UK College of Pharmacy Blends Legacy and Innovation

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 24, 2015) -- As the University of Kentucky celebrates its 150th year and its history as the state’s land grant institution, the College of Pharmacy also shares a rich tradition in the Commonwealth. But perhaps surprisingly, its roots haven’t always been in Lexington.

Founded in 1870, just five years after UK, what is now the UK College of Pharmacy began as the Louisville College of Pharmacy, an independent institution modeled after the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy.  

It wasn't until July 1, 1946, that the College of Pharmacy officially became part of the University of Kentucky. Even after the affiliation was made with the University, it would be more than a decade before physically moving faculty, staff and students to Lexington.

In the summer of 1957, students and faculty moved the college -- literally -- box by box in their personal vehicles from Louisville to the Lexington campus. The move was made into the newly constructed building later named for then-dean Earle P. Slone and located on Washington Avenue at Gladstone Avenue. Today, the Slone Research Building is home to offices and labs of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the UK College of Arts and Sciences.

After becoming part of the University of Kentucky’s campus, the College of Pharmacy flourished in milestones and achievements that have led to it becoming renowned in pharmacy and graduate pharmaceutical science education. The path was paved for the college's current programs which are consistently ranked among the top five in the U.S.

The graduate program in pharmaceutical sciences was developed in the late 1960s by former dean, scientist and pharmacy education pioneer Joseph V. Swintosky, who was dean from 1967 to 1987. Along with developing the Ph.D. program, Swintosky also added the Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) making UK one of the first schools outside of California to offer the degree which is now the standard academic degree held by pharmacists in the U.S.

Throughout the 1970s, the college’s enrollment and programs continued to steadily grow. By 1980, the college had expanded beyond the capacity of the Slone Building and had faculty and programs in six different buildings on campus. In 1985, the move was made to what was then the “new” college of pharmacy building on Rose Street adjacent to the College of Nursing. 

For 25 years, a generation of pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists were educated and trained in the Rose Street building. It is where many accolades were received and where many of today's current practicing community pharmacists in Kentucky were educated.

Among the achievements during this time were having three UK students elected as national president of the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Academy of Students; the college’s chapter of APhA was named national Chapter of the Year in 2005; and UK pharmacy students consistently had the highest first-time pass rates in the nation on the NAPLEX national pharmacy licensing exam.

It was also during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s that pharmacists began to move from behind the wall of the drugstore counter to a more interactive patient care set-up that is more common today.

Melody Ryan graduated from the college with a B.S. in 1992 and a Pharm.D. in 1993. She returned to the college as a faculty member after completing a pharmacy practice residency at Duke University in 1994 and a neurosciences fellowship at UK in 1995. Currently, she is professor and vice chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice.

"I think I have a unique perspective because I’m both an alumni and a faculty member of the College of Pharmacy.  Of course, it is the people and time together with them that make the best memories – whether they were my classmates, my colleagues, or my students," said Ryan who is also director for International Professional Student Education. "However, watching the first class I taught at the beginning of the all-Pharm.D. curriculum in 1995 graduate is one of my best memories.  It was as though we grew up together."

Today's college of pharmacy looks much different than in the past -- not only from those early years in Louisville before the turn of the 20th century -- but even quite different than a generation ago.  Like many areas in the health care field, the pharmacy profession, as well as pharmacy education is ever-changing.

The college has had a very competitive admissions process for the doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) program for the past couple of decades and currently admits a class of 140 students annually in the four-year professional program.  As the pharmacy profession expands in scope and increasingly focuses on providing direct patient care, pharmacy education leaders are working to find the balance of information that should be included in the college curriculum.

"Some pharmacists are concerned that we are moving away from our identity as the guardian of safety for medication use and distribution processes," said Kelly Smith, interim dean of the college. "However, at UK we see this as an opportunity to demonstrate how we truly are preparing pharmacists to be special, and to have more tools in their toolkit to fit a variety of roles. We want our graduates to be elements of change within the profession and within health care, whether that’s improving the life of a single patient or a panel of patients."

Graduate and Research Programs Excel

Along with the continued growth and prosperity in the education of pharmacists, the depth and breadth of the graduate faculty and the college's research programs have also grown and excelled. One of the most notable achievements includes drug delivery research that led to the patenting of the drug Stadol in 1992 by professor and pharmaceutical scientist Anwar Hussain. Stadol, an intranasal spray used for the management of migraines, was marketed by Bristol-Myers. Hussain’s research in drug delivery systems led to more than 50 patents and more than $14 million in revenue for UK. 

The legacy of Hussain and other prominent faculty of the 70s, 80s and early 90s laid the foundation for current faculty such as Dan Wermeling, UK professor of pharmacy practice and science, who has developed a nasal spray application of the anti-opioid drug naloxone through his startup company AntiOp Inc.

Today, innovative scientists continue to make their mark as current pharmacy research faculty rank fourth out of 354 institutions in scholarly activity. Furthermore, since 1989, UK College of Pharmacy faculty have created 25 start-up companies.

Currently, the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the UK College of Pharmacy offers Ph.D. training in the areas of drug discovery, drug development, clinical and experimental therapeutics and pharmaceutical outcomes and policy. About 10 to 12 Ph.D. students graduate each year.

"One of the biggest changes I think the college has experienced in the graduate program in the past few years is the transition from our original focus on pharmaceutics, drug delivery and drug development to now including more emphasis and opportunity in medicinal chemistry and natural products as well as in policy, informatics and outcomes," said Patrick McNamara, senior associate dean and professor of pharmaceutical sciences. "Today's students need to be flexible, adaptive and not just proficient in one area. They must also have 'soft skills' such or the ability to work in teams, communicate effectively and even 'sell' their ideas to their employers or potential investors."

Pharmacy in the New Millennium

By the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, the college of pharmacy continued to flourish as efforts were made to offset a nationwide pharmacist shortage.  From 2000 to 2007, the college's Pharm.D. enrollment increased more than 200 percent.

Once again the college had outgrown its building.

In 2000, when Kenneth B. Roberts was named dean of the college, he set a goal to build a new facility that would provide the opportunity to educate more pharmacy students and improve the academic and research environment for faculty and staff. Despite budget cuts and an unstable economy, the college reached out to pharmacists across the Commonwealth and asked them for support. With the support of then-UK President Lee Todd, the UK Board of Trustees and the Council on Postsecondary Education, the project became the number one research and academic building priority and was funded by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2005 and in 2006.

In 2007, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the BioPharm Complex located at 789 South Limestone and the move to the new state-of-the-art building was completed in 2010.

Today, Pharm.D. and graduate students, as well as innovative and productive research programs, are housed in the largest college of pharmacy in the world and one of the largest academic facilities in the nation.

"Finishing the BioPharm building and making that move was certainly a watershed moment for the college of pharmacy," said McNamara, who was interim dean at the time of the move. "At times it was challenging, even chaotic, but reflecting on it now, I see how much it has had an impact on our programs and the future of our faculty, staff and students in creating such a unique environment filled with opportunities."