SEPTEMBER 01, 2006
Barbara Sax

PHARMACY TIMESRECENTLY held a panel discussion on Careers in Academia. Panelists, who included students and faculty members, discussed a range of topics, including the future pipeline of pharmacists entering academia, issues concerning career choices and career advancement, and pharmacy curriculum.

One major topic of conversation was how pharmacy schools are preparing students for practice. David Trang, RPh, assistant professor at the University of the Incarnate Word Feik School of Pharmacy in San Antonio, Tex, thinks that while pharmacy schools do an outstanding job teaching students the professional and technical skills they need to enter the workplace, he would like to see more training for the management and the business side of pharmacy.

"I would like to start a mentorship program where a student is assigned with a team of 5 other students, then grows. This mentoring program will allow students to network with one another and learn leadership and management," he said.

Many panelists felt mentorships could give students a better idea of the types of professional practice settings available to them. "I think the key is to get students to realize what is out there," said Mahmoud Sultan, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University.

"Whether it's at the student level, at the graduate level, at the young practitioner level or mid-career level, I don't think we do a very good job of career guiding and mentoring and development. I think there are lots of jobs out there in pharmacy," said Lucinda Maine, PhD, RPh, executive vice president of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP).

Panelists also debated the appropriate level of preprofessional preparation a student needs before entering a professional doctoral degree program and discussed the idea that schools might be overeducating pharmacists.

Since some schools accept students directly from high school while others require a baccalaureate degree, panel moderator Stephen Eckel asked students if they would be discouraged from pursuing a pharmacy track if it required an additional 2 years. All of the panelists said they were committed to a career in pharmacy, but said they knew some students might reconsider their track.

Some panelists suggested requiring students to have a more solid science foundation before entering pharmacy school. "You can move some of the courses like biochemistry and anatomy and physiology, immunology, genetics, those core biomedical courses, into the pre-pharmacy curriculum, and then maybe that gives you more opportunity to add electives or more experiential time in the professional curriculum," said Maine.

Lawrence Brown, PharmD, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, College of Pharmacy, feels there is value in having all pharmacy students study the same core, since 70% of his school's graduates do not complete a residency. "I think having a core curriculum, but allowing students to take electives in various areas would allow them to easily switch back and forth," he said.

Maine said dual degree programs are gaining appeal. "The PharmD/MBA is the dual degree that seems to have the greatest appeal. Maybe it's the most feasible," she said. "You have dual degrees with Masters of Public Health, and you have the research track dual degree for the PharmD/PhD model of learning.We are very excited and hope to reconceptualize a PharmD/Masters Clinical Science model."

"I am hoping that if we are successful in maturing this clinical scientist program to achieve a critical mass of clinical scholars that there will be a greater number of PharmD-trained people who really find out that their greatest excitement and fulfillment is really in classic research, even though to a lot of these clinical scientists, laboratory will be the bedside or the community in practice-relevant research," said Maine. "I think there may be larger numbers of pharmacy graduates to go on for the classic PhD in the biomedical sciences or pharmacology because they have gotten bit by the research bug as a function of their education."

Maine said she also hoped the dual degree tracking option could help create a critical mass of clinical scientists to help with the faculty shortage. The pharmacist shortage is affecting academia as well as community pharmacy. In fact, JoLaine Draugalis, PhD, RPh, University of Arizona and past president of AACP, made addressing the faculty shortage her priority at the AACP meeting. "I called it recruitment, retention, and renewal," she said.

Participants felt that a greater effort should be made to steer more students toward an academic career. "A lot of students don't realize that when you get your PhD, usually the education is paid for," said Brown. Most panelists felt that lower pay scales kept more students from considering academia. "Honestly, I think the salary in academia just puts academia out of the thought process for many students," said Brown.

Trang recently joined academia after spending 7 years in community pharmacy, and as a faculty member of a new pharmacy school has the opportunity to serve on committees as well as numerous other types of projects. His career experience at Wal-Mart has provided him with the opportunity to collaborate outside the pharmacy school with business school faculty. "I have developed an interest in pharmacoeconomics, so I have been able to learn that on my own," said Trang. "It gives you the autonomy to do things outside of your usual realm."

"I have always enjoyed teaching, and I really enjoy working with students," said Bobbi Sislo, a student at the University of Minnesota. "I think it is very important that we take an active role in how we want pharmacy to be seen, and I really want to be a part of that."

Ms. Sax is a freelance writer based in Chevy Chase, Md.

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