioners, compared with the pharmacy profession. When coupled with appropriate postgraduate training (eg, pharmacy residencies and fellowships) and/or advanced degrees (eg, MS, PhD), pharmacy graduates of today can become some of our promising pharmacy faculty of tomorrow.

If one were to walk the halls of a typical college or school of pharmacy today and ask why some individuals became pharmacy faculty, the responses would be widely varied. Some individuals may state that they always desired to be in the classroom or laboratory, sharing with students the knowledge and skills requisite for contemporary practice.

Others heard a different calling?they desired to contribute to the body of scientific evidence that is the foundation for the health sciences, by exercising their scientific inquiry in a research laboratory, for example. Still others would share that they wanted to develop innovative practice models of care, while some came to academic pharmacy later in their careers, bringing with them rich expertise from the private sector. Regardless of the motivation, the educational community of pharmacy tends to be a welcoming one to those who ultimately join it, affording them many opportunities for professional and personal enrichment.

If you are reading this and wondering if an academic position may be right for you, I encourage you to seek out faculty with whom you feel comfortable discussing this topic. Try to obtain broad perspectives (eg, from biological and pharmaceutical science faculty to clinical and social administrative science faculty; from young assistant professors to tenured professors; from faculty with bench-top research programs to those involved with studies that assess the efficacy and effectiveness of medications and their respective outcomes; and from faculty with administrative roles and those without). Through these discussions, you may come to know these faculty and administrators in a totally different light and gain some insight into the academic life.

While it may never be too late, even if you are a fourth-year student, it surely is never too early to start either if you are a first-year pharmacy student. An excellent way to become exposed to the various roles and responsibilities of pharmacy faculty might include being involved with a research project through independent study for credit, conducting work study with faculty, and possibly taking an elective experiential rotation that is of an academic nature. Also, remember to seek out current graduate students and pharmacy residents/fellows while they are in the midst of their additional education and training. They, too, were in your position not too long ago.

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) Wal-Mart Scholars Program is an excellent opportunity for pharmacy and graduate students to spend time with a faculty mentor at the AACP Annual Meeting and Seminars, with the goal to strengthen students? interests in a career in academic pharmacy. AACP and Wal-Mart share the commitment to help colleges and schools of pharmacy ensure that an adequate number of well-prepared individuals aspire to join the faculties at the expanding number of  institutions across the country. In 2007, 51 student/faculty pairs were supported in part to attend the AACP Annual Meeting and Seminars through scholarships offered by a grant from Wal-Mart.

I used to ask pharmacy students and residents the following question: ?If you knew where you would be tomorrow [eg, in 3-5 years, or 10 years], what would you be doing today?? The reality is that few know exactly where they will be in 3 to 5 years, but if they are enjoying what they are doing today, then it is more likely that they would remain in that role or position. One interesting response from a former student was, ?If I were a faculty member, I would stay right where I am today [at a college] doing what faculty do, because of their ability to influence future pharmacists and the opportunities afforded to faculty in the academic environment.? He went on to say, ?You are twice blessed, being a pharmacist and a faculty member.?

I have had the great fortune to have been on the faculty of 3 colleges of pharmacy, which included the establishment of 2 new colleges of pharmacy, the hiring of more than 40 faculty and staff, the development of several postgraduate residency training programs, the creation of several innovative practice models (eg, medical offices, hospitals, and community practice), and the pursuit of various scholarly endeavors over the past 15 years. Along the way, I have had the opportunity to write (eg, CE lessons, research reports, position statements, book chapters), deliver presentations at state, national, and international conferences, and serve my profession through various state and national professional associations.

The opportunity to serve both the profession and pharmacy education extends well beyond the campus walls. I have testified in front of state governmental bodies, met with senators and congressional representatives to share my views of pubic policy that may impact pharmacy education and our profession, and provided community educational talks to the public. Now, in my role at AACP, I have the opportunity to represent and support the needs of students, faculty, and administrators at more than 100 colleges and schools of pharmacy. In the fall of 2006, 48,592 students were enrolled in PharmD programs, with 4340 full-time and 534 part-time faculty across the 96 colleges and schools of pharmacy.1,2 Looking at the data differently, approximately 250,000 registered pharmacists are licensed in the United States, and if the number of pharmacy faculty increases to 5000 (full- and parttime) and half of the faculty have a professional pharmacy degree (BS in Pharmacy or PharmD), then 1% of the US pharmacist population is serving as a faculty member at our colleges and schools of pharmacy. Those 5000 individuals (in conjunction with many volunteer pharmacy preceptors) at 100 colleges and schools of pharmacy are responsible for indoctrinating the knowledge, skills, and abilities requisite for the future generation of pharmacy practitioners.

Recent data from 76 colleges and schools of pharmacy reported a total of 429 vacant and/or lost positions in 2005-2006.3 Of the 429 vacant and lost positions, the most were in clinical science/pharmacy practice (49%), followed by the pharmaceutical sciences (29.4%). Thus the vacancy rate is approximately 10% of the current full-time faculty positions. Approximately 60% of positions were reported as existing positions and 30% were new ones.

Just as the professional practice of pharmacy is experiencing tremendous growth, so too is academic pharmacy. The chance to be part of this growth in pharmacy education is unprecedented and offers incoming faculty the opportunity to contribute and impact future graduates and the profession.

In the coming decade, key challenges in academic pharmacy will remain. These include the recruitment of sufficient numbers of qualified faculty in all disciplines, ensuring a diverse and culturally competent faculty, and attracting student leaders to faculty positions in academia. Intellectually talented and committed individuals should consider the many opportunities and rewards provided to those who pursue a career in academic pharmacy. Yes, being twice blessed has its rewards.

 

American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy

Founded in 1900, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) is the national organization representing pharmaceutical education in the United States. AACP?s mission is to serve member colleges and schools and their respective faculties by acting as their advocate and spokesman at the national level, by providing forums for interaction and exchange of information among its members, by recognizing outstanding performance among its member educators, and by assisting member colleges and schools in meeting their mission of educating and training pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists.