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Desire to contribute to community led pharmacy school grads to join ‘pioneer class’ at Husson

Posted May 11, 2013, at 5:52 p.m.
Last modified May 12, 2013, at 8:56 p.m.
Husson University held its 114th Commencement off-campus, a first in the school's history, on Saturday at the Bangor Auditorium in Bangor. Husson also marked the day by graduating the first class of students from its School of Pharmacy, the first such of any university or college in the state of Maine.
Husson University held its 114th Commencement off-campus, a first in the school's history, on Saturday at the Bangor Auditorium in Bangor. Husson also marked the day by graduating the first class of students from its School of Pharmacy, the first such of any university or college in the state of Maine. Buy Photo
Husson University School of Pharmacy graduate Raphael Dikas of Fort Lauderdale Florida works behind the counter of the Bangor Target pharmacy on Friday, April 26, 2013.
Husson University School of Pharmacy graduate Raphael Dikas of Fort Lauderdale Florida works behind the counter of the Bangor Target pharmacy on Friday, April 26, 2013. Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — Kari London and Raphael Dikas were looking for careers that allowed them to contribute to their communities every day. Their graduations Saturday from Husson University’s School of Pharmacy will allow them to do just that, both said recently.

London, 31, of Bangor, and Dikas, 28, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., were two of the 47 students that made up the first graduating class of Husson’s pharmacy school. About 600 students received degrees from the university Saturday afternoon in a commencement ceremony at Bangor Auditorium.

The University of New England’s School of Pharmacy in Portland will award its first degrees to 90 students on Saturday, May 18. Both schools began accepting students in the fall of 2009, when the programs were launched.

“Being a pharmacist is a great way to make an impact in patients’ lives,” Dikas said in an interview on campus last month. “I understand that this is a job with great job security, that you can take anywhere. I was always told by my dad to look for a job that was recession-proof and being a pharmacist is that.”

Dikas, who had never seen snow before moving to Maine to attend pharmacy school, was able to adjust to the cold but not to it getting dark at 4:30 p.m. during the winter, he said. His externships included working at the pharmacy at Target in Bangor.

A Bangor native, London earned an undergraduate degree in 2004 in landscape horticulture from the University of Maine. It was a job that she enjoyed.

“But I wanted something more challenging that would allow me to contribute to the community,” the wife and mother of a 4½ -year-old daughter said in an interview on campus.

London returned to UMaine to earn additional science credits before joining the “pioneering” class of Husson’s School of Pharmacy.

“It’s been a lot of fun, a bit of a challenge and, at times, irksome,” she said of being a member of the school’s first class. “It’s a small school but we’re like a big family and so you get all the dynamics of a family. There’s been a clashing of heads sometimes, but there have also been a lot of positive moments.”

Rodney Larson, founding dean of the pharmacy school, agreed that getting the program up and running “has been a challenge, but a pleasant one.” He was hired in 2007 to recruit faculty, create a curriculum and work with pharmacies in Greater Bangor and beyond to create “externships” for students.

“This is definitely a partnership with the volunteer pharmacists in the state, many of which are in the Bangor area,” Larson said Thursday. “They helped tremendously in training our students and some have and will hire our graduates. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

More than 90 percent of Husson’s graduates, including London and Dikas, already have jobs, according to figures provided by Larson. He said that 39 of the 42 students who responded to a survey reported they had secured employment. Twenty-nine graduates said they would be working in Maine, the dean said.

Dikas will be working in a CVS pharmacy in West Palm Beach, Fla. London will be working for Penobscot Community Health Care as part of team that assesses the management of medications for patients. Both will be studying for their licensure tests.

“This year’s graduation of Maine’s first Doctor of Pharmacy class reflects Husson University’s strong commitment to preparing professionals for their careers,” Husson president Dr. Robert Clark said Thursday. “The graduates meet a critical health care need in our state and nation.”

UNE President Danielle Ripich said in a statement issued Tuesday that she is “so proud of our pioneering first class of students. UNE is committed to its role in providing outstanding health care practitioners for Maine.”

The Maine Department of Labor estimates that an average of 53 job openings for pharmacists will occur annually between 2010 and 2020.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted in 2010 that employment of pharmacists would increase by 25 percent over the next decade, faster than the average for all occupations. According to information on the bureau’s website, the reasons for the increase include the increased longevity of the elderly, the introduction of new medications by the pharmaceutical industry and the expected retirement of pharmacists. The bureau listed 1,330 pharmacists employed in Maine as of 2012. The average salary of a Maine pharmacist — $128,030 — was the second highest in the nation, according to the labor statistics bureau.

About 30 percent of UNE’s pharmacy school graduates are from Maine, with 50 percent hailing from other New England states, according to figures provided by the university. So, far about 90 percent of those expected to graduate later this month have found employment.

About 75 percent of Husson’s “pioneer class” were from Maine, Larson said. The current average is about 55 percent. The Class of 2014 is expected to number 48, with 65 on track to graduate the following year, according to the dean.

“It’s possible that we might increase the number of students in the program but we want to try keep that number low,” he said. “We have small class sizes compared to other pharmacy schools. It’s going to take a few years to get a good feel for that number. We’ll be evaluating our true capacity, including the availability of externships, over the next three or so years.”

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