Do Pharmacy School Deans Need to Be Pharmacists?

Is it necessary for a pharmacy school leader to be a practicing or former pharmacist?

Is it necessary for a pharmacy school leader to be a practicing or former pharmacist?

This question was recently debated in The American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education.

Back in April 2015, Craig K. Svensson, PharmD, PhD, current dean of the Purdue College of Pharmacy, argued that having a pharmacy school dean who lacks experience as a pharmacist is perhaps not the best option.

“It appears pharmacy is unique among health profession programs in its acceptance of being led by individuals inexperienced in the profession prior to their appointment,” Dr. Svensson wrote.

He uncovered only 2 dental schools where the dean was not a dentist. In both cases, the deans had PhDs and were long-standing faculty members before being appointed.

Similarly, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education states that a medical school dean does not have to be a physician, but there are currently no medical school deans who are not physicians.

Meanwhile, Dr. Svensson cited a figure that 14% of accredited pharmacy schools have deans who are not pharmacists.

“While most non-pharmacist deans were long-standing faculty members in a pharmacy program prior to their appointment, some had no apparent experience within academic pharmacy or the profession overall,” he argued.

Dr. Svensson provided a history of his own personal experiences overseeing Purdue’s pharmacy, health sciences, and nursing schools. He found that although he had interacted with nurses many times over his career, he did not feel like an optimal representative for the nursing school.

“Having served as dean of pharmacy for more than 8 years, I cannot imagine the nature of my engagement if I were not a pharmacist,” Dr. Svensson wrote. “My predecessor was not educated as a pharmacist, though he had extensive experience in pharmacy education. Since my appointment, I have lost count of the times alumni and other constituents have expressed their relief [that] our program is now headed by a pharmacist.”

Speaking with deans from other colleges, Dr. Svensson said these feelings are shared even among pharmacy students.

His 5 main reasons a pharmacy dean should ideally be a pharmacist were credibility, connectivity, breadth of knowledge, cheerleading, and foresight. His advice for academics at schools led by non-pharmacists was to provide support and expertise and to advocate for a pharmacist during the next search for a dean.

In a more recent issue of The American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, Georgie A. Garcia, PhD, professor and chairman of medicinal chemistry at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, wrote gave his opposing views to Dr. Svensson’s argument.

“[T]he argument and the evidence suggest that while being a pharmacist is certainly desirable and possibly efficacious for some programs, it is neither a necessary prerequisite nor the only sufficient qualification to be a successful pharmacy dean,” Dr. Garcia wrote.

Dr. Garcia cited Standard 8 from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), which states that pharmacy school deans need to be qualified to “provide leadership in pharmacy professional education.”

He argued that ACPE has enforced this standard and found that the deans who do not have experience as pharmacists have still proven themselves as credible leaders in pharmacy education.

Dr. Garcia also took issue to Dr. Svensson’s personal anecdotes, saying they were open to interpretation and could not be applied to all pharmacy schools. He argued that criteria for judging pharmacy school deans should be about their knowledge on pharmacy, pharmacy education, and biomedical/pharmaceutical research.

Another argument Dr. Garcia posited was that pharmacy schools don’t just churn out pharmacists; some schools have a more “diverse mission” involving biomedical research and academic programming. So, a dean’s experience training students to become pharmacists would be just one of many useful skillsets.

“[T]he success of many non-pharmacist deans indicates the unique experiences of a pharmacist are not absolutely required, nor are pharmacy training and practice the only way to obtain sufficient knowledge and experiential foundation,” Dr. Garcia stated.