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Cultivating a Deep Bench for Pharmacy

Apr 09, 2010

Michael Kelly, associate dean of the University of Iowa’s College of Pharmacy, works with a high school student.

MICHAEL KELLY, PHARM.D., is a recruiter for the University of Iowa. Instead of wooing young athletes for Hawkeyes sports teams, Kelly recruits potential clinical pharmacy talent.

In his attempts to pack a deep bench of talent among the student body at University of Iowa’s College of Pharmacy, where he is associate dean, Kelly has become an ambassador for health-system pharmacy in general.

“We are trying to move our recruiting down to middle school and early high school years,” Kelly said, adding that exposing young students to what pharmacists do helps to counter misperceptions about the profession and open the minds of young people to the rewards and challenges of a career in the field.

Attracting the Next Generation

“When you ask a little kid what they want to be, they usually don’t say, ‘I want to be a hospital pharmacist,’ ” noted Marni Lun, Pharm.D., M.B.A., director of ASHP’s Pharmacy Student Forum. Efforts such as those at the University of Iowa to educate students about careers in health-system pharmacy “help to ensure that we won’t miss out on valuable talent,” said Lun.

The College of Pharmacy works in partnership with other health sciences programs and with the university’s admissions office to host students, according to Kelly. Hundreds of middle and high school students from around Iowa and as far away as Chicago have participated in the program over the past several years.

In particular, the college is seeking to engage those students who don’t typically think of a career in pharmacy. “We’re focusing on underrepresented minorities,” Kelly says, including African American, Hispanic, and Native American students.

A “Hands On” Approach

RaShauna Applewhite, Spring 2010 Pharm.D. candidate at the University of Iowa

One young student impressed by a visit to University of Iowa’s College of Pharmacy was RaShauna Applewhite. As a freshman at Waterloo East High School in Waterloo, Iowa, several years ago, Applewhite visited the campus as part of a weeklong camp. The notion of a career in pharmacy intrigued her; this May, she expects to earn her Pharm.D. at University of Iowa.

“During one of the days, we visited the College of Pharmacy, and during that visit we made hand lotion,” Applewhite recalls. “Compounding the lotion was so fascinating, and I felt like pharmacy was a career that intrigued me.”

Hands-on activities seem to especially appeal to the students, according to Kelly. “When we get the glassware and chemicals out, they become engaged,” Kelly said, adding that he and his staff also teach students about how pharmacists work collaboratively with physicians and nurses on medical teams to care for patients.

Kelly also takes the opportunity to debunk misperceptions about pharmacy, including the predominant view that pharmacists work only in retail settings dispensing medications.

Applewhite pointed to a black female pharmacist at the college, Lois Garland-Patterson, as someone who opened her eyes to the possibilities of a career in health-system pharmacy.

“She inspired me to pursue this career through her intelligence and passion for the profession,” Applewhite said. “Before meeting Lois, I had never met or talked to a pharmacist before, especially not an African American one. Throughout the rest of my high school career, I kept in touch with Lois. I knew when I prepared to graduate from high school that I definitely wanted to go to the University of Iowa.”

Applewhite first pursued a B.S. in microbiology at Iowa and then applied to the College of Pharmacy. At the time, “pharmacy was truly transitioning into a unique field,” she said, noting the profession’s increased patient-care focus.

“I’ve always known that I am a people person, and I like face-to-face interaction with patients daily,” she said. “I knew that with microbiology, I would probably be faced with isolation in a lab on a daily basis. I ultimately realized that pharmacy encompasses infectious disease as well as other disease states that I find  interesting.”

The University of Iowa’s outreach is important because “we don’t want to lose any good students,” said Kelly. Also, with younger students, Kelly is able to plant the seed they need to take four years of math and science in high school to have a realistic shot of getting into pharmacy school.

“We show them that there is a path, but you have to think about it earlier than later,” said Kelly.

“I am forever grateful to the people and opportunities in my life that encouraged me to go to pharmacy school and showed me that there are so many definitions to being a pharmacist,” Applewhite said.

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