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Why ACPHS

December 19, 2019

The Washington Post   recently reported on a Georgetown University study showing that ACPHS ranked number one in the country for the return on investment on a college degree. This great publicity for the school generated a lot of interest and I recently was interviewed by a journalist from Business Insider. Her first question was "How could ACPHS beat out Harvard and other prestigious elite schools?".

My short answer is: small school, big opportunities.   We combine the attractive characteristics of a small college with the professional development opportunities of a large research university. As a small , residential college we offer a  close-knit community focused on the student experience that features individual attention and faculty and staff committed to student success- the features one expects from a liberal arts and sciences college. However, as a professionally focused school, our students can participate in undergraduate and graduate research experiences comparable to those found at a major research university. Our decades of experiential education programming have given us an unparalleled cadre of preceptors that provide a diverse and deep practice experience. Our student-operated pharmacies and Collaboratory demonstrate a deep community engagement that underscore both the practical experience of working in a medically under-served community and the realities of creating a sustainable benefits venture. This combination of small college attractions and big university opportunities make the student experience truly unique .

Centrality of Pharmacy and the Health Sciences. The reporter I talked with pursued the question "Why did a small niche school outperform broadly based elite, prestigious universities?" For all outward appearances, we do appear to be a niche school but that is a perception based on our size and limited degree offerings.   We prepare our students for a broad range of professions that are critically important to society. There is a centrality to pharmacy that pervades the entire practice of medicine. A knowledge of pharmacy allows our students to function in diverse roles in the health care professions. This is seen in the career trajectories of our alumni as they are capable of transitioning between multiple roles. I recently talked to an alumna who had a career that consisted of community pharmacy, family medicine and finally medical affairs for a major pharmaceutical company- not exactly a niche career, much closer to being a generalist .

But ACPHS goes beyond its pharmacy core. We provide an array of health sciences that broaden and deepen our pharmacy school origins.

Our Public Health program reflects the practice of medicine at the population level, again with pharmacy at the core. With an array of information technology tools at its disposal, population health sciences is entering an exciting new era of analysis of the interface between medical practice and the social determinants of health. 

Pharmaceutical Sciences at ACPHS focuses on the basic science leading to the development of new pharmaceuticals. The translational gap between basic science and a new therapeutic continues to shorten and we are in a truly historic time for drug development.

Our Microbiology program plays a critical role, as managing infectious diseases will always be one of healthcare's challenges. Also, with the rise of biologics and the biopharmaceutical industry, microbiologists continue to work on new expression systems to enable the advance of biotechnology.

Our Clinical Laboratory Science programs are seeing the emergence of molecular diagnostics and its integration into the traditional fields of cytology and histology. The sophistication of surrogate end points is enabling more accurate clinical diagnosis and again enhancing the practice of medicine.

Taken together, we see that the basic academic programs at ACPHS are far from a niche. Indeed, they are central to the current and future practice of medicine and the entire healthcare enterprise. Our students and alumni benefit from the versatility and critical importance of their education and they go on to rewarding and successful careers.

Quality of our Students. At the recent ASHP meeting in Las Vegas, one of our fourth-year pharmacy students was concerned that she would not get any interviews for fellowships, residencies or jobs. She was afraid that she would spend a lot of money on the conference, not get any interviews and end up sitting alone in her hotel room. So she applied for 40 interview slots. As it turns out, she got 40 interviews and the last I heard she had several second interviews. She may have to spend an extra day in Las Vegas to follow through on all these opportunities.

The ACPHS faculty, academic programming and student experience are the enablers. By themselves, these assets did not create the greatest return on investment in the country. Our student and alumni travel a journey that utilizes their education and they find productive and meaningful careers that give back to the community. I refer to our students and alumni as compassionate, analytic problem solvers. They have a unique set of skills- hard work, quantitative acumen, resilience and compassion. Our curriculum is as difficult as any STEM curriculum at prominent science and engineering schools. Our students could easily have been engineers and scientists and many could (and have) become PhDs in basic science disciplines. But the distinguishing factor is that these students find meaning in careers that give back to their community. They are often driven to a higher purpose than just finding a lucrative career.

Staying True to Our Mission. Founded in 1881, ACPHS is one of the oldest pharmacy schools in the country. Over the decades we have educated many of the community pharmacists that serve the Northeast and beyond. As the scope of pharmacy has grown and as the world has become more interdisciplinary and integrated, we have grown our programming as well. This growth has been in a very specific way. One of the four vision principles of our new Strategic Plan is: We will be a college offering preeminent degree programs in the health sciences while maintaining pharmacy at its core. These programs will feature the integration of the basic, clinical, and population health sciences.

While other schools have expanded into broader areas, ACPHS has maintained its vision. We were able to do this because of the centrality of our core disciplines and the robust opportunities our students have in those disciplines.

Over the years, we have been blessed with the students, faculty and staff that allowed us to maintain our focus and to provide the best return on investment. While at one time, we may have been a niche school, we are now far from being one. ACPHS has an essential mission that provides our community and our region with sorely needed, educated and caring talent in the healthcare and health science industries. That is why we had the best return on investment.

As the ACPHS community looks forward to a year of promise, we wish a similar prospect to all our readers.

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

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