Mastering the business of pharmacy

Alberta’s pharmacy industry doesn’t look anything like it did 50 years ago when pill dispensing at a small-town drug store was the name of the game, says James Kehrer, dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Alberta.

Today’s pharmacists are health-care professionals who serve a growing clinical role in the health system. Regulatory changes have paved the way for pharmacists to administer injections, and write and alter prescriptions, with even more change on the horizon.

To prepare pharmacy students for these industry realities, the University of Alberta has launched a new dual degree that combines a master of business with a bachelor of science in pharmacy—the first of its kind in Canada.

“We have heard the message that we need to do more to give students the skills on the business of pharmacy,” said Kehrer. “Having a better ability to navigate the complexities of pharmacy economics today is invaluable.”

The dual-degree program shaves a year of study for pharmacy students. Instead of completing a two-year MBA after pharmacy, students can enrol in the Alberta School of Business after their third year, focusing on business full-time for a year before returning for a fourth and final year in pharmacy.

The degree is not only the first of its kind in Canada, it’s on the leading edge in North America, said Kehrer. It’s ideally suited to future pharmacist-entrepreneurs who own and operate their own business, as well as those with management aspirations.

“With the new joint degree, the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences can continue to focus on training clinical professionals who take care of patients, while experts in business at the School of Business teach the business side,” he said.

Jody Shkrobot, president of the Canadian Pharmacists Association and a practising community-based pharmacist in St. Albert, said the U of A is showing leadership by setting students up for success as the industry responds to increasing demands and an evolving business model.

“You get a very good clinical training program within pharmacy programs in Canada—the U of A is leading on a lot of that,” said Shkrobot, a U of A alumnus. “The challenge is finding the balancing act on the operational side of things, which up until now you didn’t get in Canada.”

The faculty recently held an information session for students interested in learning about the program. One student who can’t wait to enrol is Ken Soong, president of the Alberta Pharmacy Students’ Association.

Soong, who is completing his second year of pharmacy studies, wants to work in a regulatory or management role once he graduates in 2014. To accomplish his goals he’ll need a well-rounded business skill set to manage a business, build relationships and inspire others, he said.

“People who come into pharmacy are always more clinically orientated, but now with this MBA program, we’re seeing people with more organizational strengths starting to rise up,” he said. “There’s quite a lot of interest in the program.”