PharmD/MBA program gives pharmacy students competitive edge

An initiative at Belmont University is giving pharmacy students an edge against competition in an ever-changing health care industry.

Starting in fall 2015, Belmont is offering a dual PharmD/MBA, the only such degree in Middle Tennessee. Pharmacy students can finish both a Doctorate of Pharmacy and a Master of Business Association degree in four years, while most similar programs require a minimum of five years to complete, according to Belmont’s website.

The idea for the dual degree came about because the healthcare industry is gradually becoming more business centered said Dr. Phil Johnston, the dean of the pharmacy school.

“We’re finding that pharmacists, soon after school, are placed into management positions and management decision situations that, in some situations, they weren’t well-prepared for,” said Johnston. “We talk a lot about science, and we talk a lot about patient care, and we talk about a lot of things, but we’re finding that more and more our pharmacists are being asked to also help run the business of health care.”

Besides the College of Pharmacy’s connections to the hospitals and pharmacies in Nashville, there are many student volunteers working in the Nashville health care industry. The collective feedback from these groups about the changes in health care made the college seriously consider and ultimately initiate the PharmD/MBA program.

“They see pharmacy emerging more into the business side of things in the future,” he said. “They were telling us, ‘If you offer this, we think you’ll have people coming to Belmont to get that, you’ll find the program sustainable and they’ll be able to use the two degrees immediately.’”

Graduate students interested in the dual degree must apply to both the pharmacy and business schools separately. A student would apply for pharmacy school while expressing an interest in the PharmD/MBA program and would also need a GRE for business school, as well as the PCAT for entrance into pharmacy school.

Dr. Scott Weston, associate dean of academic affairs in the College of Pharmacy, worked with associate dean of the business school Dr. Joe Alexander to design the program. The main challenge was to work the Pharm/MBA into the existing curriculum of classes and clinical rotations.

“Part of the question was how to fit it in,” Weston said. “The other question was how can the students work it in without overloading themselves. One of the things that works to our advantage is that the MBA programs here at Belmont really are focused on and cater to working professionals.”

This means, Weston said, that the people who are already working in health care and taking classes at the same time have the option to do evening or summer business classes.

“We can use the summers, which makes it more challenging, but it also kind of balances things out,” he said.

Because the Massey Graduate School of Business holds classes year-round, including during the summer months, PharmD/MBA students can still complete their heavy loads of coursework in four years’ time.

“That, plus your elective time, is enough hours that you can finish both and walk the stage and get both degrees at the same time,” said Johnston.

While the first few years of the the College of Pharmacy’s existence were focused on acquiring accreditation, there was always an idea to “build along with business,” as Johnston put it.

That attitude, coupled with some pharmacy students experimenting with business courses, also helped lead to the development of the new dual degree.

“Some of our students started taking business electives, and the business school was willing to let them have a seat in the class,” said Johnston. “They’ve done well, and they’ve said it was very helpful for them, so when we started those little things, bigger things became possible.”

The PharmD/MBA didn’t require any new buildings, equipment or faculty, since both the business and pharmacy programs at Belmont were already fully operational. Consequently, this made the PharmD/MBA all the easier to integrate into the current curriculum, Johnston said.

“Let’s say we were doing a master’s in health care administration. That’s a different animal. You’ve got to have it all approved. You’ve got to have resources for that. We already had both programs fully implemented and fully resourced for what we’re doing,” he said.

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