April 17, 2020

Purdue Pharmacy students graduate today (April 17) with extra nudge toward starting careers

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Today (April 17) is graduation day for a class of 142 students in Purdue University’s College of Pharmacy.

It’s an early graduation – by about a month – and began with additional help from the Indiana Governor’s Office in order to help pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Approved last week, the early graduation date makes Purdue one of the first in the nation to certify almost its entire class of eligible students.

Purdue trustees voted on April 9 to allow the early graduation with the intent of helping cover any potential shortage of pharmacists during the COVID-19 pandemic. The students will have a virtual graduation banquet/ceremony on May 1.

Pharmacy Dean Eric Barker said the early graduates can temporarily work under a full license to practice in the state following an executive order issued by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb. The students initially were expected to work only as graduate pharmacists.

Barker said graduates who apply for a license receive a temporary 90-day full license to practice.

“They still have to take the licensure exam, but this gives them some additional flexibility if the testing centers are backlogged and their ability to help is needed now,” he said.

Barker formally requested and received the ability to grant the certification of the school’s fourth-year students. All of the students meet the requirements of the program and the college’s accreditation.

There are concerns that pharmacy workforce issues could develop in the coming months, depending on how COVID-19 spreads.

 “I’ve already received inquiries from a health system about making our graduates available in case they face likely workforce issues as the pandemic intensifies here in Indiana,” Barker said. “Having additional trained and licensed clinical pharmacists could become increasingly important.”

As a top pharmacy program, Purdue is one of few places in the nation that can certify its entire class of pharmacy graduates. This is due to the college’s experiential education office, which worked to create a front-loaded experiential education program that offers students flexibility in getting the necessary experience.

“Health care systems and community pharmacies have shifted to remote work where possible and divided their pharmacy staffs into teams to reduce the likelihood of an outbreak infecting an entire staff,” he said. “Such efforts have placed a strain on the existing workforce.

“Our graduates will be ready to enter the workforce a few weeks sooner and could provide needed backup if the pandemic begins to impact pharmacy workers more broadly.”

Darren Covington, executive vice president of the Indiana Pharmacists Association, said the organization has received reports of pharmacies temporarily closing because the pharmacists were possibly exposed or infected. Other pharmacies have reported worker shortages.

“By allowing the 2020 graduating pharmacy class to work now, this will help ensure continuity of patient care, especially for our smaller pharmacies, which are more vulnerable because they may only have a few pharmacists at most,” Covington said.

There are as many as 6,000 pharmacists in Indiana, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There is a secondary benefit to certification of the college’s senior class a month early. Testing centers for licensure are scheduled to reopen on May 1 after being closed for six weeks. Testing will resume at a reduced capacity during the virus crisis, and that could lead to a backlog of exams scheduling for the summer months. 

By moving graduating students forward, the College of Pharmacy is giving graduates the ability to schedule their exam date now.

The College of Pharmacy action was approved by Purdue Provost Jay Akridge and endorsed by the Accreditation Council on Pharmacy Education, the National Board of Pharmacy and the Indiana Board of Pharmacy.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked the No. 6 Most Innovative University in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at purdue.edu.

Writer: Brian Huchel, bhuchel@dancomnews.com. Working remotely but will provide immediate response.

Source: Eric Barker, barkerel@purdue.edu. In addition to phone interviews, the dean is available for online video interviews.

Note to Journalists: Photos of College of Pharmacy students in November aere available on Google Drive.

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