Wichita campus helps to train new generation of pharmacists

01/05/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:20 AM

Mandilyn Phillips, second-year pharmacy student, has wanted a career in medicine as long as she can remember.

But she didn’t want to spend years in medical school and then several more years completing a residency and fellowship, after completing a four-year degree at Tabor College in Hillsboro.

So when Phillips got a job at a pharmacy in Hillsboro, she found her answer.

“The pharmacists up in Hillsboro really showed me the light, and I wanted to do what they did,” Phillips said. “After I started working there, I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Phillips is one of 20 students in her class at the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy in Wichita, which is an extension of the school in Lawrence.

The campus opened in 2011 as a way to expand the school’s enrollment. Each year, about 20 students are admitted to the Wichita campus, while about 150 go to the Lawrence campus for classes. There’s also a pharmacy presence in Kansas City, and it focuses on research and residency programs.

Robert Emerson, associate dean and clinical associate professor for the Wichita campus, said school officials are considering increasing enrollment to 30 students next fall.

And for good reason.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job prospects for pharmacists are good, with the profession expected to grow 25 percent by 2020. A variety of factors go into that calculation, including the development of more drugs, the expansion of medical coverage, including for medications, and the aging population.

The median yearly salary for pharmacists in 2010 was more than $111,500.

Students choose the Wichita campus for a variety of reasons, including family, convenience, finances and smaller class size, Emerson said.

“We have more students request placement at the Wichita campus than we can put here right now,” he said.

Part of the decision to expand enrollment depends on the number of qualified applicants, Emerson said.

“It’s a very competitive process, and we get about 350 to 400 applicants annually (for the Lawrence and Wichita campuses),” he said.

“We’re kind of like a family down here,” said Phillips, who chose the Wichita campus because she already had a job in the area.

“Pharmacy is really exploding right now. We are getting an opportunity to be more of a clinical pharmacist instead of just counting pills – and that’s even in the retail setting,” Phillips said.

“We are getting the opportunity to work with doctors firsthand and help them change dosing and work with the patients to better treat them. With the older generation, we’re able to go into nursing homes more and look at their charts to make sure they aren’t on multiple prescriptions that will have major drug interactions.”

Serving rural areas

“Our primary reason (for opening this campus) was to help increase the enrollment size and to help meet the pharmacist needs for the state and also help with placement to the degree we can for pharmacists in rural communities,” Emerson said.

When students apply to the school of pharmacy, admissions officers gauge their interest in practicing in rural areas, Emerson said.

“We have an aging pharmacist population, especially in rural parts of the state,” he said. “Many practitioners that have opened up independent community pharmacies in various places are getting near retirement age, and we need a new generation of pharmacists, of young graduates, to go out and carry the torch.”

About one-third of the students in the first class at the Wichita campus have expressed interest in practicing in rural areas, Emerson said, and some are already looking at working with pharmacy owners and in some cases considering purchasing the pharmacies after entering the workforce.

Adding to staff

The Wichita school currently has five clinically trained full-time faculty, Emerson said, but it is recruiting for two more faculty members.

The goal is to have faculty members establish practice sites at area clinics, where students will have rotations. Emerson said they are working with community partners, including Wesley Medical Center, Via Christi and the KU family medicine residency program.

“Ultimately, possibly three years from now, we would like to work with our community partners to establish an ambulatory care residency program based out of Wichita,” Emerson said.

“We’re currently in the process of working with another community partner, which I need to leave nameless at this point, to establish a post-graduate year one residency program in community pharmacy practice. We hope to launch that by 2015.”

Many of the classes at the Wichita campus are done through synchronous video conferencing. During their fourth and final year, students take a series of nine one-month rotations in different areas.

After completing the four-year pharmacy degree, graduates can choose to apply for residencies specializing in areas such as pediatrics or oncology.

Phillips doesn’t think she will pursue a residency upon graduating. She hopes to work in an independent pharmacy.

“I enjoy having the personal relationship with the customers,” she said. “It’s not just about the numbers, it’s about taking care of the customer, taking care of the patient. But I’m open to whatever doors open to me. Right now, independent pharmacy is where my heart is – and I don’t see that changing – but I’m definitely open to other possibilities.”

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