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Thursday March 8, 2001

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UA bucking national trend in shrinking pharmacy school enrollment

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Gary Jones, section manager of the outpatient pharmacy at UMC, measures a prescription yesterday. The College of Pharmacy is hoping to recruit more students to alleviate the nationwide pharmacist shortage.

By Rachel Schick

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The UA College of Pharmacy has been successful in attracting more students to satisfy America's growing need for pharmacists, despite a national decrease in pharmacy school enrollment.

Arizona's pharmacy program - one of 82 in the nation - reached an all-time low last August in the number of applications received, coinciding with the national trend.

Unlike other U.S. institutions though, the UA program made a 60 percent recovery this year, perhaps indicating the beginning of an upward curve of applications over the next few years, said Theodore G. Tong, associate dean for academic affairs at the pharmacy college.

"We're adapting very quickly to the most urgent needs," Tong said.

Tong, who is also a professor of pharmacy practice, pharmacology, toxicology and public health, said the amount of students admitted into the pharmacy program was increased to 70 students from 60 students in an attempt to fill the nation's demand for pharmacists.

Bradley Holt, a microbiology senior, was a pre-pharmacy major for two years until he decided to pursue medicine. Holt is president of the UA pre-pharmacy club and helps the College of Pharmacy recruit students to the program.

Holt said he thought applications for the pharmacy program would increase in the next few years because of the recent publicity of the demand for pharmacists across the nation.

"It's cyclical," Holt added. "It has its ups and downs like any other profession."

Pharmacy schools are addressing shortages of workforce manpower in several areas. Training and certifying technicians - who assist pharmacists - is one way for pharmacists to spend more time caring directly for patients, said Lloyd Y. Young, professor and department chair for the School of Pharmacy and T.A. Oliver Chair in Clinical Pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco.

Tong said another way to allow pharmacists more time with patients is to eliminate unnecessary paperwork.

"A pharmacist may spend four to five hours a day doing non-patient related work," Tong said.

Young said the shortage of pharmacists in the work force is primarily demand based.

"The demand for pharmacists has outpaced the supply," he added.

Douglas C. Anderson, Jr., assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, said he believed the current shortage of pharmacists in the work force could be greatly attributed to the increase of time it takes to graduate from pharmacy programs.

In the past, the Bachelor of Science Pharmacy degree could be earned in a minimum of five years. Now the pharmacy degree - called a Pharm.D. - takes a minimum of six years to complete, Anderson said.

"When students are comparing four years of pharmacy school versus four years of medical school - why choose the profession that takes as long to earn the degree but doesn't necessarily offer the financial compensation," Anderson said.

Tong, however, said the added length of pharmacy programs means pharmacists will have the training and preparation they need as demands on pharmacists increase in the future.

The baby boomer generation is aging, all other Americans are living to a riper age, and so the demand for medicine steadily increases. The presence of diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's is growing, technology is increasing and advances in medicine are constantly being made, Tong said.

Pharmacy students need to be prepared for the ever-changing profession, he added.

Anderson said he thought the increased intensity of the Pharm.D. program is mostly to blame for the decrease of graduating pharmacists per year. The progressively more rigorous program focuses on the clinical aspects of pharmacy, pathophysiology and therapeutics, Anderson said.

"I believe the profession has shot itself in the foot with the all-Pharm.D. degree," Anderson said.

Ian Mikami, a pre-pharmacy sophomore, is the third generation in his family to pursue a career in pharmacy. Mikami said the added year in the pharmacy program did not bother him.

"It will help to better service customers," said Mikami, also an officer in the UA Pre-Pharmacy Club.



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