Pharmacy Giants Try to Spark Interest in the Field

Two leaders in the pharmaceutical industry hope a new website will get students interested.

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Two industry giants in the pharmaceutical business have teamed up to spark student interest in the field with a new initiative, Pharmacy is Right for Me.

The initiative, launched as a partnership between OptumRx (a pharmacy benefits management offshoot of United Health Group) and the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), consists mainly of an extensive website that includes a resource center for middle and high school students interested in becoming pharmacists.

The website features quizzes, homework help, and internship opportunities for high school students, and also has basic explanations of different careers in pharmacy.

Thomas Menighan, CEO of APhA, says the effort "fills a gap" in pharmacy outreach.

"People usually become interested in pharmacy only when they're in college, when it can be difficult to make up and log extra time in classes for pharmacy school," he said at a press conference announcing the initiative yesterday.

Richard Wong, executive director of the American School Counselor Association, praised the program, saying that it promotes science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills that many students lack. He says the website helps students "develop what they need to do to prepare to enter pharmacy."

"We know students have the interest and the ability to enter into [STEM] fields," he says. "But they often don't consider these types of careers because they don't understand what those fields are all about."

Companies in other STEM fields have launched or supported workforce development programs, including Chevron, Dow Chemical, and computer-chip manufacturer AMD.

[Learn more about STEM education and resources.]

John Jones, senior vice president of OptumRx, says that in 2012, the initiative will become more interactive. The groups plan to launch an innovation challenge for middle and high school students. Participants will be tasked with solving problems in the industry such as patients not following medication directions and inadequate health literacy. The initiative will solicit student plans to solve those problems and judge them, though the specific format and prizes haven't yet been established.

Currently, the website is focused on engaging Spanish-speaking students and students living in rural areas—demographics that are suffering from a pharmacist shortage. Jones says the website will soon have a Spanish-speaking component that will be targeted at Hispanic students' parents.

"The student may speak perfect English, but to go into this field they need the support of their families," he said at the press conference. "You have to inspire the families behind the students."

For now, Jones and APhA's Menighan hope students will spend time on the website learning more about the industry from people who are already successful. The website features first-person accounts from professional pharmacists about why they went into the field.

"We want to keep the site very fresh and have more and more of these videos of people who work in different areas of pharmacy," Jones said at the conference. "When I look at it, if I was 12 to 15 years old, I'd spend a lot of time on this website and it'd be fun to do."

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