GRAND RAPIDS — An arrangement with the University of Michigan allowing Grand Valley State University students to earn dual degrees — including a doctorate in pharmacy — could set the stage for the eventual creation of a pharmacy college in West Michigan.
GVSU made the arrangement with U-M after GVSU’s president, Mark Murray, put on hold a proposal to create a new college of pharmacy.
The college originally was to be based out of GVSU’s new Center for Health Professions now under construction in downtown Grand Rapids.
In lieu of GVSU creating its own pharmacy program at a considerable cost to address a growing demand for pharmacists, Murray opted in mid-2001 to forge a partnership with one of the three Michigan universities already offering a pharmacy program: Wayne State, Ferris State and U-M.
Donna Larson, associate dean of science and pharmacy at GVSU, said the decision came as the local economy was beginning to, as she put it, “take a nosedive.”
“The time was not right for a new and expensive clinical program like pharmacy,” Larson said. “It’s a major undertaking for the university.”
Larson now expects a decision from the president this winter on whether to proceed with launching a four-year pharmacy program at GVSU.
The program, proposed with a capacity for 60 to 65 students a year, would help to address a growing shortage of pharmacists at the retail, clinical, and research and development levels.
“The need is there, the student demand is there, and the faculty support is there,” Larson said.
No matter what’s decided, GVSU will forge ahead with its new arrangement with U-M, Larson said.
Under the partnership, GVSU students earning a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and who wish to study pharmacy may apply to the U-M College of Pharmacy. If accepted, and after three years at GVSU, students would spend what would be their senior year in college studying in Ann Arbor, beginning work toward a pharmacy degree.
College credits earned during their first year at U-M’s College of Pharmacy would apply toward their GVSU degree in biomedical sciences.
The net result for students would be to apply a year from their undergraduate studies toward a pharmacy degree, and to save a year of academic time — not to mention tuition and other costs — in a program process that normally takes at least eight years.
Through the joint U-M and GVSU program, they could earn their pharmacy degree in seven years.
But the dual degree program is limited to only a handful of GVSU students, up to five a year, Larson said.
She said she’s hopeful that GVSU eventually can proceed with its own pharmacy program.
Data show that pharmacists are in growing demand as the population ages and with the greater usage of medications.
Employment for pharmacists is expected to grow faster than the national average for all occupations in the United States between now and 2010, according to the 2002-03 edition of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupations Outlook Handbook.
Larson said the need for more trained pharmacists is reported across all occupations: retail, hospitals, and research and development settings.
She said pharmacists — as a primary link with consumers — are taking on a more prominent role in the overall health care system.
“A pharmacist has been one of those hidden roles in health care over the years. They’ve just kind of been hidden on students’ radar screens, but now they’re very much in the forefront,” Larson said. “They’re very much an important component of the health-care delivery team.
“There is such a huge need,” she added.
A recently released study from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy predicted a shortfall of 157,000 pharmacists in the United States by 2020.
The report, released Oct. 7, also cites a growing need for pharmacy education.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that pharmacists held about 217,000 jobs nationwide in 2000. Sixty percent of them worked in retail settings.
The median salary for a pharmacist in 2000 was $73,730 for those who worked in a department store, $72,440 in a grocery store, and $72,110 in a drug store. Hospital-based pharmacists earned a median salary of $68,760.
Even if GVSU were to start its own pharmacy program, Larson said the West Michigan institution would continue the partnership with U-M, which offers a program geared toward research and development. The proposal from GVSU staff that’s awaiting a decision is for pharmacists in clinical settings.
“There’s always going to be students who are going to be best served going into a flagship, research university like the University of Michigan,” Larson said.