Presbyterian College School of Pharmacy Prepares Upstate Students for Careers in Booming Healthcare Field

If you're college bound, and thinking about a career path in these economically uncertain times, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better choice than pharmacy according to U.S. News & World Report's 2012 list of the 25 best jobs in America. They ranked pharmacists third, just below software developers, citing median salaries north of $100,000 per year and excellent job growth expected in the years to come.

Students in the Upstate looking to one day don the pharmacist's white lab coat don't have to look too far from home to achieve that goal. Presbyterian College (PC) in Clinton is home to the region's only school of pharmacy.

The college opened its pharmacy school's doors in 2010 after repeatedly being approached by pharmacists and educators in the region about starting a program in the Upstate. Early on, Presbyterian wasn't interested. "At first they said 'no, it doesn't fit with the mission of PC," said the pharmacy school's dean, Dr. Richard Stull. Eventually, after agreeing to do a two-year feasibility study, the college came around.

Once the decision was made to move forward, Presbyterian decided that, rather than building their new pharmacy school in one of the Upstate's larger cities like Greenville or Spartanburg, they would invest in the community they've called home for more 130 years. Located less than a mile away from the Presbyterian College main campus, the School of Pharmacy is housed in the former Mary Musgrove Hotel in downtown Clinton.

The school recently accepted its third class of 80 students into its four-year professional program. Counting this fall semester's incoming class, approximately 230 students will be attending the school, a number which should swell to around 320 students when the school prepares to graduate its first class in 2014.

All Presbyterian College School of Pharmacy (PCSP) students are required to have either a bachelor's degree or equivalent prerequisite requirements. So far, those students have come from all over the Southeast to get their Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D) degrees. "Probably around half of our students come from South Carolina, and the rest - up to about 85 percent - of them come from the Southeast corridor," relays Dr. Stull. The goal, according to him, is to have those students become licensed pharmacists serving in South Carolina, bringing a growing professional class to the Upstate.

Traditional pharmacy jobs, though, are only part of the equation. PCSP also hopes to turn some ofits graduates into entrepreneurs, and though that's not something that immediately leaps to most people's minds when thinking about pharmacy, for Dr. Stull, it was a no-brainer. "Our idea was, think a little bit differently," he recalls. Pharmacy students who complete at least 10 of the school's entrepreneurial workshops in addition to submitting a full business plan will receive a Certificate of Entrepreneurial Skills along with their Pharm.D degree. 

The basic idea, according to Dr. Stull, is to get PCSP's students to think beyond the standard pharmacy career, to get past the Walgreens and into business for themselves. Among the topics covered in the workshops are strategic planning, marketing fundamentals, social media, managing cash flow, and business ethics.

In addition to the workshops, the Center for Entrepreneurial Development program also provides experienced business leaders as mentors for the students, assist in teaching the workshop lessons and immersing them in what Dr. Stull calls "the language" of successful entrepreneurism. The program has been so well-received in the school's first two years of operation that it's being moved to its own building nearby in order to add business incubator space.

That business entrepreneurship goes hand-in-hand with a "social sense" of entrepreneurism as well according to Dr. Stull. In keeping with Presbyterian College's motto, "While we live, we serve," the pharmacy school has partnered with the South Carolina Free Clinics Association to provide free medication for clinics across the state. PCSP also encourages its students to ask questions about how to better provide healthcare to underserved populations. "We're going to use our faculty, our students, and our resources to provide better pharmacy care," Dr. Stull reports.

Regardless of a student's eventual career path, the faculty at the Presbyterian College School of Pharmacy has set a goal of "developing the entire student," from the basics of pharmacy to the importance of service. Whether those graduates in the college's first class of 2014 choose a traditional career or decide to push the boundaries of their degree by striking out on their own, the groundwork laid at this former historic hotel in Clinton will last those former students a lifetime.

Christopher George is a freelance writer and multimedia professional living in Spartanburg.