Opening of Pharmacy School Signals New Era for St. Joseph
By Becky Bergman
September 05, 2011
St. Joseph College moved a step closer to becoming a major player in the health education market last month when the School of Pharmacy finally opened its doors, a year behind schedule.
The downtown Hartford pharmacy school is the first doctoral level program in St. Joseph’s 79-history and makes it only the second in the state, along with the University of Connecticut, to offer such a degree.
There are 124 U.S. accredited colleges and schools that offer doctoral pharmacy degrees, and acceptance to these programs is highly competitive. St. Joseph College accepted only 68 applicants out of about 600 applicants, college officials said. Eventually school officials plan to expand the class to 100 students. At UConn, where applications run just as high, the program enrolls only 100 candidates per year.
Pamela Reid, president of St. Joseph College, proposed the pharmacy school to the board of trustees in early 2008. The idea was a hit and planning began that spring.
“The School of Pharmacy is a natural extension of the college’s commitment to healthcare and mission of service,” said Reid.
The West Hartford private school was supposed to open its pharmacy program last year but faculty and staff members needed additional time to prepare materials and line up resources, said Cindy Mariani, director of communications.
In the meantime, the demand for qualified pharmacists chilled.
In the past five years, nearly 30 schools started or expanded existing pharmacy programs in the U.S. But increased enrollment and an uncertain economy are making it tougher for graduates to find jobs — for now.
The average salary for an entry-level pharmacist position starts around $100,000 a year.
“The worker shortage definitely ended a few years ago, but the future is bright for students in the St. Joseph program,” said Margherita Giuliano, executive vice president of the Connecticut Pharmacist Association.
An aging population, increased prescription drug use and the expectation that the healthcare overhaul will provide greater coverage to more people will spur a demand for pharmacists again, said Giuliano.
According to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the number of prescriptions filled increased from 1.9 million in 1992 to more than 3.1 million in 2002, representing a 60 percent increase over a 10-year period.
“I think by the time these students graduate, we’re going to see another demand for pharmacists again,” said Giuliano. “There is a transition going on in our industry as we move away from a dispensing model and focus more on patient care.”
In fact, the Connecticut Department of Labor expects jobs in the industry to increase nearly 20 percent between now and 2018.
Industry experts say pharmacists are more than just clerks who dispense pills from bins at a big box retailer. Today, they are taking a more active role in health care management by communicating with physicians and coordinating complex prescriptions for patients.
They work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, doctors’ offices, long- and short-term nursing facilities, outpatient care centers, drug stores, grocery outlets and mass retail chains.
“We’re starting to see the expanding role of pharmacists as partners in the delivery of managed patient care,” said Giuliano. “They have to know about the drugs they are prescribing and how the medications work so they can communicate that information between patients and their physicians.”
Medical students at St. Joseph College’s School of Pharmacy attend full-time classes in space adjacent to the XL Center on Trumbull Street. Students do hands-on clinical work at a nearby hospital for three years as part of their training for a career in the field.
St. Joseph College inked a 12-year lease with Northland Investment Corp. and spent $4.4 million to outfit the 35,000 square foot school, which includes a 105-seat theater-style lecture and lab classroom.
College leaders want to add another 20,000 square feet to the facility next year.
The school’s unique program will help the college diversify its course offerings, said Mariani. The accelerated pace — three years instead of four — is designed to give students access to the job market sooner while helping them save a year’s worth of tuition, which runs about $40,000.