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Marshall launches pharmacy school

Lawrence Pierce
Dr. Kevin Yingling, dean of Marshall's pharmacy school, shows Rep. Nick Rahall and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin the interior of the new pharmacy center at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday.
Lawrence Pierce Students in Marshall's first pharmacy class were among those at Tuesday's ceremony.
Lawrence Pierce Marshall has spent $9 million to renovate part of the VA Medical Center in Huntington to house the new program.
Lawrence Pierce Yingling tells a packed audience of politicians, community leaders and students that the new pharmacy school will become a major focus of research and innovation in the Huntington area.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall University officially launched the opening of what is now the third pharmacy school in West Virginia on Tuesday, promising the program would lead to "explosive" job growth and health-care opportunities in the Huntington area.

"Today's a remarkable day," said Stephen Kopp, president of Marshall University. "Rarely does this university commit to opening a brand-new school of the magnitude of the school of pharmacy."

Marshall's Board of Governors approved plans for the Huntington-based public university to open a new pharmacy school in December 2009. Since then, Marshall spent more than $9 million to renovate the pharmacy campus housed at the VA Medical Center in Huntington.

"Time will tell, but I think this is a difference-maker for Marshall University and for our community, our region and our state," said Kopp. "This is a school that will become nationally renowned."

Marshall's new pharmacy school, which will officially kick off classes for the 80 students in the inaugural class on Monday, joins those at West Virginia University and the University of Charleston as the third in the state.

Politicians at the event said the pharmacy school would fill a severe shortage of qualified pharmacists to serve in the state's southern region. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said that by 2020, the nation would need an additional 70,000 pharmacists.

Officials at WVU, UC and elsewhere, however, questioned whether the state needs a third pharmacy school.

Fruth Pharmacy, which is based in Point Pleasant and has 16 stores in West Virginia, is currently fully staffed, said Lynne Fruth, the chain's president and chairwoman.

"It's starting to get better in terms of staffing, but over the last 10 years, there had been a severe shortage of pharmacists and qualified applicants," said Fruth. "Now that the University of Charleston and schools in Ohio and Kentucky have opened up programs, there aren't as many shortages in this area."

Last year, Michelle Easton, dean of the UC pharmacy school, questioned the need for another pharmacy school in a state the size of West Virginia.

"We have a population of 1.8 million in the state, and the number of pharmacy jobs is decreasing," Easton said. "More student pharmacists on the market is always of concern."

Easton said about 64 percent of pharmacy graduates from the University of Charleston practice in West Virginia but that more students have left the state in the past three to four years because fewer statewide pharmacy chains have vacancies.

In 2010, 61 percent of West Virginia University's 82 pharmacy students stayed in West Virginia, said Amy John, director of public affairs for WVU Healthcare and Health Sciences. In 2011, WVU had 85 pharmacy graduates, 51 percent of whom remained in the state.

On Tuesday, Kopp brushed off concerns that Marshall was duplicating efforts by WVU and UC, saying, "You always want to have more pharmacists than you need."

"You want the most competent people in the state and you need competition to fuel that," said Kopp. "We want the best pharmacists. And now was the time and place for this program."

The throng of state and national politicians ventured through the rain to attend Marshall's ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday, praising the new program as a way to drive economic growth in the Huntington region, fill a shortage of pharmacists and clamp down on a growing prescription drug abuse problem wracking the state.

"It is truly a game-changer for Marshall University and the future of this area," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. "From a federal perspective, this school makes sense, not only to forget a needed link in our supply chain of pharmacists to keep the nation healthy, but as an economic engine ... to drive jobs in our local economy."

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the new school of pharmacy would create 500 direct and indirect jobs and have an economic impact of $150 million on the region.

"This school will help end the war on drugs," Tomblin said at the event. "Today's pharmacists are on the front lines of the war on prescription drug abuse. The Marshall University School of Pharmacy will provide tomorrow's pharmacists with the skills necessary to win that war and provide compassionate care."

Dr. Kevin Yingling, dean of Marshall's pharmacy school, said educating students about combating prescription drug abuse behind the counter is a major part of Marshall's pharmacy curriculum.

"Pharmacists play a big role in tackling the abuse and misuse of prescription drugs," said Yingling. "That is absolutely a big component of our curriculum."

Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.harris@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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