UTPA offers opportunity to pursue career in pharmacy
Posted: 01/20/2005
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With a shortage of pharmacists across the nation, coupled with significant health care needs along the Texas-Mexico border, The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy, in cooperation with The University of Texas-Pan American, offers Rio Grande Valley students the opportunity to pursue a career in pharmacy.

The UTPA Cooperative Pharmacy Program makes it possible for a student to earn a doctorate of pharmacy degree through a six-year curriculum program between UTPA and UT Austin. The deadline to apply to the program for the 2005-06 school year is Tuesday, Feb. 1.

Pictured from left to right are pharmacy students Keta Bhakta, Matthew Plata and Jessica Gonzalez at a local pharmacy, providing information for the community.
The Cooperative Pharmacy Program, accredited by The American Council on Pharmaceutical Education, was designed to facilitate access to the College of Pharmacy in Austin by providing opportunities for students to fulfill graduation requirements at UTPA. Students can be admitted into The University of Texas College of Pharmacy either through the UTPA Pharmacy Scholars Program or by applying directly to The University of Texas at Austin after completion of the pre-pharmacy requirements.

The UTPA Pharmacy Scholars Program accepts applications from high school seniors who have completed four years of English, three years of math, science and social studies and two years of a foreign language. Candidates must also have a high aptitude for science and a strong desire to pursue pharmacy as a career.

Dr. Patricia Canales, assistant professor of pharmacy and interim director of the Cooperative Pharmacy Program at UTPA, said it takes certain attributes, to succeed as pharmacists. Students interested in the program, she said, should possess strong academic backgrounds in math and science, good people skills, good problem solving/critical thinking skills, the desire to want to help people and patience to explain information thoroughly.

"Pharmacy is a good career for people who want flexibility with where they take their career," Canales said. "You can go from working in a retail or hospital environment, to teaching, consulting or conducting research."

The financial compensation for being a pharmacist is also very rewarding. Retail stores may offer stock options, company cars and great pay. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics, the median annual earnings of pharmacists in 2002 were $77,050.

"You are also well respected by community members. The people in your town know you and will come to you as a resource for information," Canales said. "That is a lot of responsibility, but it can mean a lot to some people, to be able to have the opportunity to give back to your family and your community."

High school seniors interested in applying for the program must submit an application, three letters of recommendation, a personal statement of interest and transcripts for all high school and college work performed.

Seniors who are accepted into the program begin their freshman year of college at UTPA and spend their first two years at UTPA completing pre-pharmacy coursework and their third and fourth years at UT Austin. After that, their fifth and sixth years are spent back in the Valley taking pharmacy courses at UTPA and completing experiential rotations at various pharmacies in the Valley.

Canales said there are many advantages to coming back to the Valley for classes and clinical rotations after completing the course work in Austin. Allowing the students to work in the Valley rebuilds their identity within the community, because many of them have not served as professionals in their community before, she said.

"Being back in their own community fosters a sense of giving back and students start thinking about how they can get involved," Canales said. "They are able to gain ties to the community, both through the rotations and by being exposed to the different environments in which pharmacists work."

Many of the medical and nursing schools are looking for people who can treat and care for people of certain kinds of populations and cultures, she said.

"It does help tremendously to have people who are from here, serve the people from here," Canales said.

There are 28 scholars currently in the UTPA Pharmacy Scholars Program and approximately 25 students who are in the professional pharmacy sequence at UT Austin. The first class will graduate this year and two of the three graduates are Pharmacy Scholars Program students, who began the program at UTPA when it was initiated in 2000.

While the program does not provide full scholarships, there are scholarships available to each student. This semester each student received $1,800.

There are three faculty members who teach in the program and the program is currently seeking to hire one more. Faculty who teach in the program also conduct research in collaboration with local agencies and hospitals in the areas of pediatrics, mental health and neurology.

The demand for qualified pharmacy professionals has exploded in recent years due to the rapid growth of the health care and pharmaceutical industries and a growing elderly population. Many pharmacy students can expect to receive multiple job offers at the time of graduation, or even job offers while performing their rotations, Canales said. Pharmacists who pursue additional graduate study or residency experience have greater mobility during their career.

For more information about the program or to obtain an application, contact Michelle Madrid at 956/318-5255.