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Future Uncertain for Howard Pharmacy Students

Future Uncertain for Howard Pharmacy Students
Accreditation body puts program on probation

By David Pluviose

Students in Howard University’s pharmacy program are growing increasingly nervous about what their degrees will be worth when they graduate, as the Accreditation Council on Pharmacy Education (ACPE) has put the school’s Pharm.D. program on probation. The probationary status extends to June 30, 2007, when the council will perform another review. Thus, current enrollees will graduate from a program that is accredited, at least for now.

“It’s a tough spot, but they told us they’ll get the necessary things done,” says first-year pharmacy student Reggie Varun. “There’s no guarantee. They said if worse comes to worst, people who are in the program should be able to graduate and sit down for their boards.”
During a series of rancorous town hall meetings, Varun and other outraged students questioned Howard administrators about why the pharmacy program hasn’t seen the benefits of several successful capital campaigns.

“I don’t think [Howard] has a money problem,” Varun says. “I’m from out of state, spending [about] $30,000 a year, and you’re going to tell me you’re on probation? It’s already tough on us. It doesn’t help you when the school’s not doing anything.”

The pharmacy program, launched in 1868, currently enrolls 367 students and graduates between 65 and 70 pharmacists annually, says Dr. Richard A. English, Howard’s provost and chief academic officer. The first student to graduate from Howard University received a Pharm.D. degree in 1870, and Howard was the first historically Black college or university to create such a program. Today, Hampton University, Xavier University of Louisiana, Texas Southern University and Florida A&M University also have pharmacy schools.

The ACPE put Howard on notice for noncompliance with six of the council’s 30 benchmarks, says English. Among the problems, the accreditation body found that Howard had never approved the by-laws of the College of Pharmacy, Nursing and Allied Health Sciences. English says the by-laws will be presented to the board of trustees at their next meeting. H. Patrick Swygert, Howard’s president, says wide-ranging plans had been in the works to fix some of the pharmacy department’s problems. But being placed on probation has forced the university to expedite the changes.

According to ACPE, Howard’s pharmacy students are not progressing adequately towards their degrees — 75 current students failed to keep pace with their class. English says the university is responding by taking “strategic steps” to improve matriculation. Additionally, ACPE says there aren’t enough faculty to properly deliver the school’s curriculum once it is fully revamped and brought up to ACPE standards. Also, Howard’s pharmacy school has inadequate lecture hall and classroom facilities and is also lacking a detailed statement of financial health. English says all the issues will be corrected, and notes that the revised 2007 fiscal year budget allows for “a phase-in plan to hire the additional faculty needed in the next few years.”

One of the ACPE’s most pressing concerns is a “disturbing” passage rate for Howard graduates taking the North American Pharmacy Licensure Examination (NAPLEX). To pass, candidates must post a score of 75 — the national average score for 2005 was 104.9 and the national pass rate was 89.2 percent. Though English concedes that Howard’s pass rate for the class of 2005 was “below the national average,” he declined to release specific numbers, as did the ACPE and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, the body that administers the NAPLEX.

However, Hampton officials say its pharmacy graduates had a 100 percent NAPLEX pass rate in 2004. By comparison, Texas Southern reported an 83.3 percent pass rate in the academic year ending in May 2002, and FAMU says 97 percent of its pharmacy graduates pass NAPLEX on their first try. English says Howard has a detailed plan to get its graduates’ NAPLEX pass rates up to par.

“In the short-term, the interim dean and the faculty of the school of pharmacy will provide special training sessions on taking the standardized licensure examination for its 2006 graduates,” he says. “The following plan will be implemented to address this issue: weekly small group review sessions for graduating seniors, a mock pre-pharmacy licensure examination [and] a two-day review course on the examination.”

Dr. Beverly C. Mims, an associate professor of clinical and administrative pharmacy at Howard, says correcting the deficiencies cited by ACPE will allow the pharmacy school to enroll and graduate many more students than it does currently, helping fill a void created by a national pharmacist shortage.

“We have the capabilities of admitting over 200 students with each class, just based on the number of applications that we receive. However, we don’t have the facilities or faculty to support that number of students,” Mims says. “Those students would be employable immediately after graduation, so we would be making a contribution to the society as a whole.”

Dr. Muhammad J. Habib, chairman of the department of pharmaceutical sciences, fully expects Howard to provide the resources necessary to bring the pharmacy school up to ACPE standards.
“The basic issue here is a resource issue, and the university has to address that issue. … It’s just a matter of their willingness to do it,” he says.

“I’m confident that the university will not let [the pharmacy program] go just like that. It’s a very viable and major program,” Habib says. “It’s very important for our university to continue this program. We always bring [in] more revenue than we actually spend, a lot more, so the university’s gaining from our program. So if they give us the proper share of the revenue, we will be all right.”

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