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KNOXVILLE — The state’s need for additional pharmacists can best be met by expanding the University of Tennessee’s College of Pharmacy, UT officials said Wednesday.

A consultant hired by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission is studying pharmacy education in the state following a proposal by East Tennessee State University to start a new pharmacy program. The ETSU program, its proponents say, would be funded by tuition and federal money and would require no state tax dollars.

Both universities and the THEC consultant, Jordan L. Cohen of the University of Iowa, agree that the state currently has a shortage of pharmacists, particularly in rural areas.

How to best meet current and future needs is the focus of Cohen’s study.

UT’s position is that the role of pharmacists is changing and that while the ETSU program might require few, if any, state dollars at start-up, it would in the long run require state funding.

“In my opinion, a second pharmacy school doesn’t make sense economically for the state of Tennessee,” UT President John Petersen said in a State of the University address earlier this month.

“Expanding and geographically broadening our current program does make sense to the people of the state.”

UT proposes increasing enrollment of its entering pharmacy school classes in Memphis to 200 by fall 2006. That would be up from 125 students currently.

It would accommodate the additional students through the use of technology and by establishing a satellite campus and clinical education centers. Under the plan, students could finish their final 1.5 years of practice experience and elective courses at clinical education centers in metropolitan areas and in rural education centers across the state.

The UT College of Pharmacy has the flexibility to increase or decrease its class size depending on the manpower needs of the state, Dr. Dick Gourley, dean of UT’s pharmacy college, said.

Dr. Jack Britt, UT executive vice president, said UT will be better able to provide the education new pharmacists will need through the extensive educational training centers across the State of Tennessee.

“Pharmacists will be much more involved in the overall health care decisions of patients and less involved in dispensing medicine across the counter,” Britt said. “We believe the quality of our faculty, our curriculum and the proposed increase in enrollment makes us the better option for Tennessee.”

In his preliminary report to THEC, Cohen said increased education and licensing of pharmacy technicians appears inevitable. More formal technician training programs in community and technical schools should be a consideration, Cohen’s report says.

“All (pharmacy) students must have comprehensive experiences in both acute and ambulatory settings, working with teams of providers,” the report says. “The development of sophisticated teaching environments in community practice and a focus on primary care is also essential.”

Expansion of the UT program should increase the number of pharmacy students from the 15-county upper East Tennessee area, Britt said. Of the 72 students from East Tennessee who enrolled in pharmacy schools this fall, 19 are at UT. Mercer University in Atlanta, Ga., enrolled 33 East Tennesseans.

Currently, UT has the largest number of board certified faculty members of any pharmacy school in the United States. UT students have a 99.1 percent pass rate on the pharmacy licensing exam. Construction of a new $42.8 million pharmacy building at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis will begin soon.

The pharmacy shortage and increased demand for pharmacy services are attributed to an increase in the number of prescriptions; an aging population – the largest consumers of medicines; the new Medicare prescription bill; and a growing number of new drugs which require closer monitoring by the pharmacists.