To ease the increasing pressure of packing more information into its curriculum, the School of Pharmacy at Kansas University is prescribing an extra year of study to its degree program.
The six-year doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) program, which is for undergraduates despite its doctoral sounding title, has existed for three years. Currently, 14 of the school's 95 undergraduate students are enrolled in the Pharm.D. program. By the turn of the century, however, all undergraduate pharmacy students may find themselves in school for six years instead of five.
"Pharmacy is in the process of a transition," said Ronald Borchardt, acting dean. "During this decade, we're going to see increasing pressures to go to an all-Pharm.D. program."
JEREMY MATCHETT, associate dean who is assisting Borchardt this year while Dean Howard Mossberg serves KU as interim vice chancellor of research, graduate studies and public service, said most of the nation's 74 pharmacy schools are struggling with the issue of requiring an extra year.
"It represents the pressure release that schools have had in trying to cram more and more training and education in five years," he said. "With the increase and advance in pharmaceutical knowledge since the five-year program was established back in the '60s, it's become increasingly difficult to provide the knowledge base for an adequately safe pharmacist, to compact it in five years."
Increases in the number of drugs have contributed to the need for more pharmacy education.
Borchardt added that this "explosion in technology" called for "us to do more extensive training of our students."
ANOTHER FACTOR pushing the sixth year, Matchett said, is the need of pharmacists to develop newer skills in their relationship with the public. This relationship includes advising patients about what over-the-counter drugs not to take while taking certain prescribed drugs, and what prescribed drugs not to take together. Half of the extra year is devoted to giving students experience in working with the public, he said, such as at a pharmacy or nursing home.
However, not all pharmacy students will benefit from the Pharm.D. degree, the two deans acknowledged. Students who plan to attend graduate school or pursue a career in pharmaceutical research may not need the six-year program.
"The situation we're struggling with is that by going to a six-year Pharm.D. program, we may need to develop yet another undergraduate, non-professional degree in pharmacy to serve those students who are not going to practice . . .," Borchardt said, adding that such a program could take students four years to complete.
MATCHETT SAID providing a program for future pharmacy educators was important.
"It's becoming a more acute need to assure that we have a continued supply of pharmacy educators who know what pharmacy is about," he said. "The profession has advanced as much as it has in no small measure due to the individuals who are familiar with what pharmacy was, then going on in the advanced, specific sciences and being able to relate that. And if that pool dries up, we've got big problems in pharmacy education."
The pool of applicants to the school appears in no danger of drying up. Because of its national and international reputation, the school receives two applications for every one opening in the undergraduate program and an abundance of applicants for graduate school. The school had 270 undergraduate students and from 90 to 100 graduate students last year.
Pharmacy students also are in demand once they graduate. Matchett said the nation needs 7,000 to 10,000 more pharmacists.
AS WITH other schools at KU, pharmacy is coping with cuts in state aid, along with decreasing federal and private support. Borchardt terms these losses as a "triple whammy."
The diminishing federal and private funding, he said, puts further constraints on the school's ability to train its students. The state problem, he said, means "we can't properly compensate the faculty in terms of faculty salaries. In being in a very competitive area, and in being in a school that has a national and international reputation for its excellence in this area, we are very vulnerable to losing faculty over salary issues."