Close to Home – Elms, WNEU College of Pharmacy Forge Admissions Agreement

Students at Elms College tend to have local roots and want to remain in Western Mass. after graduation, Janet Williams said. Meanwhile, pharmacists are in demand in the region, as they are almost everywhere in the U.S.

Janet Williams
Janet Williams says an automatic interview at the College of Pharmacy is a big leg up — and a chance to stand out — for Elms students who might otherwise seem equivalent to other applicants.

That’s why a recent agreement between Elms and the College of Pharmacy at Western New England University (WNEU) — guaranteeing qualifying Elms students an interview with an admissions officer at the College of Pharmacy — makes sense.

“We’ve had a few students attend their pharmacy school,” said Williams, an Elms professor of Biology, before citing the examples of two: Grant Stebbins, who graduated from Elms and then was part of the inaugural graduating class at the WNEU College of Pharmacy in 2015; and Kevin Krupczak, who graduated from Elms, went to MIT — where he co-authored biomedical articles in venerable journals —  then returned to Western Mass. this past fall to enroll in the College of Pharmacy.

“He was involved in research at MIT before deciding research might not be his bag, but maybe pharmacy was,” Williams said.

For Elms undergrads who want to create a life in the Valley, she went on, it’s convenient for them to get their degree in pharmacy at WNEU and continue to practice in the area. That’s true for Stebbins and Krupczak. “They’ve grown up in this area and wanted to stay local. It’s important for many of our students to stay local.”

That idea appeals to Evan Robinson, dean and associate provost for Academic Affairs at the WNEU College of Pharmacy.

“One of the reasons an agreement like this makes so much sense and is so practical is that, when you look at where individuals want to practice healthcare, they always say, ‘I want to be local,’” he told HCN. “If we can get Springfield-area students to stay in the Springfield area and be pharmacists, I think we’ve got a much better chance of trying to impact some of the care issues that are going on right in our yards.”

Interviewing and accepting more students who have local roots, he noted, is one way to do that. “An interview doesn’t guarantee anything, but it’s an important step considering how competitive pharmacy programs are.

“Elms has a great reputation and has worked with other programs in the past on articulation partnerships,” Robinson went on. “If someone has an affinity or affiliation being in the Greater Springfield area, if they have an opportunity to continue their education in the area, so much the better.”

Important Step

The agreement between the two institutions ensures that any Elms student who meets the requirements set out by Western New England College of Pharmacy will be given an automatic interview — requirements that include a minimum GPA and Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) score, and completion of certain required courses, Williams explained.

While Elms doesn’t have a pre-pharmacy program per se, it does offer majors in biology and chemistry that students often use as a springboard into further education in the medical, dental, pharmacy, or veterinary fields. Some major in one and minor in the other, or take on a dual major.

When it comes time to apply to pharmacy school, she said, many students appear equivalent on paper, with similar GPAs, standardized test scores, and extracurricular experiences.

“How do you select who to interview? Potentially, some students could slip through the cracks. With an interview, they’re able to stand apart,” she told HCN. “This is a big leg up for students. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be accepted to the program, but it’s a way for them to stand apart from the rest of the students.”

She said Elms students bring another advantage to the field. “Elms College, because of its Catholic roots, spends a lot of time making sure our students have good integrity and a good background of bioethics built into their classes. It’s also possible for our students to minor in bioethics while majoring in biology or chemistry.”

This is important, she said, because of how the role of the pharmacist has changed over the past several years.

“It really is expanding, I think. To a large degree, pharmacists are acting as healthcare coordinators,” Williams said. “Many people have more than one doctor and are taking more than one medication for different conditions. The pharmacist is really there to coordinate everything for the patient. Say you’re taking one thing for your heart and another for blood sugar and maybe something else for your thyroid. You have to be careful these medications don’t counteract in a negative way and cause harm. The pharmacist is playing a very big role in being a healthcare coordinator.”

Robinson agrees, having long expressed a philosophy of the pharmacist as patient educator. With the WNEU College of Pharmacy continuing to thrive — it will send its third graduating class into the field this spring — students have embraced that role as well, often honing it in community clinical residency programs with the likes of Big Y and Walgreens.

“We’ve been very excited with how our students — our learners — have not only embraced the notion of being in pharmacy school, but embraced a big part of the health profession: their activities in the community,” he said. “They have been outstanding.”

But Robinson wants pharmacy students to do more, to tackle specific issues that bring them closer to the communities in which they live and work. As one example, the College of Pharmacy has issued a challenge to students to come up with strategies to address the state’s opioid-addiction crisis.

“The problem isn’t specific to Western Mass., but realize we need to be part of the solution, whether that’s doing talks at area high schools and colleges or providing better education on this campus or working with our healthcare partners,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he has met with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno on the topic. “It’s a huge and complicated problem, and we’re hopeful we’ll be able to assist in some small way. There are a lot of players and a lot of complexities.”

He’s confident, though, that it’s just one way pharmacy students can begin to interact with their communities even before starting their careers.

“Our learners and our faculty and staff here at the College of Pharmacy have embodied the notion of community service, and they’ve done a wonderful job giving back and engaging,” he said. “This is another way of trying to channel some of that engagement.”

Making a Difference

Elms College, which currently has a range of agreements in dozens of programs with more than six institutions throughout the region, sees the value in such a community-focused pharmacy program, Williams said.

“Having a college of pharmacy in the vicinity of Elms College is a wonderful pathway for our students, because a lot of our students are local. This will give them opportunities to not only get their education in pharmacy, but also possibly continue to practice in the area.”

They will enter a field with considerable potential for career seekers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 14{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} growth in jobs between 2012 and 2022, an increase of 41,400 positions. The annual median wage for pharmacists is more than $116,000.

Meanwhile, 3.5 billion prescriptions are written each year, and medications are involved in 80{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of all treatments. In its 2014 National Pharmacist Workforce Survey, the Midwest Pharmacy Workforce Research Consortium predicted that these trends and others — like the aging of America and the high number of pharmacists, especially men, approaching retirement age — will continue to create opportunities in the field.

“When we opened the College of Pharmacy, we were looking to do things that would impact the profession, but also the community, and one of those was keeping kids local,” Robinson told HCN.

“It’s great to have graduates who want to stay in their backyards. Their hometown is where their head is, where their heart is. It’s where they were raised,” he added. “So if we can get folks from the Springfield area affiliated with Western New England, the thinking is, they’ll want to stay here and practice and hopefully make a difference.”

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