The University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy Faculty have readily accepted the PharmD/PhD program as a positive step forward in their efforts to increase the number of US citizens in graduate programs. This has worked exceedingly well, and faculty members have also grown to accept the program in terms of the number of students actively engaged in research and students' ability to move forward with research in a timely manner. The success of the program has been seen in terms of the number of applicants to the program, the number of US citizens applying, and the success of the students upon graduation. Students who have graduated from the program are now in academia and in the pharmaceutical industry.
A limiting factor of the program has been the availability of stipends. The student applicant pool has increased significantly, with 11 qualified students applying for the PharmD/PhD program for the fall of 2004, with stipends available for 4 students. The goal is to increase the number of student stipends in the future, with a total enrollment of 16 students in the PharmD portion of the program and 10-12 in the PhD component.
The dual PharmD/PhD Program addresses a critical need for pharmaceutical scientists for positions in academia, government, and the pharmaceutical industry. The program offers additional opportunity to strengthen the research programs within the UT College of Pharmacy. The construct of the dual-degree program presents a new option and provides cooperation among faculty members rather than competition for graduate students. This program significantly increases the capabilities of students who are in graduate programs and/or clinical research fellowships. This program is not meant to compete with residency training programs but to offer students another option for entering academic settings and other areas. This is evidenced at UT by 35 out of 99 graduates entering residencies and 3 students moving from the PharmD component of the program to the PhD component in 2005. These 2 programs exist together and provide greater opportunities for students.
The recruitment plan wherein students are identified and funded provides an opportunity for students who may not have otherwise considered a career in the pharmaceutical sciences or research. A major challenge of the program is to identify new stipends (students receive a stipend for a total of 7 years). The PharmD/PhD program curriculum provides a framework for joint programs and maintains the essential components of a professional program while embracing the critical elements of graduate education in the pharmaceutical sciences and/or health science administration. Conversion of up to 3 non-specified elective clerkship rotations to laboratory or clinical research is reasonable and does not adversely affect the professional development of the student. The program was designed as a unified, education process that capitalizes upon the strengths of both professional and graduate education. Generally, professional programs are highly structured, whereas graduate programs are much less structured. Therefore, the curriculum design of the combined program should capture the flexibility of graduate education while accommodating the structural essentials of professional education. This program accomplishes that goal.
Even though other colleges of pharmacy throughout the nation are rapidly realizing the efficacy of implementing dual-degree programs, the majority of colleges still have no plans to implement dual-degree programs in the near future. If the interest among pharmacy students for conducting research is anywhere close to the 10% expressed among medical students, then the supply for dual-degree programs in pharmacy falls far below the demand. While the colleges matriculating students into the dual-degree programs do a commendable job of developing those students into capable academic or industrial scientists, the numbers remain low compared to the medical profession. Some of the deficiencies in admittances are undoubtedly due to a lack of funding; there is no federal program designed to directly support funding for “pharmacist scientists” as there is for “physician scientists.” Nevertheless, several schools still train physician scientists without the benefit of the medical scientist training program, so this cannot be the primary hindrance to the development of dual-degree programs. The potential impact that dual-degree graduates may have on the pharmacy profession can not be denied as they may be the catalysts needed to propel pharmacy forward in its journey towards a new identity. Both a dual-degree graduate in pharmaceutical sciences and a PharmD graduate see a patient with an insufficient response to medication and have a working knowledge of what improvements in the medication may lead to a healthier patient. However, dual-degree graduates will be in a better position to lead research to actually bring an improved medication or a new medication delivery system to market. Also, like many pharmacists today, both a dual-degree graduate in pharmacoeconomics and a PharmD graduate may recognize wasteful spending at a local hospital. Yet, the dual-degree graduate will be better equipped to devise a more efficient system based on pharmacoeconomic principles.
If we in pharmacy are to reap the full benefit of dual-degree programs, we must all assist in whatever way possible to educate those who want to go the extra mile. This program will answer in part the faculty shortage if it is embraced by the colleges of pharmacy in the United States.