UH Hilo College of Pharmacy aids Hawaiian healthcare, students gain on-the-job training

January 30, 2009

If residents in the greater Hilo area look closely behind the counters at their local pharmacy, they may see people behind the counter wearing white lab coats with the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo logo. These are students from the University’s College of Pharmacy who are receiving retail experience while they earn their doctorate in pharmacy degrees.

Other students are working in local health care facilities, such as Hilo Medical Center, Hale Anuenue Restorative Care Center and in the Veterans Administration long-term care home. Pharmacy Dean John Pezzuto said the College will place additional pharmacists and faculty supervisors, or preceptors, at various sites throughout the State, which will enhance healthcare while easing the increasingly prevalent economic burden of healthcare.

"We are delighted to help the State while educating our students at the same time," Pezzuto said. “We also are extremely pleased about the great partnerships we have established throughout the State."

The program is part of the experiential program that newly named UH Hilo College of Pharmacy Chair of Pharmacy Practice Dr. Carolyn Ma helped develop when the College enrolled its first students in 2007.

"Our curriculum is very different from any other College of Pharmacy in the past," said Ma, who has been serving as Clinical Education Coordinator for the College since it began. "Previously, students didn’t get a chance to develop foundational clinical skills until their fourth year. We moved it up so they’re better prepared by the time they graduate and to help us meet accreditation standards."

Pharmacy students at UH Hilo jumpstart their careers during their first year by getting retail and hospital experience, observing pharmacists and patients, learning about medicine and gaining some patient contact skills from the registered pharmacists.

"Support from the retail side in Hilo has been tremendous," said Ma. "The pharmacies are small and extremely busy, but the pharmacists have been very interested and helpful in teaching these future colleagues."

Second-year students begin building skills through primary care providers and community healthcare in Hilo, Keaʻau and Pāhoa at Bay Clinic, Kaiser, Hui Malama and Kauka Express as well as at Kaʻū Hospital in Pāhala. At this stage, students become more comfortable with patients, and can take blood pressure as well as give immunizations.

By the time students are in their second of four years getting their doctorate in pharmacy, they also become more involved with patients, especially in facilities that offer long-term care, said

Dr. Doug Adriance-Mejía, assistant professor in pharmacy practice. Adriance-Mejía is one of the faculty preceptors who work with local healthcare providers to place students. He is employed by the University and works as a clinical pharmacist at Hilo Medical Center.

"We hope to expand the role of the pharmacist and bring about change in the way pharmacy is practiced not only on the island but in the State," said Adriance-Mejía, who supervises students working in Hilo Medical Center this semester. "Most of the doctors and nurses I’ve talked to are excited at how much healthcare will be improved by increased pharmacist interaction."

The nursing staff at Hilo Medical Center has been able to accommodate pharmacy students, even during their busiest times, Adriance-Mejía said. Students get a chance to rotate through the different floors and interact with nurses, nursing students, doctors and patients.

First-year student Angelina Lovell is working at Hilo Medical Center in her second semester, after working at the pharmacy in KTA Super Stores last fall. She will be shadowing medical staff from different departments each week.

"Although I truly enjoyed my retail experience, I feel most at home in a hospital setting," said Lovell, who is from Northern California and returned to school after 12 years working at Kaiser Permanente. "The experience that I will receive at HMC can only enhance my understanding of the medical field as a whole."

For the majority of the students, HMC is their first exposure to hospital pharmacy, said Dr. Nelson Nako, director of pharmacy at Hilo Medical Center.

"It is a new experience for them seeing how intravenous medications are handled, observing medication distribution within a hospital and observing the clinical activities pharmacist perform," Nako said.

Pezzuto said the relationship between the College of Pharmacy and the retail and hospital pharmacies is a good example of how the College is doing something about the healthcare crisis as well as filling a need in future job markets.

"The bonus for students spending time at these sites is that the pharmacist-in-charge not only trains the students but has the chance to evaluate their future potential as employees," Pezzuto said. "We are looking forward to expanding this training as our students enter their third and fourth year. We want to prepare our inaugural class of 2011 to be ready to hit the ground running, ready to take part in improving healthcare in Hawaiʻi and throughout the Pacific."

See more news from 2009.