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College of Pharmacy, UMD

Preceptor Nicole Paterson (center) mentors Adam Pavek, a 2007 graduate of the College of Pharmacy.

Going the distance

University of Minnesota pharmacy grads help ease a critical pharmacist shortage

By Suzanne Miller

August 10, 2007

Emily Welle arrived at the guest lecture knowing she would work as a pharmacist shortly after graduation--but not knowing where. By the end of the lecture, she knew: She would practice at a pharmacy in Greater Minnesota.

"The speaker was a pharmacist working in Aitkin," says Welle, a 2007 graduate of the University of Minnesota's College of Pharmacy. "He talked about the advantages of working in a rural pharmacy. Listening to what he liked about it made a difference." Welle, a Pierz native, will begin working at a Little Falls pharmacy this summer.

Welle and her 46 classmates belong to the first class of the two-campus College of Pharmacy, which expanded to the Duluth campus in 2003. Duluth and Twin Cities students studied the same curriculum, and all spent their fourth year in a variety of pharmacy settings: rural, urban, hospital, and community.

The concept for the Duluth expansion was born at the turn of the 21st century, when data supported the anecdotal evidence of a severe pharmacist shortage in Minnesota. Data showed the state needed about 400 more pharmacists than it had, according to Stephen Hoag, senior associate dean at the College of Pharmacy, Duluth. The state legislature responded in spring 2001, allocating money from the Tobacco Settlement to a proposal that included a plan for expanding the College of Pharmacy to Duluth.

"The Duluth program's goal was to increase the number of graduates and train more pharmacists who would work in rural areas, where the impact of the shortage was greatest," says Hoag.

In fall 2003, the first combined Twin Cities and Duluth class began their studies. To foster student interest in working outside the Twin Cities, pharmacists from the Duluth area provided guest lectures and worked with students in labs. The college increased the number of rotations (required internships) available in Greater Minnesota and assured rotation preceptors (mentors) were supportive of working in small towns.

"...when a need is perceived and the legislature works with the University, we can help solve the problems of the state," says Marilyn Speedie.

Adam Pavek's rotation at an independently owned pharmacy in Grand Rapids helped shape his goal of practicing in his own pharmacy in Greater Minnesota. Pavek, a native of Roseau, was already sold on small town life. "There's a lot of pride that goes with growing up in a small town," he says. "In Grand Rapids I got to know a lot of community members and see unique things pertaining to pharmacy ownership and management. The practice was very patient-centered, very friendly."

Pavek is in a one-year residency in Edina to learn more about the business of owning a pharmacy. The number of independent pharmacies that close when the owners retire has increased significantly in recent years. One of the reasons is a lack of pharmacists interested in purchasing the practices, says Rod Carter, associate dean for professional and external relations. One goal of the expansion, he says, is to reverse this trend.

This summer, College of Pharmacy Duluth faculty and staff will move to their permanent home in the former Life Sciences Building.

"The success of our expansion shows that when a need is perceived and the legislature works with the University, we can help solve the problems of the state," says Marilyn Speedie, dean of the College of Pharmacy. "Our partnership is helping bring improved health care to all the citizens of the state, particularly rural communities, and we're very proud to be a part of that."