Idaho State University, University of Alaska Collaborate to Form First Pharmacy Program in Alaska

Pharmacy Careers, Spring 2022, Volume 16, Issue 1

Students in the ISU/UAA pharmacy program discuss the impact of Alaska’s first pharmacy program and what it means to learn about and work in rural communities.

Idaho State University (ISU) and The University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) have partnered to offer Alaska’s very first doctor of pharmacy degree, helping to prepare students not only for careers in pharmacy, but for careers that cater to underserved, rural populations.

“We are a satellite campus of Idaho State University College of Pharmacy,” said Liv Swonger, a third-year student at UAA, in an interview with Pharmacy Careers®. “It is a fairly new program, with brick-and-mortar facilities on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus.”

According to the UAA website, the curriculum at the dual campus covers the history of pharmacy education, rural health, and multisite delivery. There are also different lectures in diversity and inclusion that Swonger said are designed to teach students to advocate for patients and navigate pharmacies in more rural areas.

“In our special populations module, we’ve had guest lecturers...discuss [the] health care of Alaskan native people, who make up the majority of the population,” Swonger said. These modules have brought to light the value of clinical experience “and how...treatments within the population might not always be reflective of [a] typical treatment course or what you might find in the literature.” Understanding the differences in [styles of] care, she said, would help her provide the best treatments to these communities in the future.

Jessica Goodman, a first-year pharmacy student at the same campus, told Pharmacy Careers® that studying in a nonurban area had made her realize the need for more health care workers in such communities. Especially as a pharmacist-in-training, Goodman said she could see the needs within underprivileged populations.

“Going into pharmacy school, I was really looking forward to [helping disadvantaged patients],” Goodman said. “It’s been really awesome to be able to help people that really need it.”

She said that the university’s Office of Experiential Education has numerous rural as well as urban options available, which allow students to learn about different communities and offers students a more well-rounded experience in general.

“We also do a lot of outreach events that can go to rural areas, like vaccination clinics...[and] screening[s] for diabetes and heart issues,” Goodman said. “I am part of our substance use disorder and over-the-counter medication organizations.”

Even though Anchorage is a large city, Goodman noted that it is only about an hour’s drive away from rural areas, so doing outreach programs is easy.

As the first of its kind in the state, the ISU/UAA program is a tremendous milestone and means that undergraduates don’t have to leave home to study pharmacy. She emphasized that other schools have more competition than UAA, since its pharmacy program is unique.

“There’s a lot of opportunities just because there are only so many of us students,” Goodman pointed out. “That allows...us to go out and do things that a lot of [students] elsewhere cannot do.”

Swonger agreed, saying that with only about 40 students, the program allows members to build stronger relationships with one another. “Going into the program...I really relied on the experiences of my upper classmen to help me navigate pharmacy school and getting my doctorate,” she said, adding that it was nice to be able to pay that forward as she advanced through the program.

Taking a broader perspective, Swonger mentioned that not only are the connections between students stronger, but also those between the school, the Alaska Pharmacist Association, and the profession in general.

“I feel like I have contributed to this...through community outreach, but additionally when traveling on my rotations, I’ve been extremely lucky and so thankful...[for] pharmacists...who have offered me housing, shared their lifestyles...and integrated me socially within the community.”