By: Michelle Lavrichenko, PharmD Candidate c/o 2020
What does it mean to be a pharmacist? A pharmacist is a qualified health care professional who reviews, prepares, and dispenses medications; but what is the definition of the term qualified as it pertains to pharmacy practice? In order to obtain a license to practice pharmacy, one must pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE), and, if they plan to practice in the state of New York, an extemporaneous compounding examination. Most importantly, one must earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree from an accredited pharmacy program in order to practice.1 What a concept – accreditation. What is accreditation and what purpose does it serve? In brief, accreditation confirms to the public and to employers that the didactic curriculum and professional training one receives at a certain institution is being held to the highest of standards. The students that graduate from such institutions are undeniably qualified to hold the responsibilities their careers entail. Pharmacy programs across the United States are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), which periodically evaluates whether pharmacy schools meet the standards set forth.2 In a sense, accreditation is to the university what licensure is to the student. This begs the question – what effect does accreditation have on the student of a university?
In 2016, the ACPE updated the standards and requirements necessary for pharmacy schools to receive and renew accreditation. This change was seen vividly within St. John’s University’s six-year accelerated PharmD program. First and second year students who entered the PharmD program before the Fall 2015 semester were required to maintain an overall grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 at the end of their first semester and an overall math, science, and professional GPA of 2.3 for the duration of their studies. First and second year students who entered the program in or after the Fall 2015 semester are held to a significantly higher standard, requiring them to maintain a math, science, and professional GPA of 3.0 in order to be eligible to interview for progression into the first professional year of the program. However, the changes don’t end there. Students who entered their first professional year in or after Fall 2015 but before Fall 2018 may receive no more than three letter grades below a C- throughout the four professional years of the program and must maintain an overall GPA of 2.0. Students who entered their first professional year in or after the Fall 2018 semester are again held to a significantly higher standard in which they may receive no more than three letter grades below a C throughout the four professional years of the program. Furthermore, if a grade lower than a C is received, it is considered an inadequate grade and is treated as if the student failed the course, except for overall GPA calculation, in which the C letter grade is averaged into their cumulative GPA. The student is then required to retake the course and is not eligible to enroll in any course for which the “failed” course was a prerequisite. In addition, the student must also maintain an overall GPA of 2.0.3 Currently, any student who was admitted in or after the Fall 2018 semester and receives more than three grades below a C letter grade during the four professional years of training is subject to dismissal from the PharmD program after review by the College of Pharmacy’s administration.
It truly is amazing how in just a few years, the standard of what is “acceptable” or “qualified” with respect to pharmacy education can change so drastically. As time goes on, more and more will be expected of student pharmacists at St. John’s University and throughout the United States. A variety of opinions have been expressed by students, faculty, and administrators regarding the fairness of the changes that have been made and will likely continue being expressed in the years to come. It can be argued that the changes are necessary to ensure that the individuals who hold the title of “pharmacist” after six years of education are deserving, competent, and capable of making decisions which directly affect a person’s life and livelihood. Stringent standards are needed to assure society and patients of the future of health care and that pharmacists are committed to mastering their craft and using their knowledge in the real world, instead of relying on the computer to prompt them if they’re about to injure someone. On the other hand, the major con to the process of implementing updates to the ACPE standards is that it results in students not being evaluated equally solely based on the year they started their education. In the current structure of implementation, just being one year younger results in a student being compelled to abide by much stricter standards. Perhaps if the amendments made to the ACPE standards applied to all students, regardless of the year they were put in place, there would be less underlying exasperation.
- Office of the Professions. Licensure requirements. New York State Education Department. http://www.op.nysed.gov/prof/pharm/pharmlic.htm Updated 01/17/2019. Accessed 03/04/2019.
- Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. PharmD program accreditation. Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. https://www.acpe-accredit.org/pharmd-program-accreditation/ Accessed 03/01/2019.
- St. John’s University. Doctor of pharmacy specific policies, procedures, and documentation. St. John’s University. https://www.stjohns.edu/academics/schools/college-pharmacy-and-health-sciences/student-resources/student-handbook Accessed 03/08/19.