Students Clamoring for Seats in New UNTHSC Pharmacy School

Myron Jacobson

The University of North Texas Health Science Center’s (UNTHSC) School of Pharmacy is fielding hundreds of emails and telephone calls from prospective students and their parents.

The school is planning to matriculate its first class in the fall of 2013. Because of the strong interest and the expectation of more than 500 applicants, UNTHSC is seeking to increase the size of its first class from about 80 to 100 students.

The four-year doctor of pharmacy program will include three years of class work and one year of advanced pharmacy practice experience.

UNT campuses in Denton and Dallas are developing plans to collaborate with the new school by expanding pre-pharmacy understand programs, graduate programs in pharmaceutical sciences, and by providing housing for clinical programs at local hospitals.

The program was approved by the 2011 Texas legislature. Myron Jacobson is the founding dean. He previously was a professor of medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Arizona.

When Jacobson arrived in January, he and one other professor comprised the pharmacy-school faculty. By August, the school expected to have 16 full-time faculty members.

Of the largest 20 U.S. metropolitan areas, Dallas-Fort Worth was the only one without a pharmacy school, Jacobson said. It will now be the only health science center in Texas with a pharmacy school.

Lee Jackson, UNT system chancellor,  said, “When I came to the UNT system 10 years ago, people were already talking about the fact that Dallas-Fort Worth does not have a full four-year pharmacy program. Our hospitals and pharmaceutical companies wanted it. We had opportunities for growth in research. We had interest from our region’s legislative delegation.”

Jackson pointed out that UNT first proposed starting a pharmacy school in 1999, three years prior to his arrival. He said there was a legislative push to have Dallas-Fort Worth pharmacy students spend their first three years elsewhere in the state and return to DFW for their fourth year for clinical rotation.

“I’m glad we didn’t accede to that. We felt like it is better for life science innovation to have those brains in Dallas-Fort Worth and Denton. We are excited about the (faculty) talent we are assembling,” he said.

Debrah Beck, assistant dean of UNT health professions programs, said, “We’ve needed a school in this area for many years. This opens up a lot of opportunities for those already out of school. I get phone calls often from people who say ‘I have a family, I need to stay here but I want to be a pharmacist.’ ”

According to Janice Knebl, professor of internal medicine at UNTHSC’s Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, the role of a pharmacist as a member of the healthcare team is going to become increasingly important with the aging of the population. “The ability to start in year one of medical school, pharmacy school, physician assistants school, physical therapy school to have those students interact together will really help us create the healthcare delivery system of the future,” she said.

UNTHSC officials emphasize the pharmacy school’s important role in creating interprofessional, or team-based, education throughout the university. U.S. medical schools are recognizing the importance of teaching clinical teamwork, which is the basis for successful patient-centered medical homes and accountable care organizations. The health science center already includes schools of medicine, physical therapy and physician assistants. Pharmacy is another important piece to the puzzle.

“There is a revolution going on in chain and community pharmacies,” Jacobson said .”Pharmacists are being brought out to the front of the store (to work with patients). The vast majority of patients don’t need more diagnosis; they need (medication) adherence.”

Added Thomas Yorio, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs: “As we develop our curriculum in pharmacy, we are building in interprofessional training where students in these various disciplines can actually sit down together and look at a problem and help solve it.”

UNTHSC President Scott Ransom said one of the goals of UNTHSC is to develop an atmosphere of collaboration and interprofessional education. “Pharmacy college is an unbelievably important component” of that, he said.

The pharmacy college “adds another section to the orchestra to make UNT a true health science center,” said Jacobson. “Health science centers that embrace medicine, as a team sport is really where we need to go. This health science center is very young and its best years are clearly ahead.”

Steve Jacob is editor of D Healthcare Daily and author of the new book Health Care in 2020: Where Uncertain Reform, Bad Habits, Too Few Doctors and Skyrocketing Costs Are Taking Us. He can be reached at steve.jacob@dmagazine.com.