The long-range forecast for employment in the healthcare industry looks promising. It is projected to be among the fastest-growing industries in the economy and to add more jobs by 2024 (approximately 2.3 million) than any other industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The field offers job stability; people depend on health services no matter what the economic climate. An aging population with more chronic conditions means the need for healthcare providers is on the rise. BLS employment projections indicate that personal care aides and home health aides are the healthcare jobs with the largest projected growth from 2014 to 2024. Nursing assistants and registered nurses aren’t far behind. So what about pharmacy’s prospects as a career option?
ISO: Next-Gen Pharmacists
Pharmacists work in a respected field and are well compensated, with the second-highest annual average wages among the 10 largest healthcare occupations, according to BLS data from 2014. “I think that the ability to serve the public and know that you are helping people to prevent, manage and cure disease is probably where the rewards truly lie,” said AACP CEO Dr. Lucinda L. Maine. Spreading this message to young adults in middle and high school to promote pharmacy as a career choice is a top priority for AACP.
If high school students have given any thought to a career in pharmacy, Maine noted, it has most likely been in the context of seeing someone behind the counter in a white coat in a retail establishment. “That looks more like retail than healthcare,” she said. “If you walk by that space and look at what [that person] is doing, a quick glance doesn’t look very interesting. We’ve got to use different strategies, different stories that bring it to life and also bring an understanding that that’s not the only place a pharmacy graduate goes. This is the most publicly accessible person in healthcare. You can access that person anytime without an appointment. That’s a powerful message, but we haven’t turned it to the public successfully to promote it as a profession.”
Partnering with member colleges and faculty to take a national/local approach to enhance the applicant pipeline is crucial, Maine continued. “I think what we’ve recognized as we’ve studied pipeline issues is that we needed to increase our recruitment activity and we needed to help support and stimulate expanded recruitment activities in our 142 schools of pharmacy,” she said. “That became priority No. 1 in AACP’s strategic plan. We rebranded our Pharmacy Is Right for Me (Pharm4Me) program. That provides consistent tools for us that are also available to our members to use in their recruitment activities.
“Priority No. 2,” she continued, “is to help the public understand what pharmacy education prepares them to do. The public view is still very limited. In May we launched another digital campaign, Healthy Starts Here, with our Brand Ambassadors. These individuals use their digital network outreach. In two months we reached nearly 450,000 users on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We couldn’t come close to that kind of reach on our own. If we keep up a well designed, sustained effort in both portfolios, we will change an important public understanding about pharmacy, including roles that haven’t even been invented yet.”
“[Pharmacy] is the most publicly accessible person in healthcare. You can access that person anytime without an appointment. That’s a powerful message, but we haven’t turned it to the public successfully to promote it as a profession.”
AACP and its member schools might face an uphill battle to build a more robust applicant pool. “There is a piece of it that’s beyond our control,” Maine acknowledged. “Demographically what we know is that there are simply fewer people coming out of high school—it’s the smallest numeric cohort in a long time. They happen to be more diverse. We know that underrepresented minorities may have issues associated with leaving home and going to college [e.g., familial, socioeconomic], so we’re competing with all disciplines to attract the best and brightest to pharmacy.” Application data indicate that around 2010, the number of applications to pharmacy schools flattened. Since then, the number has decreased from about 85,000 applications to 65,000 for the most recent cycle. Maine said that can be attributed partly to the choice by many schools to move to an early-decision model. “The average number of applications has fallen from six per applicant to four,” she said. “Some schools are not filling their seats.”
“A diverse student pool helps the students understand the facets of diversity. It gives you a richer understanding when you want to figure out how best to apply care. It benefits everybody when there’s more diversity, regardless of the field.”
A healthcare provider is often “someone who has a unique aptitude for science and wants to use it for taking care of people.” Given the heavy focus on science, pharmacy seems like a natural fit for STEM categorization, but BLS isn’t clear on how it defines STEM occupations. Data reveal that states with higher shares of STEM jobs had higher wages and that STEM jobs had above-average growth. There were 8.6 million STEM jobs as of May 2015, representing 6.2 percent of U.S. employment. Maine said there is a push to get girls interested in STEM careers, but the focus is often on IT jobs (seven out of 10 of the largest STEM occupations were computer-related, according to the latest BLS report). She said she plans to work with other healthcare associations to create materials that convey the message that healthcare is STEM.
AACP began working with a marketing group last spring to identify the best methods for reaching young adults and their parents with messaging about pharmacy careers. Over the next several months, AACP staff will use those findings to roll out a strategy that will guide recruitment efforts. Maine said this team “will help plan our outreach activities to science teachers and guidance counselors to make sure they have the right information and that they share the message that pharmacy is STEM.”
