Pharmacist works with pharmacy student
Friday, November 2, 2018
Tom Snee

When Don Letendre was an undergraduate student in Boston many years ago, he took two accounting classes that proved extremely valuable later in his career as a pharmacist.

“I had designs at the time on running my own pharmacy so I knew I needed to have some understanding of business,” says Letendre, now dean of the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy. But he took those classes of his own initiative because business training was not a priority for pharmacy schools.

Decades later, Letendre says the need is greater than ever for pharmacists to possess basic business skills. That’s why the UI College of Pharmacy has partnered with the university’s Office of Healthcare Leadership Education (OHLE) to offer a series of half-day courses in business and leadership to pharmacy students that started this fall.

“Our primary responsibility is taking care of the patients we serve, but to do that, we have to learn about budget analysis, profit and loss statements, reimbursement models, and many other basic principles,” says Letendre. “The health care system has become so complex you have to understand the business side if you hope to successfully provide patient care.”

The program was spearheaded by members of the College of Pharmacy’s executive leadership board, who championed the addition of such education and worked with Alexander Taylor, associate director of executive education programs in the Tippie College of Business, to develop the coursework. Taylor says the six courses offered over three semesters were specially designed for the needs of pharmacy students with input from practicing alumni. The classes provide a basic understanding of topics such as business analytics, hiring and retaining top talent, negotiations, and the structure of the health care system.

“These are topics they will need to understand whether they open their own independent pharmacy, go to work for another pharmacy, or work in some other aspect of the profession,” Taylor says. The courses are taught by faculty from the OHLE, a collaboration of the Tippie College, the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, and College of Public Health, as well as from the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center.

By learning more about business, Taylor and Letendre say pharmacists will be able to run more efficient practices, make more informed business decisions on behalf of their employers and patients, and reduce expenses that potentially will lower health care costs.

Taylor says students will receive a note of distinction on their diplomas indicating their successful completion, giving them a leg up as they begin their careers.

The partnership is similar to one the Tippie College offers with the Carver College of Medicine—a series of business classes to medical students that started in 2016.

Letendre says a business analytics class was offered during the Spring 2018 semester as a pilot to gauge student interest. Registration filled up within an hour, and extra seats were added to accommodate 55 students.

“Even at this early stage in their professional development, students recognize that business acumen is fundamentally important to their careers and have made it clear they are interested in a program that will enhance their career portfolio like this one does,” Letendre says. “Our alumni and executive leadership board members are also highly supportive and understand from their own experience the need to have a general understanding of business.”

Christine Lawson, a second-year pharmacy student, says she signed up because she knows nothing about business, but also knows she needs to if she wants to fully understand her profession.

“Business isn’t a passion of mine, but I know that it’s important for my career,” says Lawson, who earned her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Louisiana State University. “Anything I can imagine doing in the pharmacy profession, I’ll need some kind of basic business background because it’s everywhere in the health care world.”

Mohammed Fredericks, a third-year student who helped get the program off the ground, says he heard similar sentiment from other students while he was marketing the class.

“Leadership is widely promoted in the college and this provides the necessary courses that allow us to learn about it,” says Frederick, who earned his undergraduate degree in pharmacological chemistry from the University of California-San Diego and also is studying for his master’s in health informatics in the UI College of Public Health.

Students say the half-day class format is especially helpful, using Harvard case studies to provide first a bird’s eye view of the topic, then narrowing into how it affects health care, and finally, how it affects the pharmacy profession. Hands-on exercises are useful, too. In the Financing for Clinicians module, for instance, students learned how pharmacists can communicate in a way that finance managers will see something the pharmacy needs as an investment and not just an additional expense.

Ultimately, Lawson’s goal is to learn as much as she can about as many things as she can to provide better patient care.

“I hope that pharmacy can someday disrupt health care in a positive way that makes it more effective and more efficient for the patient, and to do that you need to understand how the business side works,” she says.

Fredericks is interested in helping people with chronic conditions improve their health with both medication management and physical exercise and nutrition. He doesn’t rule out starting a business himself someday.

The next class will be offered Saturday, Nov. 3, when Greg Stewart, professor of management and organizations in the Tippie College, will discuss hiring and retaining top performing talent.