University Partnerships: Empowering the Next Generation of Pharmacists

Specialty Pharmacy Times, September/October 2015, Volume 6, Issue 5

Corporate and academic partnerships help prepare new graduates for the world of specialty pharmacy.

Corporate and academic partnerships help prepare new graduates for the world of specialty pharmacy.

Given the expanding pipeline of breakthrough drugs and the increasing demands placed on pharmacists in a changing health care industry, today’s pharmacy graduates are being thrust into a highly complex work environment.

Pharmacists are asked to do far more in their daily roles than ever before—whether they are collaborating with physicians as part of a medical home model or instructing patients on how to use a mobile pharmacy app. They are also spending much more time working with third-party payers.

This is due, in part, to the move toward accountable care and data sharing, but also because of more rigid prior authorization requirements for high-cost drugs. Even retail pharmacy roles are evolving as many pharmacists are expected to provide preventive care services alongside traditional pharmacy services.

Nowhere is this level of complexity more evident than in the world of specialty pharmacy, where pharmacists must possess deep expertise in patient education, adherence strategies, and pharmacology along with knowledge of all the latest therapies. Drug manufacturers have come to expect these advanced skill sets from their limited distribution partners.

This means that specialty pharmacies with highly trained staff members have a distinct competitive advantage that translates into significant revenue potential.

Taking on the Challenge Through Innovative Partnerships

Expecting new pharmacy graduates to come out of universities possessing all of these skills is not realistic. However, the specialty pharmacy industry can ensure that students are better prepared to quickly get up to speed on these practices through a combination of specialized clinical knowledge and real-world experience.

Specialty pharmacies that expect to be hiring new graduates over the next several years will have to invest in education in one form or another—either in the academic setting or among recent graduates entering their workforce. It simply makes sense to partner with academic institutions to expand the breadth of this knowledge among more students, thus widening the pool of potential candidates who already have some understanding of specialty pharmacy practices.

Today’s leading specialty pharmacies should be looking for unique ways to partner and support pharmacy schools through a variety of channels. These avenues could include basic efforts such as allowing experienced pharmacists to guest-lecture in specific courses.

For pharmacies that want to make more significant investments, it could mean partnering with a university to develop meaningful curriculum and coursework related to specialty pharmacy and offering rotations where students can gain on-the-job experience.

Rotations are especially critical since real-world practical knowledge is the most effective way to help students bridge the gap between coursework—which in today’s industry climate can become outdated in less than a year—and actual practice.

Too Many Graduates, Too Few Skills?

Although in years past a shortage of pharmacists was the biggest concern for the future, today’s challenge is the on-the-job readiness and skills of these graduates. To capitalize on this increased demand, pharmacy schools have opened all over the country during the last decade.

As a result, more than 14,000 pharmacists are set to graduate this year alone. Some experts say that the glut of new schools is not necessarily in the best interest of students or hiring organizations—especially if these institutions are not supplying the most advanced and relevant coursework.

With such a sizable potential talent pool, organizations can now afford to hand-pick candidates who have the skills and interest needed to enter the demanding field of specialty pharmacy. This is certainly an area where corporate and academic partnerships can pay off.

By partnering with a top school and developing curriculum specific to their needs, specialty pharmacies can ensure that they are preparing the “best of the best” students while screening potential candidates for job offers before graduation. Most pharmacies already have some type of continuing education program for their employees—some even develop tailored curriculum through customized training programs.

A select few, however, are taking this commitment and extending it into pharmacy schools. For example, Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy partners with Duquesne University Mylan School of Pharmacy for its formal post graduate year 1 (PGY1) residency program.

Residents gain insight into pharmacy practice management issues on the job that can prepare them to take on the challenges of caring for patients with specialized needs.

A Broader Partnership Provides Mutual Benefits

Avella Specialty Pharmacy has taken this commitment even further by offering rotations and specialized curriculum through its academic partnership. Avella collaborated with Midwestern University to develop a 10-week elective class designed to serve as an introduction to specialty pharmacy.

The program was developed to be mutually beneficial to students, the organization itself, and its pharmacists. Students are exposed to the basics of specialty pharmacist roles and responsibilities prior to graduation.

Avella gains a valuable avenue for reaching out to those individuals most interested and prepared to enter this field; in fact, the program is well-integrated within Avella’s own recruiting efforts. At the same time, it gives Avella’s pharmacists an opportunity to give back to the communities they serve while “paying it forward” to the next generation.

Course didactics include an introduction to specialty disease states including inflammatory medicine disease (rheumatology, dermatology, gastroenterology), HIV, hepatitis C, oncology, and multiple sclerosis. Coursework, developed and administered by Avella pharmacists, also includes patient education—related instruction based on the highly specialized needs of these populations.

Given that many faculty instructors might not have the advanced training and certifications necessary to develop this type of curriculum, this partnership gave Midwestern the ability to leverage the current knowledge of working pharmacists and provide its students with meaningful and practical information. Another value of this partnership is Avella’s advanced pharmacy practice experience rotation, offered to Midwestern students in the last year of their program.

Students shadow an Avella pharmacist preceptor across a variety of functions including patient management programs in multiple specialty disease states, data analysis, third-party payer reviews, and product development. They also gain experience in sterile and nonsterile compounding pharmacy areas.

The course and rotation serve 2 important purposes for students. These opportunities expose them to an area of pharmacy that they may not even consider when choosing potential avenues to pursue upon graduation.

For those who decide to go this route, it also advances their knowledge of specialty pharmacy and sets their expectations for what these pharmacist roles entail. According to a survey conducted at the beginning and conclusion of the Midwestern elective class, participating students exhibited improvements in their understanding of and confidence in core concepts, including specialty disease states, pharmacist interactions, adverse drug event and adherence management, financial assistance, and home administration.

Based on this success, Midwestern has committed to continue the program and is interested in potentially adding additional coursework designed to expose students to the unique demands of the specialty pharmacy industry. Future goals also include a partnership in the development of a PGY1 residency with a focus in specialty pharmacy scheduled to start this year, further refining new graduate training into well-qualified practitioners.

Preparing for the Specialty Pharmacy of Tomorrow

As drug manufacturers continue to look to specialty pharmacies to provide advanced clinical knowledge as well as patient education, advocacy, and support, the industry will need to support higher learning that is up-to-date and meaningful for this dynamic area. Pharmacies can lead this charge by pursuing unique partnerships with leading academic institutions.

As a result, patients, pharmacists, and the entire industry will benefit from knowledge sharing and better preparedness for the challenges that lie ahead. SPT

About the Author

Kelly Mathews earned her PharmD degree from the University of Arizona in 2009. Kelly completed a PGY1 community pharmacy residency in affiliation with Midwestern University in 2010. She continued working at Avella Specialty Pharmacy National Distribution pharmacy in Phoenix, Arizona. She is the director of clinical services, where her responsibilities include overseeing specialty disease patient management programs and precepting pharmacy students across the country.