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VOL. 129 | NO. 171 | Wednesday, September 3, 2014

UTHSC Expands Footprint

College of Pharmacy finding ways to compete

By Don Wade

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Of the six colleges and schools of pharmacy in the state, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Pharmacy by far has the lowest annual tuition – around $21,000 as compared to about $31,500 for the next-lowest, Union University.

Dr. Marie Chisholm-Burns, dean of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, says the school must continue to work to stay competitive. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Even so, Dr. Marie A. Chisholm-Burns, dean of UTHSC’s College of Pharmacy, says they have to view attracting the top in-state students much the way UT football coach Butch Jones would: as a very competitive endeavor.

“That’s how we feel, too,” Chisholm-Burns said. “That’s a part of this. Some places are closer to Atlanta – i.e., Knoxville – than Memphis. We want to keep the best of the best.”

One more tool for doing just that, she believes, is the College of Pharmacy’s increased flexibility for students. Previously, students would begin their studies at the College of Pharmacy in Memphis and have the option to continue here or go to Knoxville for their third and fourth years. Now, Nashville is an additional option, and next year students may be able to shift locales as soon as their second year.

Many people might be instinctively defensive about a program helping future job seekers to move from Memphis to anywhere – especially Nashville – in the middle of their formal training. But Chisholm-Burns does not buy the traditional Nashville vs. Memphis narrative.

“They have a lot of job opportunities and residencies,” she said of Tennessee’s capital city. “It’s a growing job market and there’s great health care. But the same is here in Memphis.”

According to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, in 2014 more UTHSC College of Pharmacy student pharmacists were placed in residencies than any other in-state college or school of pharmacy. After UTHSC College of Pharmacy’s 40 placements, Belmont University was next with 17, East Tennessee State University had 15, Union had 14 and Lipscomb University had nine.

“The job market for pharmacists has always been good,” Chisholm-Burns said, adding that within three months all of their graduates who are “active job seekers” have full-time employment or are in post-graduate training positions.

The National Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that as of 2012 the median pay for pharmacists was $116,670 per year, or $56.09 per hour. The job outlook for 2012-2022 indicated an expected job increase of 14 percent for pharmacists.

Grace Messick, a third-year UTHSC College of Pharmacy student from Murfreesboro, Tenn., spent two years studying in Memphis and enjoyed her time here.

“We can offer multiple cultures — Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and a hybrid of all of it.”

–Dr. Marie Chisholm-Burns
Dean, College of Pharmacy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center

“I loved being in Memphis for the cultural experience,” Messick said. “And the food is incredible.”

But all of her family is still in the Murfreesboro area. Her father owns a pharmacy. She knew she eventually wanted to get back closer to home, so she has made the move to Nashville for her last two years of pharmacy school.

‘I’m hoping to do a residency and find a job in this area,” she said of metro Nashville.

The goal of the program’s flexibility, however, plays out differently for different students. Messick points out that there are many rotations available, ranging from working at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis to getting experience with veterinary pharmacy in Knoxville.

This year, there are 181 incoming students to the college. By demographics, they are 58 percent female, 80 percent in-state students and 39 percent underrepresented minorities, and they range in age from 20 to 48.

Recently, a 75 percent reduction in out-of-state tuition was approved for students in Arkansas and Mississippi living within 50 miles of Shelby County.

“We can offer multiple cultures – Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and a hybrid of all of it,” Chisholm-Burns said. “Fundamentally, the more exposure we give to our students in the educational process the better that positions them for greater opportunities after graduation.”

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