UNC-Greensboro is making its pitch to become just the second public university in the state with a pharmacy school.
UNCG chancellor Linda Brady believes a new pharmacy school would ease a statewide pharmacist shortage and would not create competition with UNC-Chapel Hill, which currently operates the only pharmacy school within the UNC system.
Currently, the state’s drugstores, hospitals and other employers need more pharmacists than UNC-CH and the state’s other two pharmacy schools — at Campbell University in Buies Creek and Wingate University, near Charlotte, can produce. And Brady believes a new pharmacy school in her region would spark economic growth in the Triad.
"There really seems to be a major gap in terms of the need and what’s available,” Brady said recently.
But at a time when UNC system leaders are cutting budgets, a costly new venture may be a tough sell, even if UNCG can prove the demand for new pharmacists exists.
“It will take some convincing,” said Harold Martin, the UNC system’s vice chancellor for academic affairs. “We will look at balancing compelling need against cost.”
A 2002 study by the Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC-CH found that the number of retail pharmacists per 10,000 citizens was decreasing even as the state’s population and the demand for prescription drugs was rising. And In 2005, a medical news magazine reported that chain drugstores across the nation had 6,000 unfilled pharmacy positions, according to a memo UNCG has submitted to the UNC system as part of its request for a new pharmacy school. (Click on attachment to read memo)
But the situation is changing, argues Robert Blouin, dean of UNC Chapel Hill’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy. The state’s weak economy and a lessening demand from retail pharmacies will lead to decreased demand in coming years, Blouin said, citing a recent decision by the Walgreens pharmacy chain to lay off 1,000 administrative workers.
“For a public university, we have to be responsive to a need,” Blouin said. “When you look at the demand equation, it’s changing. It has changed dramatically in the last six months.”
UNCG has not yet said precisely what the new venture would cost. But the university would hire at least 20 new faculty members and enroll 75 to 100 students per class, Brady said. Little vacant space exists to build on the UNCG campus so a refurbished downtown Greensboro space is the more likely location, she added.
One key in the decision-making process: Are there enough learning opportunities at pharmacies, hospitals and other health care sites in the Greensboro area to accommodate pharmacy students from UNCG and UNC-CH? The latter already places students into these on-the-job training sites in that area and around the state.
“There are many clinical sites in the Triad so we would not be competing head to head with Chapel Hill for those sites,” Brady said. “We’re confident there are sufficient sites.”
UNC-CH chancellor Holden Thorp said he and Brady are “on the same page” but still must be convinced.
“We’ll have a lot of work to do to make sure we have enough clinical sites,” he said. “It’s been proven to me that they’re willing to work through it with us.”
Fred Eckel, executive director of the N.C. Association of Pharmacists, isn’t so sure about the availability of those practice locations.
“We’re not growing clinical sites to the extent that enrollments are growing,” Eckel said. “Three pharmacy schools in North Carolina have pretty much filled up our state’s practice sites ... you add another school into the mix, it just complicates that whole process.”
In 2002, a plan for a new pharmacy school at Elizabeth City State University — also a UNC system campus — was shelved after a consultant’s report showed the venture would be very costly. It eventually became a joint program through which students at Elizabeth City take UNC-CH pharmacy courses using distance education.
Martin, the UNC system vice president, said the Elizabeth City model may be a less costly alternative in this case as well.
Brady, the UNCG chancellor, believes the demand is evident. UNC-CH recently received 800 applications for 155 spots in one of its incoming classes, while WIngate received 1,112 applications for 70 seats, according to the UNCG memo.
Since 2000, 28 new pharmacy schools have opened across the nation, including one — Wingate — in North Carolina, according to data from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.