UH Hilo to lead the nation with planned dual degree

September 17, 2009

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo is planning to be the first in the country to offer a dual degree with a Nurse Practitioner Specialty and Doctorate in Pharmacy (FNP/PharmD) thanks to a congressionally directed $951,000 grant from the Department of Education.

"Students studying at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s College of Pharmacy are able to take advantage of the best that Western science, Eastern traditions and Native Hawaiian heritage has to offer as they explore the healing arts," said U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, whose office approved the funding. "We must continue to expand the educational opportunities available to them so that new ways to heal our sick and prevent illness emerge."

The new program is created and jointly offered by UH Hilo’s College of Pharmacy and the Department of Nursing. It is expected to begin in fall 2010 and require a six-and-a-half-year commitment from the student, said Dr. Edward Fisher, associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Pharmacy.

With aid from the grant, the College of Pharmacy also plans to:

  • Create a general practice pharmacy residency program, as well as a drug information and medication therapy management center and distance learning program
  • Develop a clinical pharmacist training model for rural and under-served areas in Hawaiʻi. A secondary benefit will be the production of a pharmacist workforce database that will assist in identifying areas in the state where pharmacy and pharmacist needs are not being met
  • Enhance training of pharmacy students through the use of new technologies, such as virtual laboratories
  • Begin the planning phase for a doctoral program in physical therapy

"There is critical need for all health care services in rural areas of the Pacific region, including many areas of Hawaiʻi," said Dr. John M. Pezzuto, dean of the College of Pharmacy. "This grant will help us expand our reach and be used to help increase the availability of both pharmacists and nurse practitioners to these underserved areas. We are very appreciative of the U.S. Department of Education for their vision in helping us to get these innovative programs started."

The FNP/PharmD degree would broaden the scope of practice of pharmacists through education and training in the diagnosis and hands-on management of common acute and chronic medical conditions, Pezzuto said. Additionally, an FNP/PharmD dual degree would provide nurse practitioners additional detailed skills relating to medications and potential food and drug interactions.

Family nurse practitioners already provide services to patients of all ages in diverse practice settings and sub-specialties, said Dr. Kay Daub, chair of the Baccalaureate Nursing Program.

"Nurse Practitioners are working hard to reduce medication errors, which are a major concern in healthcare facilities," said Daub. "Our goal is to enhance the evidence-based practice of the nurse practitioner regarding drug therapy and prescriptive authority that will improve patient outcomes. The unique collaboration between Nursing and Pharmacy will provide innovative interdisciplinary research and practice to address the complex needs of a rural and richly multi-ethnic population."

The UH Hilo Nursing Program recently received a Health Resources and Services Administration grant for $383,000 to assist with the graduate studies in Doctor of Nursing Practice and the dual Nurse Practitioner/Pharm D degree program.

Employment opportunities could be in any clinical site, such as private physician or nurse practitioner practices, walk-in clinics, school/ college clinics, extended care facilities, veterans administration facilities, hospitals and hospital clinics, hospice centers, home health care agencies, emergency rooms, public health departments, urgent care sites, or long-term care facilities.

"The most applicable benefit will be essentially supplying two highly needed health care professionals for one individual in a rural setting," Pezzuto said.

"As a result of this work, we can significantly enhance the clinical pharmacy training and applied rural science programs conducted by UH Hilo."

See more news from 2009.