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Pharmacy school opens with 78 students

Staff Photos: Jonathan Phillips. Oka Jargal, left, and Jehan Feroz walk around the Georgia campus of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine during orientation Thursday. PCOM begins its fall semester Monday, and the new School of Pharmacy is opening this year.

Staff Photos: Jonathan Phillips. Oka Jargal, left, and Jehan Feroz walk around the Georgia campus of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine during orientation Thursday. PCOM begins its fall semester Monday, and the new School of Pharmacy is opening this year.

SUWANEE -- Growing up in Vietnam, Anh Thao Vuong saw people in underserved and rural areas of the country die from common, treatable diseases.

That experience inspired her to pursue a career in the health field.

"I want to be able to do something about it," Vuong said. "I want to contribute to health care, especially the underserved."

Vuong is one of 78 students in the inaugural class of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine's new School of Pharmacy. The school is located at the college's Georgia campus in Suwanee.

The opening of the pharmacy school is a milestone in health care education in Georgia. Of the state's 159 counties, only three can boast of having both a medical school and a pharmacy school -- and one of those counties is Gwinnett, said John Fleischmann, the campus executive officer.

The other two counties, Chatham and Clarke, are home to branch campus medical schools of Mercer University and the Medical College of Georgia, respectfully.

"We hope all citizens of Gwinnett County share our pride in this major accomplishment," Fleischmann said. "We couldn't be more pleased we're able to offer a second professional program here in Gwinnett County."

Like the osteopathic medicine program, the pharmacy school's mission is to attract applicants from Georgia and the Southeast, said Michael Deimling, the associate dean for academics and assessment. In its first year, the School of Pharmacy drew students from all over the country. Vuong came to the school from California, while others -- like Brandon Jerome -- came from this region of the country.

"I think it's great," Jerome, a Florida native, said of attending a brand new school. "We get a chance to make a first impression on the community, especially the pharmacy community. We have a change to show what the school's going to bring to the community."

When the college's Georgia campus first opened in 2005, students also came from all over the country. Over the years, the number of students from Georgia and the Southeast grew, and this year, all of the students in the medical school are from the Southeast, Fleischmann said.

Because the Southeast needs physicians and pharmacists, it's important to attract, train and retain students from that region, Fleischmann said.

The pharmacy students are starting four years of study that will lead to a doctor of pharmacy degree. Deimling said the students will be trained as generalist pharmacists who can hold down a variety of roles. Over time, the school may add specific focuses to the program, he said.

One of the major focuses of the program will be teaching students a patient-centered approach to pharmacy. This is important because pharmacy in general is moving toward managed care, which is when the pharmacist has more say in the therapy a patient receives, Deimling said.

"(Teaching the students) how to convey medical information to people who don't understand medical information is pervasive throughout the program," Deimling said. "Knowing the medical information is the key -- understanding the drugs and how they work and the different nuances of the drugs."

Classes at the college begin Monday.

The Georgia campus of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine is a private, not-for-profit branch campus of a medical school established more than 100 years ago. The Georgia campus offers a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree, a doctor of pharmacy degree and a certificate and master's degree in biomedical science.