Think being a pharmacist is “just counting pills”? Think again, because today’s pharmacist is an advisor and a caregiver who helps patients learn about the medicine they are taking.

In addition, students in Husson University’s School of Pharmacy know that they are entrusted with a sacred oath: To be a steward of the community while also keeping people healthy.

The Husson School of Pharmacy, set to welcome its fourth class in the fall, is considered a professional-level school. While Husson’s program is currently in candidate stage, in one more year the school will qualify for full accreditation when the first pharmacy class graduates.

The school is not easy to get into. According to Kristen Card, the director of graduate admissions, Husson’s pharmacy school is highly competitive. It is one of only two pharmacy schools in Maine. “We generally get interest from over 400 qualified candidates for 65 seats per class,” Card said. “We’re one of the smallest schools of pharmacy in the country, but [Husson] boasts one of the lowest private tuition costs.”

Applicants come from across the country, Card said, and each participates in an on-site interview with faculty and current students. Applicants need a minimum of two years worth of pre-pharmacy collegiate preparation before they can be admitted into our four-year professional program, with many having completed additional coursework prior to being accepted.

“Husson has the closeness of a college and the breadth of a university,” Card said. Students benefit from a faculty that is both experienced and still invested in teaching and research. “We provide students with many of the resources you’d find at a large university, but in an environment where a student gets to know the faculty and staff,” Card said.

A benefit to the small class size, she said, is that students get the opportunity to work and learn alongside quality faculty members, such as Aaron Domina, Ph.D. and Archana Jhawar, Pharm.D. Both are highly educated in their fields and chose to work for Husson’s School of Pharmacy. Each believes that the small class sizes are beneficial to students.

“You can do a lot more with a small class than a large one,” Dr. Domina said. For instance, he teaches a class about HIV-AIDS. “You’re able to get in-depth about biology discussions about treatments as well as social implications. That’s a really intriguing part of pharmacy, as well as the relationship to how patients are treated,” he said.

Teaching students how to handle those relationships as well as medical relationships means that pharmacy schools like Husson’s need to have high standards.

“Pharmacy schools are the gatekeepers to one of the most trusted of the professions,” Domina said. “That’s why we need to have high standards.”

Standards are also included when it comes to research. First and second year pharmacy students — P1s and P2s — don’t usually get to participate in staff research, he said. However, once students become P3s and P4s, they’re not only working in the field under the guidance of pharmacy professionals, but they’re helping faculty members.

“For those students who have a research interest, a few can participate in meaningful research and get another perspective in the field,” Domina said. “That additional level of interaction is one thing that a small pharmacy school [can provide]. We also get to know our students pretty well.”

Dr. Jhawar echoes that belief. While she works with P3s, she also supervises clinical experiences at the Acadia Hospital in the field of psychopharmacology. Husson caught her attention when she interviewed there, and it felt like a discussion, not an interview.

“The students here are wonderful and very bright and very inquisitive,” Jhawar said. “I’m not lecturing to the masses. Instead I know the first name, last name, as well as the names of spouses and children of the students here. It makes this job a joy.”

Husson pharmacy professors, she said, have an open-door policy. This benefits students and professors alike.

“We have a very close relationship with the students,” she said. “I like that and the easy access they have to stop in, or I can easily call them in here too.”

Pharmacy student perspectives

For student pharmacist Shawn Rich (’14), choosing Husson was a no brainer. Rich, a graduate of Hampden Academy and Husson University, also served in the Army Reserve. He chose to attain a degree in pharmacy from Husson to build on his love of working with people.

“Community pharmacists are the front line of where healthcare is,” Rich said. “It can be trying, but we’re advisors and provide comfort. I like the sense of community and family.”

Carmel resident Lindsay Ulman, also a P2, echoes that feeling. Ulman had experience working with healthcare because her mother has diabetes. But she also enjoyed the customer relationship she developed as a bank teller.

“I wanted the personal touch,” Ulman said. Her cousin, a local pharmacist, encouraged her to look to the medical field for a rewarding career.

“I really enjoyed my time here as a business major,” Ulman said. “I like the small school feel. It’s a small school; I come from a small town, so it’s a good fit.”

Students experience many facets of the pharmacy profession. “A lot of our lectures teach technical terms,” Ulman said. “Then we go to practice labs and learn how to talk to patients about those same terms. You really have to know who you’re speaking with: technical with doctors and user-friendly when talking with patients.”

Etna resident Kelsie Anderson, a P1 student, became interested in the medical field when she was in high school. Having had first-hand experience translating medical terminology into everyday English for friends and family with health issues, she knew she wanted to work in a profession that would allow her to make a difference.

In addition, Anderson knew some P3s and their experiences with Husson.

“Before I got [into the pharmacy program], I thought classes were easy and you didn’t have to study much. Now, that’s not an option. There’s more group work, but it also helps to have [other] students available to collaborate with. I’m learning a lot more,” she said.

Some collaboration comes from the university asking for input from its students.

“Because this program is new, we have the opportunity to shape the school,” Ulman said. “We recently made recommendations for course changes, and they made the changes quickly.”

Students are also encouraged to give back to the community through various research opportunities and outreach events hosted by the School of Pharmacy.

“Part of being a pharmacist is being expected to give back,” Rich said. “On a student level, community outreach helps us practice our craft and give back at the same time. It also helps us find our niche.”

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