Like a lot of students at St. Joseph College's new School of Pharmacy, Kimberly Gelonese was first drawn to the field by working at a local drugstore.
"The pharmacist I was working with took me under her wing, and I loved it even more," Gelonese said as she hooked up her laptop in the school's main, 105-seat classroom. Gelonese was one of 68 students at the college Wednesday for the first day of an eight-day orientation. Classes begin Aug. 15.
The school, next door to the XL Center on Trumbull Street, is the first doctoral level program in St. Joseph's 79-year history. President Pamela Reid presented the idea to the board of trustees in early 2008, and planning began that spring.
"Based on our reputation for teaching health care, our mission to serve the community and the great need for pharmacists, people embraced it," she said.
For a motivated person with a decent grasp of chemistry and math, pharmacy sounds like a good field to enter. The average income for an entry-level position is $100,000, said Joseph Ofosu, dean of the School of Pharmacy, and companies in some farther-flung locales offer attractive signing bonuses. One of Ofosu's former students took a position in Alaska, with the company paying off 25 percent of the student loans for every year on the job.
The field also looks good for those staying put; the Connecticut Department of Labor expects jobs in the pharmacy field to increase 17 percent between now and 2018.
Reid said she has been studying for a while the growing need for more pharmacists, which she attributes to a few factors: people living longer and taking more medicines; more medications available; and more types of health care professionals who can legally prescribe medicines. Pharmacists are also taking a more active role in health care, coordinating the prescriptions from a patient's various physicians.
"They're a liaison between the various doctors - [who are] not talking to each other, they don't have time," Reid said. "Pharmacists are really more partners to the physicians, similar to nurses."
The school has 20 faculty members, with plans to add seven more over the next couple of years. For its first year, the school accepted 68 of about 600 applications. School officials say they plan to gradually expand class size to 100 within the next few years but wanted a more manageable number at first.
Over two floors, the school has 35,000 square feet of space; by the end of the first school year, it will grow to 55,000 square feet. Construction and leasing costs are about $4.4 million.
Although it means less vacation, the school's accelerated three-year program was a big attraction for many of the students.
"I'm 28, so the faster I get out, the better," said Drew Buono, in line to get his student photo taken. Originally from Long Island, Buono is one of 30 students living in the nearby Temple Street Townhouses apartments.
The average age of the school's students is 26. James G. Henkel, associate dean for academic affairs, said a few extra years can help a lot, considering the intensity of the program,
"We wanted more mature students who have a little more experience, so they know how to focus and to apply themselves," he said.
Two-thirds of the students are from out of state, although Reid said she wants the school to encourage Hartford natives to apply. Student population is 65 percent women to 35 percent men, which Ofosu said reflects a national trend in pharmacology and health care in general.
Most of the courses deal with the nitty-gritty of medications: "Metabolism of Carbohydrates, Lipids, Proteins and Amino Acids" and "Pharmacochemistry of the Autonomic Nervous System," for instance. But there are also courses like "Communication Skills" (working with others is a big part of the job) and "Pharmacy Law" (regulations are complicated, and vary by state).
In the lab, students will learn to make prescription drugs. Although most prescriptions are for ready-made medicines from pharmaceutical companies, pharmacists also need to be able to compound medications for patients with special needs.
Every other Friday, the students will undergo "assessments" - multiple choice tests reviewing the previous two weeks' material. Those who score below 84 percent have a second chance to take the test the following Monday. If they fail that test, then it's taken again at the end of the semester.
"You need a minimum of 84 percent in everything you do before you can get out of here," Ofosu said. One advantage of a schedule with minimal vacations, Ofosu said, is that it doesn't allow time for students to forget what they learned the previous semester.
After the first month, students will spend one day a week in the field - at local pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities. In their third year, they'll spend larger blocks of time in the field.
Bruce Edgren, chairman of the department of pharmacy practice and administration, said the emphasis is on "collegial learning," in which students depend on each other. Much of the classroom time will be spent in "breakout groups" of a handful of students working together to solve problems.
"The whole purpose is to teach them to be good communicators," Edgren said. "It's an essential component of health care."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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