Pharmacy students work hard to fill void

St. John’s pharmacy students may benefit from what according to the P.D.A. Foundation is a national shortage of pharmacists.

The nation currently has 8,000 vacant positions in the pharmaceutical industry, according to the American Pharmacists Association and a growing demand for pharmacists has only attributed to the shortage. However, with so many prospective pharmacists looking to come to St. John’s, it is hard to imagine there being a shortage.

St. John’s is one of the largest colleges offering pharmacy in the nation. For the fall 2005 semester there were nearly 2,000 freshman applicants hoping to fill the only 300 spaces available. There were also approximately 500 transfer applicants, none of whom could be accepted because of rules within the college.

“A lot of people want to enter, but admissions are very competitive,” Svetlana Fortel, a third-year pharmacy student, said.

Dan King, a third-year pharmacy student, believes that admissions not only are competitive but also limited.

“[One] reason for the shortage is that despite an industry wide need, pharmacy schools across the country have not expanded their class sizes as no school wants to be seen as watering down their graduating class,” King said. “This has lead to the industry remaining the same size despite the increased demand.”

Approximately 44 percent of Americans take at least one prescription medication and nearly 17 percent take three or more prescription medications, according to a 2004 report by the Center for Disease Control.

In recent years there have been great advances in the field of pharmaceutical therapy for various conditions. In many cases it is now a possibility to treat patients solely with prescription medications, according to Dean Robert Mangione of the College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions.

“Fortunately, now, patients that, maybe 10, 15 years ago would have to be hospitalized can remain at home, can even remain at work because of the advances made in [pharmaceutical] therapy,” Mangione said.

Another possible reason for the shortage is the rigorous schooling required for all pharmacy students. The only degree available at accredited pharmacy schools is the Doctor of Pharmacy, which is a six-year degree. In the past there had been a five-year degree available, but it is no longer offered at any American pharmacy school.

The only program offered by St. John’s is a pharmacy program that must be completed in six straight years. Students who enter freshman year as pharmacy majors are moved up in the program during each of the five remaining years based on exceptional academic standing. Once a student is accepted, there is no further application process, as opposed to other universities which run their programs differently.

Some have a two-four program. In this system, a student takes two years of pre-pharmacy classes and then must apply, at the end of their sophomore year, to complete the remaining four years of the doctorate program. Still other schools only have a four-year program, in which students are only able to take the final four years of the doctorate, following acceptance into the program.

“Honestly, I think that most people are afraid of the academic challenge that pharmacy majors face,” King said. “This pressure causes many people to decide on different majors as well as to change their majors once they have entered the pharmacy school.”

However difficult the recruitment of pharmacy students may be, St. John’s has still managed to take in its fair share. The University, which is well-known for its pharmacy program, is set to be featured on a special televised documentary on WLIW New York Public Television. The documentary, “Pharmacists: Unsung Heroes,” is scheduled to air on Oct. 11.

Members of the film crew visited the University and toured St. Albert Hall, the main pharmacy building on campus. Students and faculty were interviewed and are shown working in the labs as well as conversing about their chosen field.

The documentary is aimed at recruiting more students into the field of pharmacy. Put together by the Parental Drug Association Foundation for Pharmaceutical Sciences, Inc. and sponsored in part by the Pall Corporation, the film is geared at giving the viewers a better understanding of what it takes to be a pharmacist. The makers of the film believe that the shortage has been caused, in part, by a misunderstanding of what the job of a pharmacist entails.

“One of the things overlooked is the diversity of opportunities,” Mangione said.

Students who receive their Doctor of Pharmacy are able to not only work as traditional pharmacists. They can work in the field of research or can work in academia and share their knowledge with future pharmacists. They can write for medical journals or work in hospitals.

“Our graduates are getting wonderful job offers and, fortunately, they’re getting wonderful salaries as well,” Mangione said.

However, it is not the money that the students should focus on when choosing a career in pharmacy, Mangione said.

The pharmacy majors at St. John’s, according to Mangione, are passionate about what they do. They can often be found discussing pharmaceutical topics with friends and debating about the various things they have learned. This passion, Mangione said, is the most important thing.

“It’s a matter of finding your niche,” Mangione said. “[Find] what you love and [do] it.”