Empowering the Pipeline 

By: Miljan Terzic, PharmD Candidate 2022, Derek Greear, PharmD Candidate 2022, Mariah Mrofchak, PharmD Candidate 2022, and Liz Fredrickson, PharmD, BCPS  

Why do you want to be a pharmacist?

Some version of this ubiquitous interview question is asked of nearly all prospective pharmacy students. In the current admissions environment, fewer students seem to be considering if they even want to be a pharmacist, let alone why. With a diminishing number of applicants, many colleges are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit diverse and qualified students.1 In the face of this challenge, however, lies an opportunity to encourage and support a more diverse pool of students, shape the narrative regarding pharmacists and the profession, and help prospective students discover their “why” through implementation of pipeline programs. 

Development of a pipeline program is an objective within the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) 2021—2024 Strategic Plan, with a focus on establishing targeted recruitment events and personalized outreach strategies to engage with prospective learners.2 Examples of these programs have been highlighted, and keys to success include interactive, hands-on programming, involvement of current students, and building a support system for prospective students. Challenges related to workload and funding may arise during program development, but colleges can optimize opportunities by partnering with local high schools and colleges, other health professions education (HPE) programs, pharmacy organizations, and alumni. 

Pipeline Program Development 

In alignment with the AACP Strategic Plan, effective pipeline programs should include three key components2

            1) Champion underrepresented students

            2) Highlight the uniqueness of the PharmD program

            3) Emphasize the important role of the pharmacist

Championing Underrepresented Students

Colleges of pharmacy have been called to build a workforce that meets the healthcare needs of an increasingly diverse population.3 Before we can expect students to develop into healthcare experts and leaders of the profession, however, we need to help lay a strong foundation on which they can excel. Pipeline programs can be structured to empower prospective students to succeed academically, establish supportive relationships, and begin developing leadership skills.

Suggested program components include: 

  • Helping students to navigate undergraduate programs, including course selection and scheduling 
  • Providing financial aid and wellness sessions 
  • Providing standardized test preparation 
  • Facilitating meaningful mentor/mentee relationships 
  • Coordinating activities with local undergraduate university minority clubs, organizations, and campus affinity groups

Highlighting Program Uniqueness 

In the current admissions environment, it’s important for schools to differentiate themselves and recruit students who will thrive academically, personally, and professionally within their program.1 Pipeline programs can begin the process of cultivating a sense of community and fostering connectedness with prospective students. 

Suggested program components include:  

  • Identifying and highlighting unique selling points of the program
  • Showcasing the institution’s culture, teaching philosophy, and curricular scope 
  • Providing campus tours and meet-and-greet events  
  • Involving current students in program events and activities 
  • Highlighting unique research, experiential, and training opportunities 
  • Providing virtual experiences through podcasts, webinars, and online communities 

Emphasizing Roles of Pharmacists 

When asked to describe a pharmacist, it’s likely many students envision someone dispensing pills behind a counter. Through pipeline programs, colleges can change the narrative for younger students by correcting misconceptions regarding the profession, highlighting specialty areas, and discussing the significant impact pharmacists have on patient care. This knowledge can excite students to pursue a profession they feel proud to represent, advance, and advocate for. Even at this early stage, students can begin engaging in professional identity formation.

Suggested program components include: 

  • Showcasing the pharmacist’s role in research and disease prevention and management 
  • Providing unique shadowing opportunities for students to gain a broad understanding of the profession and the numerous available career choices 
  • Inviting keynote speakers from various areas of practice
  • Providing hands-on experiences, such as compounding, device workshops, and labs 
  • Partnering with HPE programs to provide interprofessional activities 
  • Discussing the concept of identity and what is means to be a pharmacist 
  • Utilizing free resources like Pharm4Me

Program Evaluation 

At this time, more research is needed to determine optimal program structure (components, targeted age range, length) and how best to assess outcomes. The success of these programs may not be realized until years later, when students who participated graduate to become leaders in the profession. However, colleges can be proactive during program development to determine evaluation strategies. Below are example survey questions to consider, modeled after a nursing pipeline program.4 This data would be useful to determine student interest in the profession and guide program development.

  • Desire to go to college and pharmacy school and confidence in their ability to do so
  • What they think pharmacists can do (awareness of career opportunities)
  • Attitude toward pharmacy
  • Important reasons the student does want to be a pharmacist
  • Important reasons the student does not want to be a pharmacist 

Post-pipeline program outcomes to evaluate may include: 

  • Matriculation rates 
  • Leadership positions during school and after graduation 
  • Job and residency placement rates
  • NAPLEX pass rates 
  • Alumni engagement 

In what innovative ways is your institution engaging prospective students? 

References

  1. Hughes JA, Park HC, Christensen-Grant D, Fuentes DG. Achieving Enrollment Outcomes by Aligning Applicant Recruitment and Selection with Unique Organizational NichesAm J Pharm Educ. 2021;85(4):7743. doi:10.5688/ajpe7743
  1. 2021–2024 Strategic Plan Priorities, Goals and Objectives. AACP. July 2021. Accessed September 2021. Available at: https://www.aacp.org/sites/default/files/2021-08/aacp-strategic-plan-2021-2024.pdf. 
  1. Wall AL, Aljets A, Ellis SC, et al. White Paper on Pharmacy Admissions: Developing a Diverse Work Force to Meet the Health-Care Needs of an Increasingly Diverse Society: Recommendations of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Special Committee on Admissions [published correction appears in Am J Pharm Educ. 2016 Apr 25;80(3):54]. Am J Pharm Educ. 2015;79(7):S7. doi:10.5688/ajpe797S7
  1. Katz JR, Barbosa-Leiker C, Benavides-Vaello S. Measuring the Success of a Pipeline Program to Increase Nursing Workforce Diversity. Journal of Professional Nursing. 2016;32(1):6-14. doi: 10.1016/j.profnurs.2015.05.003

Author Bio(s):

Miljan Terzic is a current fourth-year student pharmacist at Northeast Ohio Medical University. Educational scholarship interests include pharmaceutical sciences, drug delivery systems, and curriculum optimization. In his free time, Miljan enjoys weightlifting and playing golf.

Derek Greear is a current fourth-year student pharmacist at Northeast Ohio Medical University. Educational scholarship interests include academia related to pre-pharmacy programs and pyxis inventory optimization. In his free time, Derek enjoys laying out by the pool and relaxing. 

Mariah Mrofchak is a current fourth-year student pharmacist at Northeast Ohio Medical University. Educational scholarship interests include pharmacy advocacy and college admissions initiatives. In her free time, Mariah enjoys spending time with her family and 1-year-old puppy.

Liz Fredrickson is an Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Pharmacy. Her educational scholarship interests include the scholarship of teaching and learning and research related to compounding education. In her free time, she enjoys going on adventures with her husband and four children.


Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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