Dean Victor A. Yanchick, Ph.D., Amy Whitaker, Pharm.D. and Charles C. Pulliam, MS, Pharm.D.
Virginia Commonwealth University's entrepreneurial course is being offered for the first time this spring as an elective. Cindy Warriner, B.S., a consultant to the Virginia Academy of Independent Pharmacists worked closely with Amy Whitaker, Pharm.D. in planning and coordinating the course. Whitaker, an Assistant Professor, is a faculty member in VCU's Community Pharmacy Program. She also has extensive community pharmacy experience.
Whitaker reported that the class has been in the development stages for several years. According to her, "It is a collaboration of a core group of alumni who also are independent pharmacy owners, the state pharmacy association (VPhA), and the school. The alumni wanted to teach students not only about independent pharmacy practice, but they also wanted to instill in them a sense of the entrepreneurial spirit."
Each class session provides students with hands-on exposure to starting, owning, and running one's own business. A major part of the course involves a student project, in which students have paired off to launch their own independent pharmacy business. The students are developing business proposals, securing financing, drawing up plans on how their stores will be designed and stocked, and developing projected financials. The information covered in the class each week provides the students the foundation for their project and for their future in independent pharmacy.
The school of pharmacy is fortunate to have many distinguished alumni within independent community practice who have contributed to our program in a variety of different ways. The creation of this course is another way for our alumni to work with the students to develop and spark an interest in the entrepreneurial spirit. As a school, we have maintained an ongoing commitment to advancing community pharmacy practice. This course enhances and builds upon other offerings in our curriculum and allows students an opportunity to explore independent practice more in-depth.
I don't believe that there is a perception among academic decision-makers that community practice should be discouraged. We recognize that a majority of our graduates will practice in the community pharmacy setting. Here at VCU we are fortunate to have a very active community pharmacy practice program. The faculty and residents involved in this group have been active in both chain and independent pharmacies developing and implementing innovative practice models. In actuality, I think the trend is moving more towards community pharmacy (particularly within independent practice) as things become more patient and disease management focused. The key with our program is to bring together a critical mass of successful independent practitioners who are interested and willing to participate in the teaching of this course.
Whitaker said student loan debt is a major factor determining whether or not students consider ownership. "Many students are graduating from pharmacy school with enormous debt and cannot comprehend the thought of going more in debt through owning their own pharmacy. While the pharmacist shortage has increased salaries dramatically over the past several years, I don't believe that this has discouraged students from ownership. Rather I think that students see ownership as an opportunity later in their careers rather than in the first 5 to 10 years following graduation. Again, this is an opportunity to educate students about what opportunities are available to them after graduation and that if they want to own their own pharmacy right out of school, there is a way that it can happen."
Prior to the elective this semester, student awareness of ownership opportunities was available only in less focused and more theoretical courses. This is being explored in the class and the students are asking every one of the pharmacists who participate in the course very specific questions about the good and the bad of ownership. VCU's program is partially funded through an educational grant from Amerisource Bergen.
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