AACP’s Role in Recruitment
Katie Owings, AACP’s associate director of student affairs, is working on several fronts to help pharmacy schools reach out to young adults to enhance the pharmacy career pipeline. “While high school is a big target zone, ideally we should be starting younger,” Owings said. “The Pharm4Me recruitment campaign is targeted to middle and high school students as well as parents and educators.”
- Innovation Challenge. Applications are due in February 2018 for this Pharm4Me competition for high school students and current student pharmacists, which encourages them to partner to identify medication or health-related problems in the community and develop innovative solutions. The goal is to expose high school students to pharmacy and get current students to recognize the importance of recruitment efforts.
- Pharm4Me Champions. While AACP is heavily involved in this effort, Owings said, “our member colleges need to be involved as well to be the boots on the ground and get out there promoting the profession of pharmacy and pharmacy careers.” Every school is asked to identify a Pharm4Me Champion who will host one or two events a year in their community. It’s preferred that the individual is a pharmacist, but if not, it would be someone on staff who works relatively closely with admissions and/or recruitment at the institution. Events are targeted toward high school students. Pharm4Me Champions are encouraged to be creative when developing events.
- Exhibiting at conferences. AACP exhibits heavily at several conferences, including the USA Science & Engineering Festival, which includes elementary, middle and high school students (AACP provides a fun activity demonstration); the National HOSA Conference; the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions; and the American School Counselor Association to make school counselors aware that pharmacists are available for career days, demonstrations, talks about prescription drug abuse, etc.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Program: Healthcare Diversity Summer Camp
Program liaison: Dr. Lakesha Butler, Clinical Associate Professor
Program length: A five-day, four-night week during the summer.
Target audience and age of participants: Rising minority high school juniors and seniors, with an interest in pursuing a career in healthcare. “The camp started in 2009 as a pharmacy diversity camp. But in talking with colleagues across healthcare fields, we found they had the same issue of wanting to increase the diversity of their student body. So we partnered with our schools of nursing and dental medicine in 2013 to create the newly-revamped Healthcare Diversity Summer Camp.”
Program activity highlights: “As a residential camp, students stay on campus for four nights in freshman housing. Monday is dedicated to learning about university services, organizations, admissions and life as an undergrad; particularly as a healthcare undergrad. Tuesday is our nursing day…Wednesday, our dental day, etc.”
“On Thursday, our pharmacy day, we provide the participants hands-on experiences. For instance, they get to learn about, and check, blood pressure and blood glucose; they learn how to do a foot exam and heel scan. They also learn how to use asthma inhalers. CPR training, administered by the faculty at the pharmacy school, is a recent addition to the pharmacy day. These are just some of the stations, but they really get a chance to see that as pharmacists, our roles are certainly pretty limitless. We tend to see students are pretty blown away by what pharmacists can do. Additionally, the students participate in an ACT review on the final day of the camp to help improve their readiness for the standardized test.”
Number of student participants during each session; number of total participants over tenure of program: “On average, we take about 20 students per year; so with the growth in the program, we’ve had approximately 140 total.”
Keys to program success: “Each year, we conduct a pre- and post-survey with our participants—to measure student attitudes from the end compared to the beginning of the camp. We have found students’ knowledge and interest in all three healthcare careers increases significantly.”
Program outcomes and future outlook: “I have a pharmacy student currently researching ‘where are they now?’ as a capstone project, to assess the number of previous participants who are in pharmacy school or any other healthcare school across the country. We had our first previous participant, who attended the camp in 2011, to graduate from our pharmacy school program this year in 2017. Currently, we have approximately 10 previous participant students in our pre-pharmacy program.”
University of Connecticut
Program: Aetna Health Care Professions Partnership Initiative Academy Program Summer Tour and Pre-College Summer at UConn
Program liaison: Dr. Phil Hritcko, Associate Dean and Associate Clinical Professor, and Dr. Kyle Hadden, Associate Professor
Program length: Now in its second year with the School of Pharmacy, the Aetna Summer Tour brings 70 students to the UConn campus for a one-day event also held in partnership with the School of Nursing. For the Pre-College Summer at UConn, which held its first program in July, 15 students live on campus for one week.
Target audience and age of participants: Aetna Summer Tour: Middle and high school students from the greater Hartford area. Pre-College Summer at UConn: Rising high school juniors and seniors from Connecticut and around the country.
Program activity highlights: The Summer Tour, which is supported by Aetna in conjunction with UConn, provides an opportunity for students in underserved areas in and around Hartford to learn about the pharmacy and nursing professions. Within the nursing simulation lab, students practice wound care, take blood pressure and mimic activities in an intensive care unit, all while learning how pharmacy and nursing work together to address different types of patient scenarios. At the School of Pharmacy, students participate in the MyDispense program, work in the compounding lab making lip balm and much more. “It gives them the ability to touch and feel things,” said Hritcko, “which is really powerful.”
