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Susanna Wu-PongSusanna Wu-Pong, Ph.D. is the director of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy’s Pharmaceutical Sciences Graduate Program.  She is the co-founder and Immediate Past Chair of the AACP Graduate Education SIG.

Most of us would agree that graduate education in pharmaceutical sciences has, for the most part, met the needs of both graduates and employers for a very long time. The old system worked well. However, the changes and challenges in our current economy are changing our industry in ways that most of us in academia, and many in the industry, do not yet understand.

Therefore, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) Graduate Education Special Interest Group (SIG) Planning Committee assembled a working group of members and employers to examine the trends in the industry to determine whether our graduates will be prepared to succeed in the likely future.  The graduate education literature and reports on the future of the pharmaceutical industry were considered.

The sources that were reviewed exhibited a surprisingly high level of consensus about what kind of skills our graduates will need to be optimally positioned for success. Of particular note is the report from the NIH  Biomedical Workforce Working Group, which has led to the eventual creation of the NIH Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) grant programs. BEST has been created to help educational institutions create career development opportunities for biomedical scientists. The rationale behind the creation of the BEST grant was “… the proportion of Ph.D.s that move into tenure-track or tenured faculty positions represents a minority of the trainee outcomes. An increasing proportion of trainees conduct research in non-academic venues such as government or private sector, or are in research-related areas.” We concluded that pharmaceutical sciences graduate programs have an opportunity to strategically position our programs to better meet the future needs of our graduates and employers.

Yes, “strategically position” is a euphemism for change; change involves risk. We could conceivably embark on changes that do not produce the results we neither anticipated nor desired. Or we can do nothing, which also could result in outcomes that are far from ideal. Or we can do just enough to make us feel like we’re doing something, but still avoid meaningful change. Regardless of whether we choose change, change will happen.  Do we want to be proactive or reactive?  Would we rather risk making a mistake leading or be sure to be left behind by even refusing to follow?

Our odds for success go up considerably if we model the skills that we have proposed to teach to our students including creativity, innovation, teamwork, interdisciplinary thinking, and possibly even entrepreneurial thinking.  We recommend that AACP take the lead in creating the change in graduate education that will produce graduates who are likely to become the innovative leaders and change agents of our discipline.

What changes to pharmaceutical science education do you think are critical to the success of students?