UW Pharmacy School prepares graduates to be gainfully employed in an unsteady economy

Sep 20, 2013

Sarah Pence (’12) graduated from the University of Wyoming School of Pharmacy. Walgreens hired her immediately.
Credit Rebecca Martinez

In this time of job insecurity and a changing medical landscape, the University of Wyoming’s School of Pharmacy Education is graduating dozens of doctoral students who – for the most part – can count on a securing a good-paying job once they get their degree, if not before. Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez reports.

(phone rings, “Thank you for calling Walgreens…”)

REBECCA MARTINEZ: Sarah Pence is a pharmacist at Walgreens in Laramie. She says her store fills hundreds of medications on a daily basis, and there’s a lot she loves about her job.

SARAH PENCE: For the most part it’s being able to talk to patients individually. When they have questions about their medication, and you can elaborate, and they get this look in their eye, and they’re like, ‘Oh, no one’s every told me that. It’s really good to know. I’ve been taking this for 20 years and I didn’t know.’ And so I really enjoy being an educator and helping people. That’s probably the most fulfilling thing.

MARTINEZ: Pence spent two undergrad years getting her prerequisites in order, and four years in The University of Wyoming School of Pharmacy to get her Doctorate of Pharmacy, which became to new standard for pharmacists in the year 2000. Pence is 25, and graduated last year. She had less trouble than many other people her age entering the workforce.

PENCE: I had the job landed before I graduated, so, no problems there. It’s really just going out there. There’s pharmacy jobs everywhere.

LINDA MARTIN: Yeah, exactly.

MARTINEZ: Linda Martin is the Dean of UW’s Pharmacy School. She estimates that 90-percent of graduates find jobs immediately after graduation. That’s actually a small drop from a couple years ago, but the rate seems to have stabilized.

MARTIN: And the salaries are maintaining. The salaries are very high. Probably 100-thousand dollars to start.

MARTINEZ: Although doctors are disease experts, Martin explains that pharmacists are drug experts, and they’re becoming more important than ever for a number of reasons: Chronic diseases are treated more aggressively today. People are living longer, and the baby boomers are aging, requiring more medication. New medicines come out all the time, and pharmacists have the specific knowledge about which drugs work best and how they’ll interact with other drugs, food, sunlight, etc.

UW’s School of Pharmacy has competitive admission standards.

MARTIN: We’re limited on our sites for our internships, we call them rotations, so we do have to limit our program to 52 students.

MARTINEZ: That means pharmacy students have small classes and lots of face time with their full-time professors. Students do at least 11 internships in various pharmacy settings before graduation, and, as soon as  students enter pharmacy school, they’re allowed to work part-time in a pharmacy, filling prescriptions and counseling patients under the watchful eye of a pharmacist.

Second year pharmacy student Brian Martisius works part-time as an intern at Walgreens with Sarah Pence. Martisius has worked in pharmacies for over a decade, mostly stocking shelves and counting pills, but he wanted to be able to do more.

BRIAN MARTISIUS: There are huge gaps in my knowledge base. I have more questions now than I have answers, the main reason I decided to go to pharmacy school was just to fill in the information gap, to figure out why stuff is done the way it is.

MARTINEZ: There are about 140 fields of pharmacy practice, and retail – or community—pharmacies are only part of the picture. Pharmacists work in prisons and nursing homes, they help write public policy. Many also work in hospitals.

(E.R. door opens)

UW Assistant Professor Cara Harshberger advises doctors about medications at Ivinson Memorial Hospital. Third year students intern with her to learn about how to identify relevant information in patients’ charts and how to talk with them about it.

Harsbherger says pharmacists rarely make it into spotlight, but it’s important for them to be knowledgeable and attentive, because drugs are serious stuff. For example…

CARA HARSBERGER: We use a lot of drugs that are toxic to the kidneys, and if we’re not appropriately adjusting those for how well your kidneys are functioning, you can have permanent kidney damage, or you can have more toxicity, and other side effects because the drugs not being eliminated through the body correctly.

MARTINEZ: Dr. Lou Hochheiser is the CEO of St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson. He has been following the implementation of health care reform carefully, and he says doctors are overloaded with work, and are embracing more of a team approach to treating and monitoring patients.

DR. LOU HOCHHEISER: We can do a way better job of keeping people, particularly with chronic illness, out of the hospital, making sure they’re taking their medication appropriately, making sure there’s no side effects because they’re taking two medications that aren’t compatible.

MARTINEZ: Hochheiser says as efficient and effective treatment becomes more important in American healthcare, he only sees pharmacists becoming a more integral part of the team.

For Wyoming Public Radio news, I’m Rebecca Martinez.