Students in the Pre-College Summer at UConn spend time learning about drug discovery and development, patent generation, as well as opportunities available in various practice settings. Twenty-five hours during the week are spent in class and eight are spent in the lab. “The students conducted experiments designed to test compounds as potential anti-cancer agents and then were given a broad overview of everything related to drugs, from development to dispensing to working with patients,” said Hadden. Outside of his class, students worked in small, one-hour workshops led by other pharmacy faculty members addressing immunizations and prevention, drug discovery and formulation.
Breakthrough moment for students: Hritcko believes the device workshop is a true eye-opener for the Summer Tour students. They learn about everything from inhalers to epi pens to administering naloxone. “They’re really intrigued by the different mechanisms whereby medications are delivered,” he said.
Among the topics that the Pre-College Summer at UConn group found most interesting was how the pharmaceutical industry develops a drug based on the needs of a population base, and why current student pharmacists chose pharmacy as a career path. “The students enjoyed hearing from our students on what led them to pharmacy school and how they plan to work with patients in the future,” Hadden said. Keys to program success: “Each year, we conduct a pre- and post-survey with our participants—to measure student attitudes from the end compared to the beginning of the camp. We have found students’ knowledge and interest in all three healthcare careers increases significantly.”
Keys to success: Making the activities more hands-on and interactive has really energized the Summer Tour students, Hritcko said. Also, faculty members at the School of Pharmacy serve as mentors.
The Pre-College Summer at UConn addresses both the basic science and patient care sides of pharmacy, which Hadden says made it interesting for students. It was so successful that the school may offer two distinct pharmacy tracks for students next year.
Program outcomes and future outlook: With the goal of opening young adults’ eyes to opportunities available in the pharmacy profession, Hritcko hopes they’ve inspired some students in the two years since the Aetna Summer Tour’s inception. “By exposing students to the all the ways pharmacists can make a difference, you hope they discover more about themselves and their interests.”
Having just completed its inaugural week-long program, the Pre-College Summer at UConn is still a few years away from collecting any data from potential future applicants, but Hadden noticed a few students stand out from the crowd. “Right now it’s about these students getting comfortable with a college campus and learning about science,” he said. “That said, there were about 4 to 5 students who I wouldn’t be surprised to see in three years as part of the pre-pharmacy program.”
University of Colorado
Program: CU Pre-Health Scholars Program and Undergraduate Pre-Health Program
Program liaison: Dominic Martinez, Senior Director, Office of Inclusion and Outreach, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
Program length: Students enroll in the Pre-Health Scholars Program as freshmen in high school and complete the program as seniors. The Undergraduate Pre-Health Program runs for 13 months, beginning with the academic year.
Target audience and age of participants: High school students apply to participate in the Pre-Health Scholars Program while students from universities throughout Colorado are eligible to apply for the Undergraduate Pre-Health Program.
Program activity highlights: The Pre-Health Scholars Program focuses on preparing high school students for undergraduate education and beyond, exposing them to career opportunities within the healthcare fields and providing them with a set of tools they can use after they graduate to help facilitate the college application process. The curriculum for each 45-student cohort is different, focusing on various skill development depending on grade level. During two Saturday academies per month, freshmen discuss nutrition and wellness, sophomores and juniors focus on SAT prep and enhanced study skills while seniors learn about scholarship prep and preparing essays for college applications. Parents participate in the Saturday academies with students, and for juniors and seniors, they can take college-level courses on the alternate Saturdays for credit.
The Undergraduate Pre-Health Program began in 2006 in partnership with Kaiser Permanente. Approximately 35 students are selected to participate, some of which are graduates of the Pre-Health Scholars Program. The Undergraduate Program also provides participants with the necessary tools to be a qualified applicant to a professional program or graduate school. Students take part in Saturday academies, which address important application skills such as mock interviews and writing a personal statement, but also introduce health disparities awareness through required journal readings, for example.
Breakthrough moment for students: The School of Pharmacy has partnered with the Pre-Health Scholars Program since its inception in 2004. Student pharmacists serve as peer mentors and faculty help teach 1-, 2-, and 5-week courses, introducing them to the field of pharmacy, career options and more.
Undergraduate Pre-Health Program students are exposed to the different healthcare fields at the end of the academic year and this is when Martinez sees an interest in pharmacy develop. Students complete a 2-week exploratory program of the different healthcare careers and meet with current faculty members, admissions professionals and practitioners from the community. “We introduce them to professionals, such as retail and hospital pharmacists, as well as researchers, who help teach them about the profession and their lifestyle,” Martinez said. The School of Pharmacy will find current practitioners for students to shadow for 8-10 weeks.
