Pharmacy: An Overview of the South Carolina College of Pharmacy
Guest: Dr. Joe DiPiro – College of Pharmacy/Dean’s Office, MUSC
Host: Dr. Linda Austin – Psychiatry, MUSC
Dr. Linda Austin: Dr. Joe DiPiro is Executive Dean of the SCCP (South Carolina Department of Pharmacy), relatively recently merger of the College of Pharmacy of the University of South Carolina and the Medical University of South Carolina. We’re going to be talking, in this podcast, about the integration of the pharmacy colleges that has occurred over the last couple of years. Is that correct, Dr. DiPiro?
Dr. Joe DiPiro: Actually, the last five years. It was five years ago that the boards of trustees at both Universities decided to merge the colleges of pharmacy. Both colleges had been around for over 120 years, so it was quite a change, back then, to merge them into one college of pharmacy.
Dr. Linda Austin: What was the thinking about why that would be a good idea?
Dr. Joe DiPiro: A lot of it had to with, really, two major thoughts. One was to increase the quality of what we’re doing by collaborating and cooperating, and the second was to do it more efficiently. We know that, here in this state, we have limited resources, so, by working together, we can make more of those limited resources that we have.
Dr. Linda Austin: So, give some examples of some ways that we’ve been able to integrate and share resources between the two campuses.
Dr. Joe DiPiro: There are a number of good examples, and one is with teaching. So, we now have one curriculum that’s shared between the two campuses. Faculty from both campuses teach, so it’s shared teaching; a lot of team teaching. So, there are efficiencies there. Now, both campuses plan together as to how we use our resources around the state, particularly clinical resources. In the past, the USC College of Pharmacy and the MUSC College of Pharmacy were competitive; even in South Carolina. Now, they’re cooperative. So, it’s all done in the same planning process, and we can talk about how we best make use of the resources all around the state; it’s all one planning process.
Another thing is research. We now have very good examples of collaborative research, where expertise up in Columbia is complementing expertise here at MUSC, and makes for a much stronger research program. Maybe another example is our continuing education program. We had two; one on each campus. Now, we have one that we believe is a stronger program and has more to offer to our practitioners around the state. So, those are some examples.
Dr. Linda Austin: Is it fair to say that; let’s imagine you’re a student in Greenville and you want to go to pharmacy school, it doesn’t really matter, from an educational point of view, whether you go to the Columbia campus or the Charleston campus? Is that fair enough?
Dr. Joe DiPiro: That’s right, because it’s the same curriculum, and the students on each campus have equal access to the training opportunities around the state. So, even if you attend class in Columbia, you could come here, to MUSC, for your clinical training. Or, if you’re in Columbia, or Charleston, you could go to Greenville for training, or Florence. All of the resources are made available to all of the students on both campuses. And then, some students have a preference. Maybe they went to undergraduate school at USC and liked the big campus environment and all the varsity sports; and everything that goes along with that, and they prefer to stay on the USC campus. And then there are others who prefer to be in Charleston for the academic medical center kind of environment or, perhaps, other things going on in the Charleston area that are attractive to them.
Dr. Linda Austin: You mentioned team teaching between the two campuses. How does that happen? Is that a technology-dependent activity, or do the teachers actually travel from one campus to the other?
Dr. Joe DiPiro: Team teaching happens in most colleges of pharmacy; even when it’s on one campus, where you have, say, a course on drug therapy, or pharmacotherapy. It takes a lot of different experts who all come in and teach their particular topic, so it’s very typical to have six, seven, eight, nine different instructors for one course. And, now, with our program, those instructors are spread out over the two campuses. And, actually, up in Greenville as well. So, they do work and participate from their campus. Most of the time, they’ll provide a lecture from here in Charleston that’s delivered to students in Columbia; or the reverse. But, occasionally, instructors do travel from one location to the other, so the students at the other site get to see them face to face and establish a more personal connection with them.
Dr. Linda Austin: I would imagine that; as with all transitions, the transition period of going from two curricula to one has been challenging. How have you managed that structurally?
Dr. Joe DiPiro: Well, that’s a good word; challenging, for sure. There’s been a lot of rough road, just as we expected. You take two different cultures, two different ways of doing things; policies and procedures, really, everything, we had to recreate from the start. And, sometimes, we found that the best model was at USC. Sometimes the best model was here. The good thing about that is that we were able to take the best from each program and put it together. But it is disconcerting when you make this significant of a change. This is really unprecedented in pharmacy education around the country. There are no other schools of pharmacy that have done a merger like this. I think there are some places that could benefit from it, but none that have gone this far to make it happen.
So, now that we’re almost five years into this merger, a lot of things have settled down. We’ve identified many things that we still need to improve on, but that’s a typical feeling that we’d have even on a one-campus pharmacy. You really think there are times you’re doing a good job but, at the same time, you recognize there are many aspects that you can improve on. So, we’re really at that point.
We have gone through a very long process with accreditation. Even though both of the campuses were fully accredited, we were asked to go back to step one; as if we were a brand new school that had never taught pharmacy students before. So, we’ve worked through that over four years. And, next June, we will achieve our final step of accreditation to be fully accredited again, as the two colleges were prior to the merger. So, again, everything that is part of a college of pharmacy had to be reinvented from what was there before.
Dr. Linda Austin: Now, is the faculty still faculty of the respective institutions, or of the combined institution?
Dr. Joe DiPiro: The faculty would say they’re faculty of the South Carolina College of Pharmacy. And, interestingly, they would also say that they’re a faculty member of MUSC, but they’re all cross-appointed at USC. So, they can all say that they’re also a faculty member at USC. And the reverse is also true. The faculty at USC is also appointed to the faculty at MUSC. In fact, we’ve gone to the extent that all tenured faculty members are tenured on both campuses. So, there’s a lot of direct connection. Now, there’s also an employee relationship that faculty here are employed by the Medical University of South Carolina; and that entails some specific rights and privileges, and others are employed at USC. So, there are some differences. But all of the faculty are considered faculty on both campuses.
Dr. Linda Austin: So, now the faculty of MUSC actually has their own football team they can cheer for?
Dr. Joe DiPiro: Absolutely. We still have some Clemson fans, and Georgia, and fans of other schools, but they certainly can participate in that.
Dr. Linda Austin: Well, we like to say we have a big tent here. In another podcast, I really want to talk about the curriculum, but let’s save that for the next podcast.
Dr. Joe DiPiro: Sure.