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."