Keys to success: The two programs complement each other, which Martinez believes is the key to their success. “The goal is to create a seamless pipeline,” said Martinez. “Ideally, students are with us from their freshman year in high school through acceptance into professional school.”
Program outcomes: The Office of Inclusion and Outreach keeps thorough record of students’ matriculation through both programs, and into undergraduate and post-graduate education. The office also tracks students’ post-graduate plans, including residencies, internships or any additional training.
University of Wisconsin—Madison
Program: Pharmacy Summer Program
Program liaison: Susan Tran Degrand, Outreach, Recruitment & Diversity Affairs; Student & Academic Affairs
Program length: “It’s a four-day summer program where students live on campus. We hope to expand the length of the program in the future.”
Target audience and age of participants: “We hope to reach and stay connected with rising high school juniors and seniors, as they make decisions for college and explore different career options. The purpose of the program is to create an access point for historically underrepresented students to discover and explore pharmacy, or other health science programs, as career options.”
Program activity highlights: “The program provides students the opportunity to explore pharmacy, explore the UW–Madison campus, and engage with faculty and current students. They tour several pharmacies, engage in compounding demonstrations and activities (preparing personalized medications), pharmacotherapy lab activities (treatment of disease/illness with medications), partake in blood pressure demonstration/screenings and more.”
Number of student participants during each session; number of total participants over tenure of program: “Each year, we admit 20 high school students into the program. In the past three years, we’ve received 70-90 applications each year for 20 spots; and graduated 60 students so far from the program.”
Keys to success: “Our three main goals are to: 1) increase awareness of what pharmacy is; 2) increase the opportunity for these students to go to college; and 3) build community with these students, providing opportunities for them to connect with a mentor and current students, so they have that support system after they leave the program. If we’ve done any of those things, we see that as a success.”
Program outcomes and future outlook: “We assess the students after they complete the program, to measure their interest level, networking expectations, and awareness of pharmacy career options before and after the program. As we’re only three years in, we don’t yet have a full picture of the data, but as with a lot of pipeline programs, you don’t see that direct impact right away. We are hopeful that the program will continue to grow and provide underrepresented high school students the opportunity to learn about what pharmacy has to offer.
KGI School of Pharmacy
Program: PharmCAMP (“Come and Meet Pharmacy”)
Program liaison: Dr. Christine L. Cadiz, Assistant Professor of Clinical Sciences
Program length: One weekend in March
Target audience and age of participants: “PharmCAMP participants come from various age groups, including 5th grade, 7th grade, and 10th grade. As younger students progress in their education, they will be encouraged to participate in the middle or high school PharmCAMP.”
Program activity highlights: “The pilot PharmCAMP program was designed to expose young students to pharmacy and STEM-related careers through active and fun learning. The program familiarizes students with careers in pharmacy and other STEM fields and encourages and inspires students to pursue higher education. STEM has been a buzzword for the past half-decade, but pharmacy continues to be a little-known career field, especially among children.
Students are grouped in teams of 6-8 and assigned a KGI mentor who will guide them through workshops and activities conducted by faculty members and KGI student organizations. Workshops include an overview of the pharmacy profession, with examples of what pharmacists do and where pharmacists work. Additional career opportunities in science and research are also introduced. Every student participates in three main labs demonstrating good compounding techniques through ‘compounding’ ice cream, capsules/IV bags and extracting DNA from strawberries to learn about how DNA is linked to rare diseases. Students also participate in two additional interactive small group workshops tailored to the appropriate grade level from topics including poison prevention, immunizations, OTC medications and counseling, hygiene and antibiotics, prescription drug abuse, sugar intake and diabetes, cardiovascular disease and microscopic analysis of beating heart cells, neurologic disease and examinations of mouse brains, leadership development, and application of 3-D printing for device engineering.”
Breakthrough moment for students: “An awesome thing I saw from last year was that these kids attended a school-related activity during the weekend voluntarily. We ended up having multiple student participants say that this was the best ‘field trip’ they had ever been on, they did not want to leave, they learned so much, and didn’t know there were so many different types of career opportunities in pharmacy.”
Number of student participants during each session; number of total participants over tenure of program: During the pilot program, there were 70 elementary school and 70 middle and high school student participants. For PharmCAMP 2018, the target numbers will be 120 elementary students; 60 middle and 60 high school students, for a total of 240 students.
Keys to success: “A big part of what makes the program successful is the level of engagement by the student and faculty volunteers that run the event. More than 100 student and faculty volunteers worked hard to develop curriculum, run the workshops and mentor their student groups all day. It takes pretty much an entire village, or a campus in this case.”
Jane E. Rooney is a freelance writer based in Oakton, Virginia;
Maureen Thielemans is Associate Director of Communications at AACP;
Kyle R. Bagin is Digital Media Manager at AACP.