Across the United States, there is a shortage of pharmacists. This is not a new problem, but it’s of more concern now than ever before.
People are living longer, and the first baby boomers have reached their 60s. That means there are increasing demands on the industry.
Also of concern is the fact that few minorities are joining the field, which until recently was dominated by white males. (Today many white females have joined the profession, but minority pharmacists are much harder to find.)
Steven Player and Isaac Butler are more aware of the problem than most – because they’re working to fix it. Both are pharmacists themselves – Player is an inpatient pharmacy manager at Barnes-Jewish Hospital; Butler is a clinical program manager at Express Scripts.
Together, they started the Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Express Scripts, and St. Louis College of Pharmacy (BESt) Pharmacy Summer Institute for Multicultural High School Students. The Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation and the Express Scripts Foundation saw this as an excellent opportunity to blend their strengths, and provided equal funding and collaborative manpower for the program.
“The overall need for pharmacists was behind our vision for BESt,” says Player, the program’s director. “The shortage across the nation is such a critical issue that we realized the need to be creative in our approach toward producing and recruiting new pharmacists – specifically highly trained pharmacists. Additionally, the need for culturally competent health care providers and diversity within health care systems nationwide have become ever more apparent. In particular, at our hospital we interpret for more than 70 languages a year. The need is there.”
The objective of the program is to prepare local multicultural high school students for enrollment into local pharmacy schools by educating them about the pharmacy profession and the opportunities available within it, while equipping them with some of the knowledge and skills that are vital to pharmacists.
“Our ultimate goal is to have the students enroll in pharmacy schools and then become part of a stronger, larger, more diverse pool of pharmacists that will serve the greater good in St. Louis,” says Butler, co-director of the program.
He and Player spent months planning and organizing the first four-week session of BESt, which took place in the summer of 2008 at St. Louis College of Pharmacy. They chose 30 rising sophomores and juniors from more than 100 applicants. The students were from several St. Louis-area high schools, including Berkeley, Cardinal Ritter, Parkway North, Clayton and East St. Louis.
The program involved:
- Algebra/trigonometry classes and
- chemistry classes and labs.
- Pharmaceutics labs led by a St. Louis
- College of Pharmacy instructor.
- “Pharmacy 101,” an overview of the pharmacy profession led by College of Pharmacy students who served as tutors.
- An ACT preparation class.
- Field trips to Barnes-Jewish and Express Scripts, during which students met with pharmacists and human resources professionals and were exposed to the different roles pharmacists can play – including in managed care and pharmacy benefit management.
- "Real Talk" sessions, during which pharmacists led discussions on college, pharmacy and adult life.
Terrence Harris, a junior at Hazelwood Central High School, had no thoughts of pharmacy as a career path until BESt. “The BESt program not only broadened my knowledge of pharmacy, but opened my eyes to how a pharmacist can change lives,” says Harris. “the greatest part of the program for me was learning how to make different medicines. Once I receive my degree, my goal is to work with cancer patients, hopefully in pediatrics.”
Player and Butler were thrilled with the way the program’s first year turned out.
“The students were so proactive that we ultimately decided to change the math subject matter and incorporate statistics and upper-level math,” Player says. “They wanted to be challenged more and were enthusiastic about it.”
This summer’s rising seniors in the BESt program will take college-level calculus and composition – and receive college credit. They will also pre-apply to pharmacy schools. Player has been hearing from parents, schools and students interested in participating.
“I’ve been getting calls from all over the place,” he says. “This program has the potential to be a true model for any program in the area – not just pharmacy programs – if we can show some success.
“Our program is the only one I know of to go beyond the exposure phase to actual preparation,” Butler says. “Even if students who complete the program don’t pursue pharmacy, they will have college credit when they start college. This program prepares them for life after high school.”
The plan for the summer of 2010 is to expand the program to 45 students – 15 rising sophomores, 15 rising juniors and 15 rising seniors.
“Our goal is to really develop this high school program,” says Jim Gray, director of pharmacy at Barnes-Jewish and Player’s boss. “The individuals who were accepted into the program were outstanding. As our next step, we’d like to be able to take some number of them and bring them into paid positions at the hospital – some summer student positions.”
For Player and Butler, this is just the beginning.
“This has really been one of the most gratifying things I have ever done,” Butler says. “My story is a lot like many of the kids we have in the BESt program. I had mentors along the way that helped me succeed. I have a very personal interest in these students’ progress, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they end up after the program.”
From the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation's Giving Magazine 2009, Issue 1