Pharmacy: Prerequisites, Curriculum and Specialty Degrees
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 South Carolina College of Pharmacy (SCCP). Dr. DiPiro, in this podcast, I’d like for you to speak to the students out there who are looking around, have decided that they want to get a degree in pharmacy, and want to find out what we have going on here in the South Carolina College of Pharmacy. What would you say to those students?
Dr. Joe DiPiro: Well, I really appreciate the chance to talk about that, because I think we have a lot of advantages that many other pharmacy schools don’t have. First of all, let me say that I graduated from pharmacy school 30 years ago. It has changed so much since then. It’s really hard to describe. Back then, we were really focused on filling prescriptions. We would sit in class and memorize the information that instructors would give us and repeat it back on an exam. And that’s really the extent of it. You could be a successful pharmacy student if you behaved in a very passive way in class, and you achieved some basic skills about filling prescriptions, and maybe a few other things. But, now, it’s much more dynamic in that we spend a lot of time on not only biomedical technology kinds of topics but, also, people skills; how to communicate, how to educate, how to counsel patients, provide good care to patients, much more of patient-focused approach than when I was in school.
Well, in our college, we have a lot of resources to build on. Now, with a combined program, since we’re merged with the University of South Carolina’s College of Pharmacy and the Medical University of South Carolina’s College of Pharmacy, we have a lot of resources to draw on. So here, at MUSC, obviously a large academic medical center, there are great opportunities to work with specialists in many different areas of medicine, including primary care areas, like family medicine. There are opportunities to be actively involved in research. We’re a research-intensive university, as is USC, so there are many opportunities for students to do that.
Our opportunities here are extensive in terms of interproffessional education. So, our pharmacy students get to learn along with medical students, nursing students, and students from other disciplines. This is a very important advantage that many other schools of pharmacy don’t have. There are a few other things that are very popular with our students. One is the opportunity to do a combined Pharm.D. and MBA. We have an agreement with the Citadel where our students in pharmacy school can come in while they’re achieving their Pharm.D. degree and concurrently achieve an MBA. So, when they graduate, they can have both degrees. This is, really, a unique opportunity.
We’re also one of the few pharmacy schools in the country that train pharmacists in nuclear pharmacy. There are only about a half a dozen. But we now have a few dozen students here, at MUSC; but also at USC, who are tracking in nuclear pharmacy and will receive a certificate when they graduate that makes them eligible to practice in that area; where there’s a high demand and a lot of interest and jobs out there.
Dr. Linda Austin: What is nuclear pharmacy, for those who may be completely unfamiliar with that concept?
Dr. Joe DiPiro: Very often, the diagnosis, or the treatment, of cancer requires the use of radionuclides; many different types of these radionuclide drugs. So, it takes a special type of pharmacist who’s trained in the handling of radioactive compounds to be able to provide those drugs in a way that’s safe. So, most major medical centers have pharmacists with this kind of training. There are nuclear pharmacies in many cities around the country, including Charleston and Columbia, that employ nuclear pharmacists. So, it has been a growing segment of pharmacy.
Dr. Linda Austin: So, for things like radioactive-labeled iodine, for example, for thyroid cancer; that sort of treatment? Is that right?
Dr. Joe DiPiro: That would be one example, yes.
Dr. Linda Austin: Now, going back to this interesting program, the combined MBA and Pharm.D. program, it sounds like that would qualify someone for a career, let’s say, with a pharmacy corporation, or even starting their own pharmacy?
Dr. Joe DiPiro: There are a lot of examples where business skill is very helpful. So, it could be in corporate setting. Now, it could be working for a major pharmaceutical company. It could be working for a chain pharmacy organization that has corporate structure as well. And, yes, some of the skills that are learned in an MBA program can also be helpful for one’s small business, or independent pharmacy. And another example would be in health system, or hospital, pharmacy where directors of pharmacy, for example, manage multimillion dollar budgets. Business skill is really essential, and many directors of pharmacy have their MBA to be able to be competent in that position.
Dr. Linda Austin: How long is that combined program?
Dr. Joe DiPiro: It runs over two years, but it’s done concurrently with the Pharm.D. So, the elective courses in the pharmacy program, you take as business courses. Each summer, you take an extra course. And that allows you to complete the degree. So, it’s very feasible and practical to do, and at a reasonable cost.
Dr. Linda Austin: Can you walk us through the curricula that are offered by the SCCP?
Dr. Joe DiPiro: Sure. It’s a four-year program. And, again, a number of years back, it used to be that students would be in the classroom, strictly, for three years, and then they would have their clinical experiences anywhere around the state. But we’ve really added to that, and improved on that, such that there are very active learning experiences that happen throughout the curriculum. So, from year one through three, there are a number of classroom courses, but there are also practice laboratory courses. So, pharmacy students are there, hands-on, learning essential skills that range from filling a prescription all the way to patient counseling, and many other skills like immunization.
We have courses throughout the curriculum that are much more involved with active learning and case discussion, where students meet in small groups, and with instructors, and go through case scenarios to determine the proper kinds of drug treatments and how they’re given. So, again, we’ve taken a much more active approach to education than was typical in years past. So, this occurs throughout the curriculum.
The fourth year is different from the first three in that it is exclusively experiential. Students are working in pharmacies; community pharmacies, hospital pharmacies, clinics, and in other types of care environments, all around the state. So, it’s about nine months during that last year. That’s the curriculum in a nutshell.
Dr. Linda Austin: And, what are the prerequisites to enter the program?
Dr. Joe DiPiro: There are about 60 hours of prerequisites that someone must complete before going into pharmacy school. Students who know coming out of high school exactly what they want to do can accomplish this in two years, but it’s a very tight schedule. You pretty much have to have all of your courses well-aligned for two years to then go into pharmacy. Typically, it’s more like three years. Actually, our average is about three years of pre-pharmacy before someone enters pharmacy school. And, actually, between 40 and 50 percent of our incoming class has a prior degree. So, people are taking more time and, perhaps, getting a liberal arts education as well before they come into pharmacy school.
Dr. Linda Austin: Thanks so much for talking with us today.
Dr. Joe DiPiro: Sure. My pleasure