April 22, 2016

A little over seven years ago, Albany College of Pharmacy made the strategic decision to change its name to Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

The move coincided with the expansion of academic programs at the College and the need to have a name that was inclusive of current and future degree offerings. The addition of bachelor’s and master’s degree programs has enabled many positive changes at the College – from diversifying our student body to enriching the Pharm.D. program through expanded curricular options.

Building a broader base of academic programs also helps insulate the College from fluctuations in enrollment driven by employment cycles, a phenomenon experienced by all professional schools.

While it is easy to explain the decision to add “And Health Sciences,” as a College we continue to wrestle with what these three words mean and how they change our identity as an institution.

One of the reasons behind this struggle is that the “And Health Sciences” transition is very much a work in progress. Keep in mind that our pharmacy program is 135 years old, whereas most of our bachelor’s and master’s programs are less than ten years old. Relatively speaking, they are still in their infancy. At this point, we still do not have a full assessment of their impact on the College.

Another source of ambiguity is the term Health Sciences itself. There is no widespread consensus on its definition, and that presents additional challenges. In a medical school setting, for instance, Health Sciences might refer to basic science departments such as physiology, anatomy, or pharmacology. In an undergraduate liberal arts college, it may refer to pre-med or other pre-professional programs. Pharmaceutical, medical device, and medical diagnostics companies (often viewed as part of the Life Sciences industry) often hire individuals with advanced degrees in biochemistry, toxicology, and molecular biology. Are these inside or outside the Health Sciences?

We need to define Health Sciences for our setting as a college with historical roots in pharmacy. It is beneficial to think of the Health Sciences as the science behind the health care industry. It is all of the science that informs the practice of medicine and public health.

Given that, Health Sciences would include the basic life sciences and all of the basic science departments that appear in a medical school setting. It would also include clinical sciences as practiced by a range of academic health care professionals and, finally, population sciences such as epidemiology, health and medical informatics, and health outcomes research.

The lens of health sciences as comprising basic, clinical, and population sciences suits ACPHS well. After all, our programs in Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chemistry, Microbiology, and Molecular Biosciences give us excellent coverage of the basic sciences. These programs are nicely complemented by offerings in Pharmacy, Biomedical Technology, Clinical Laboratory Sciences, and Cytotechnology/Molecular Cytology which quite capably cover areas of clinical science and clinical practice.

To complete the triumvirate of basic, clinical, and population science, we have recently instituted an undergraduate program in Public Health. The focus here is on the population science issues that inform public health.

We have also created a new Department of Population Health Sciences. In addition to the undergraduate program in Public Health, this Department will house faculty that teach in the MSc. in Health Outcomes Research. Health Outcomes Research uses “big data” on populations to determine the efficacy and financial impact of therapies and practices.

Over the next year, we will continue to have conversations on what our research “Centers of Excellence” will be. We want to create a comprehensive research effort that features a team of faculty focused on a central problem of critical importance. The Center needs to be interdisciplinary and attack problems from three perspectives: basic science, clinical and translational science, and population health sciences. This multi-dimensional approach allows us to embrace the range of talent at the College.

As we think about the meaning of “And Health Sciences,” we are increasingly able to craft a response that supports our traditional mission of educating the next generation of pharmacists and leads us into an exciting future. It’s a future where basic science, clinical science, and population health science will be integrated into the advancement of health care as well as the advancement of this institution.

Greg Dewey, Ph.D., is President of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

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