The nearest pharmacy was 26 miles away from the rural farm community where Dr. Ronald Ragan grew up.
In high school, his teachers didn’t discourage nor promote science as a lucrative career path.
All around him, really, there was nothing that would have pushed him to become someone who practiced medicine, who led the founding of a new pharmacy school and once served as the president of a pharmaceutical consulting company.
It was the scarcity of those things that unexpectedly drew him to study pharmacy. It’s a similar void – one of pharmacists and physicians around the country and different parts of the world – that lead him to establish the High Point University School of Pharmacy.
Several years in the making, the school will welcome its inaugural class in 2016. It will be the only pharmacy program in the Piedmont Triad Region and housed in a new, state of the art facility.
A Different Type of Practitioner
In the health care world 30 years ago, pharmacists were chemists, biologists and mathematicians all in one. Pharmacists verified orders that physicians were writing and taught patients how to take their medications.
But times have changed.
Today, health care is a collaborative team sport.
“The best health care is provided when there’s a team effort,” says Ragan, who previously developed new programs and experiential opportunities at the highly respected University of Kansas School of Pharmacy. “On that team you have representations from a number of health care specialties: medicine, nursing, physical therapy, respiratory therapy and pharmacy.”
Today’s pharmacists need not only a background in the hard sciences; they also need communication, business and management skills to do their job effectively. They need what some call good “bed side manners” when dealing with a broad range of patients and staff.
“Chemistry, biology and math are still important. But now, it’s also incredibly important that our practitioners understand the roles of the other members of that team. They need to understand where their expertise is critical, and what expertise each of the other members of the team brings to patient care.”
By the time they graduate from HPU’s six-year program, HPU pharmacy students will be well-prepared to provide the best patient care in the workforce. They will go through a traditional two-year pre-pharmacy program, benefiting from liberal arts courses at High Point University. Then they begin a four-year professional program, the final year of which is spent in the field going through a series of nine, one-month clinical experiences with experienced health care providers.
And as the only pharmacy school in the Piedmont Triad and just the fourth in North Carolina, opportunities for partnering with community pharmacists and hospital pharmacists abound.
HPU Pharm.D. students are taught pharmaceutical sciences by esteemed pharmacologists and medicinal and pharmaceutical chemists. They learn clinical pharmacy skills like communication and drug management skills from other faculty and practicing clinicians. But they also take classes with students majoring in physician assistant studies, physical therapy and athletic training.
Through inter-professional courses, students learn how to navigate working in a team. They understand what their own roles are in health care, the challenges they should expect to be faced with, and the strategies to improve care in their environment.
Most pharmacy schools teach the hard sciences for a few years, then flip the curriculum and teach the clinical side for a few years with minimal connections between the two. Thanks to the Integrated Learning Model, HPU Pharm.D. students learn both the pharmaceutical sciences and clinical application all the way through their curriculum.
“Being a brand new program, we have the opportunity to build in links for those two different domains in pharmacy,” says Ragan. “I like to think of it like the double helix of DNA – the two backbones (basic science and clinical knowledge) are linked together by specialized courses as you follow the spiral. That’s what we’re doing with our laboratory and experiential courses: we’re hooking the science and the practice of health care together to develop the most advanced practitioners possible.”
Students also have the rare opportunity to develop creative problem solving skills through the standardized client program. Beginning their first semester, students work with professional actors who play the role of patients, family members or physicians.
Fewer than 10 percent of Pharm.D. programs give students this level of quantity, authentic interactions. This not only allows students to polish a professional presence in a low-risk environment before taking care of actual patients; it also helps them integrate and apply material from past courses by using it in experiential settings immediately upon learning.
“We want our students to understand that sometimes, life gets in the way while providing health care – distractions, fear, egos, inflexibility,” Ragan says. “We want students to have strategies to manage those situations. The standardized patient program gives us an opportunity to train people to portray that so they’re ready when it happens in the real world.”
Construction is underway for the new School of Pharmacy and School of Health Sciences building, located off Montlieu Avenue. The four story, 210,000-square-foot facility will house the following pharmacy spaces:
- A teaching lab with specialty space to enable student pharmacists to learn to apply the knowledge that they obtain from coursework to provide patient care;
- Eight rooms of standardized client space equipped to record and monitor students’ interaction with patients, so they can later watch and critique their performance to improve their care skills;
- Some of the most advanced biomedical research facilities available for medical biochemistry, medicinal chemistry and pharmacological research;
- Classroom spaces and lecture halls with adjacent breakout rooms to facilitate small group learning;
- A drug information center to serve as a resource for other health care providers in the area; and
- A museum for pharmacy artifacts.
“It all ties back to HPU’s mission to provide students with a holistic education,” Ragan says. “It’s not just about knowing which medication to use or knowing how the molecules work. It’s about knowing how all the pieces fit together. It’s about knowing how to interact with your patients, and how to manage your resources well.”