UNC-Chapel Hill has received the blessing of the UNC system's governing board to create a satellite pharmacy program in Asheville.
The program will link with UNC-Asheville and Mission Hospital with the aim of increasing the pool of pharmacists in the western end of the state.
It did not come easy.
The idea was vetted this week by UNC system President Erskine Bowles and then by a committee of the UNC system's Board of Governors. Both Bowles and that committee were selecting between the UNC-CH proposal and a larger, more ambitious plan to build a new pharmacy school at UNC Greensboro.
In opting for the UNC-CH plan, UNC-system officials put a stop to UNCG's initiative.
A Thursday meeting of the UNC system's planning committee was occasionally contentious. At one point, UNCG Chancellor Linda Brady and Provost David Perrin argued they were falling victim to a technicality. They only wanted permission to continue planning a pharmacy school, a far cry from actually asking for the UNC system to establish one.
But Bowles disagreed, saying he'd told the UNCG contingent they had one shot to make their best sales pitch.
"You had plenty of opportunity to put your best shot forward," Bowles said.
A day later, committee chairman Marshall Pitts referred to the pharmacy meeting as a "smackdown."
UNCG officials have pushed hard for a new pharmacy school, saying it would be a shot in the arm to the economic development climate of the Triad, creating hundreds of jobs there.
Meanwhile, UNC-CH officials presented a smaller, far less expensive proposal patterned after a successful satellite venture already in place linking the Chapel Hill campus with Elizabeth City State University using distance education.
A key issue is demand for pharmacists. While it has long been assumed that North Carolina needs more pharmacists, that appears no longer true aside from in rural areas of the state that are usually under-served. A recent report by a UNC-CH health services research institute found
that the state no longer has a shortage except in some rural areas.
Asheville is one of those regions, a justification for the UNC-CH program there, officials said.
Here's another way to look at the supply and demand issue. Until recently, new pharmacy school graduates had their pick of high-paying jobs, particularly at chain and other retail drugstores. Some paid sizable signing bonuses.
But no longer. The job market has tightened considerably.
In 2008, 90 percent of the graduating class had accepted positions by May 1, according to surveys.
In 2009, that number dropped to 75 percent, according to David Etchison with the UNC-CH pharmacy school.