The Right Kind of Choosy

By: Abigail Shell

Think back to your senior year of high school for a moment.  Now let me ask you a question:  when choosing which colleges to apply to, how many of you dismissed certain choices and added others solely based on the connotation of the name?  By this, I mean how many of you dismissed Georgia Southern and applied to Harvard simply with the hope of being able to say, “I got accepted to Harvard,” whether or not you actually cared to go there?  In the interest of full confession, I must admit that I was a member of this group until I realized how unhappy I would be at some of these “prestigious” schools.  Basically, they did not offer what I was looking for in a university.
Choosing a pharmacy school is no different, for some rise above the rest in rankings, but all bring something unique to the field.  For that reason, consideration of the differences in the programs and not just in the names is vitally important.  That established, where do you even begin?  Like with any comparison, having a point of reference is extremely helpful, so an explanation of the differing successes of the top four pharmacy schools in the United States must frame our discussion to provide an outline for use when deciding which program is the best fit for you.

To begin, what makes a good pharmacy school?  Research published through the college-choice tool indicates that top pharmacists come from programs which prepare them to “take on the responsibility involved in becoming a professional pharmacist, thrive in a sector that combines scientific research and human interaction, and … continue to be lifelong learners[1].”  In other words, a praiseworthy pharmacy school places emphasis not only on didactic coursework but also on interpersonal skills and professional development.

Rankings from 2012 by the University Directory sponsored by U.S. News firmly name four programs as elite among the plethora of pharmacy schools:  the University of California, San Francisco; the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; the University of Minnesota; and the University of Texas, Austin[2].  Perusal of these four’s mission statements indicates that all exhibit a dedication to cutting-edge research, innovative teaching techniques, and excellent post-graduate programs, the governing definition of any successful pharmacy program.  As occurs within any elite group, however, each of these four differentiates itself in either the arrangement of these cornerstones or in the tools used to implement these necessities.
What brings the University of California, San Francisco, to the top of the list?  Besides their commitment to a “world-class education [in] … innovative pharmaceutical care,” UCSF prides itself on its “particular commitment to historically excluded populations who are currently underrepresented[3].”  By diversifying its community in this way, UCSF is utilizing a previously untapped resource, and the wealth of experience and fresh ideas these students are bringing to the campus has elevated UCSF to the most prestigious ranking among elite pharmacy programs.

A history of excellence in academic curriculum secures the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s title as the second most prestigious pharmacy school in the nation, but UNC’s individuality stems from its administrators’ dedication to evolving the program to both meet and anticipate “the emerging needs of the health-care system, the pharmaceutical industry, and society” in order to ensure their students’ success.  In addition, UNC’s pharmacy program is dedicated to research, particularly that in humanitarian and political fields, striving to formulate a strategy to relieve strain on Medicare and Medicaid and to spread pharmaceutical relief to developing countries[4].

The University of Minnesota earns its third-place ranking for its trailblazing role in the emergence of collaborative health care.  Access to websites such as WebMD combined with a growing public awareness of health issues and interest in their own care has begun to erode the notion that only doctors are authorized to make decisions about patient health care, and from this movement, the notion of collaborative health care has arisen[5].  Under this emerging idea, patients work in collaboration with their team of health providers to create informed plans about their medical futures; and to alleviate the burden on doctors, pharmacists will play an important role in this future.  According to Dr. Lowell Anderson, a pharmaceutical care professor at UM, “‘The pharmacist’s knowledge of how to work with patient prescriptions in a clinical setting should be utilized in the health care team to improve outcomes and reduce costs for everyone[6].’”  Such visionary faculty set the University of Minnesota’s program up for a bright future in the pharmaceutical realm.

Coming in at number four, the University of Texas, Austin, achieves excellence by thinking outside the classroom.  In its mission statement, four of the ten goals outlined by UT, Austin, directly address public health, other healthcare communities, and healthcare needs both within and outside of the state[7].   Such emphasis indicates that UT, Austin’s pharmacy program realizes that its students will not forever be confined to academia but will soon be the leaders in the field championing reform and improving healthcare for people in the state of Texas, across the nation, and even around the world.  For this forward-thinking, it secures an identification with the other top-five pharmacy schools in the country.

Clearly, these four schools are making a difference in their communities and producing some very qualified pharmacists, but they are not the perfect fit for everyone.  The most beneficial thing they offer, however, is a set of characteristics to consider when evaluating prospective pharmacy schools that fit you well:  a diversified student body, academic excellence, dedication to constant improvement, adaptability to changes within the field, and preparation for life outside the university.  Regardless of where you decide to go, your success ultimately will stem from your dedication and imputed effort, so I leave you with these words of wisdom from author Jaren Davis:  “Make the decision, make it with confidence, and the world will be yours.”  Ultimately, the place you feel will be most worth the investment of four years of your life will be the only place you will truly be happy and able to devote yourself to learning about the profession you love.