Students anticipate USF’s first Pharmacy Match Day

View USF College of Pharmacy Class of 2015 Match Results

By Saundra Amrhein

It’s that time of year when attention turns to medical schools and the jittery students awaiting the announcement of their residency assignments on Match Day.

But this year for the first time in the University of South Florida’s history there is another crop of students counting down to March 20: the inaugural doctoral graduating class of the College of Pharmacy. Their participation in Match Day marks both individual student accomplishments and dramatic changes in the entire health care industry.

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About 47 percent of the USF College of Pharmacy’s first 48 graduating students participated in the Match. Some of them are pictured here with College of Pharmacy Dean Kevin Sneed, PharmD, center.

Of the College’s first 48 graduates, 23 opted to participate in the Match for obtaining a one-year residency, reflecting a rising movement toward the specialized credentialing of pharmacists as health care shifts to a team-approach and pharmacists assume a larger role in patient care.

“This is a very significant transformation in health care,” said Kevin Sneed, PharmD, founding dean of the USF College of Pharmacy and senior associate vice president of USF Health.

He added that the growing number of pharmacy residencies, pharmacological specializations and clinical training opportunities reflect the movement of pharmacists from the back-end of filling prescriptions to the “interprofessional” role in patient management, care and diagnosis.

“This is where health care is going,” Dr. Sneed said.

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Nathan Seligson, a Match Day participant, conducted his final rotation as a USF pharmacy student in the Bone Marrow Transplant clinic at Moffitt Cancer Center.  He is supervised here by Janelle Perkins, PharmD, USF associate professor of pharmacotherapeutics and clinical research. Seligson matched at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, TN.

To be sure, pharmacy residencies have been around since the 1930s, when they were considered internships and mostly involved preparing pharmacists in hospital pharmacy management, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, or ASHP.

In the 1970s, residencies in clinical care grew rapidly, leading to accreditation standards, and in the 1990s, the ASHP recognized 15 specialized areas of practice, according to its website. In 2005, in conjunction with other pharmacy associations, the ASHP set forth new national residency accreditation standards that established the postgraduate year one (PGY1) pharmacy residencies and specialized residencies in postgraduate year two (PGY2).

The Match process for pharmacy graduates, run by the same service that directs the Match residencies for general medicine graduates, has been growing steadily. For instance, the number of graduating pharmacy students and new practitioners participating in the Match at both levels has grown from 3,284 in 2010 to 4,799 in 2014, according to the National Matching Services. Likewise, in that same timeframe, the number of positions offered in the Match has increased from 2,276 to 3,394.

Meanwhile, the number of pharmacists becoming board certified in a pharmacy specialty has skyrocketed in just over a decade – from 3,600 in 2002 to 18,000 in 2013, according to a recent article in ASHP Intersections. The largest category is for pharmacotherapy, which can be practiced in a variety of settings, followed by oncology and ambulatory care, which is fast growing as care shifts from in-patient to out-patient settings and the need soars for medication management over chronic diseases, the journal reported.

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USF pharmacy student Athar Naif, right, at a community rotation in Pharmacy Plus at the Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare. Here she looks over some prescription information with pharmacy technician Nicholas Stephens. Naif will be doing her residency at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa.

The publication and ASHP officials also attributed the growth of specializations to the greater role pharmacists are playing in direct patient care in primary settings. Reflecting that change, pharmacists have won provider status in five states, including California in October, 2013, with legal statewide recognition of their roles in providing direct patient care and counseling, managing multi-drug medication regimens and participating in long-term follow-up care.

The growing opportunities for pharmacists in aspects of patient care – along with the required advanced training to go with it – accompany a nationwide shortage of primary care physicians as millions of Americans enter the health care system following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

USF’s pharmacy students, set to graduate this spring, plan to ride that wave as they pursue their goals and passions.

Shafaat Pirani, 26, has all his hopes in one place for the Match by listing just one preference – a major university-affiliated medical center on the West Coast. His interests include a combination of pharmacogenomics (or the study of the role of genetics in drug response), oncology and psychiatry.

If he doesn’t get matched with his preference, Pirani, like his classmates, plans to enter what’s called the “scramble” – when unmatched applicants and programs seek each other out.

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“We’re committed to a residency,” Pirani said of himself and his fellow students.

He believes the training would help make him a better overall clinician in the future as well as pave the way for a possible teaching position. While he always knew he wanted to enter the health and medical field, he decided upon pharmacy after spending time more than a dozen years ago in the hospital with his grandfather, who suffered from diabetes and hypertension. Pirani watched as a pharmacist entered the hospital room to discuss his grandfather’s various medications with his grandmother. He said he started to see the large roll pharmacists play in patient care.

Years later, after already placing a deposit on a northern pharmacy program, he had a brief encounter with Dr. Sneed.

“It changed my life,” he said of that 20-minute conversation that convinced him to come to USF and its new College of Pharmacy. He sensed Dr. Sneed’s pioneering spirit regarding the future of pharmacy. “He’s a visionary.”

Ahead of the Match, Pirani was calming his nerves by staying busy with his rotations at Lakeland Regional Medical Center and a weekend job at a pharmacy in Clearwater.

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Athar Naif, 27, also was distracting herself with rotations at the new Morsani Center’s Pharmacy Plus and studying for board exams, trying to put the Match out of her mind until the announcements. Having interviewed at eight locations, she ranked five on her Match list of preferences – including a top-tier out-of-state teaching hospital, and several community hospitals in Central Florida.

“It’s exciting and nerve-racking at the same time,” she said.

Naif was offered a job at a major pharmacy chain, but she declined in order to pursue a residency and further training. One day she wants to work with transplant patients, both with the medications in preparation for transplant procedures as well as the life-time patient care through medications afterward.

“In the end, wherever I end up going, it will be a good experience,” she said. “I’m putting my faith in the Match program.”

Nathan Seligson, 26, hopes to one day combine research and clinical care, possibly either through an academic medical center or through the pharmaceutical industry. His interests at the moment are in pharmacogenomics, pharmacokinetics and oncology.

The residency experience, he believes, gives young pharmacists the opportunity to hone clinical skills, applying specialized drug knowledge and patient care knowledge to a particular disease or patient population. He’s interested in designing research around patient care.

“It’s not research for the sake of research but could change clinical practice,” said Seligson, who spent six weeks on rotation at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He was particularly interested in long-term effects of treatments on survivors of childhood cancers, effects that are still not largely understood. After residency training, he hopes to pursue a research fellowship.

For now, he was focusing on his rotations at Florida Hospital in Connerton and the Moffitt Cancer Center, keeping the Match out of his mind until the day of the announcements.

“I’m trying not to think about it too much,” Seligson said.

Dr. John Clark – an assistant professor who is the director of both the pharmacy residency programs and the Office of Experiential Education within the College of Pharmacy – has created an elective course on post graduate residency training. He encouraged the students to get as much training as possible and to keep striving for a residency, even if they have to enter the “scramble.”

“This is a career-changing move,” Dr. Clark said.

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Photos by Eric Younghans and Klaus Herdocia, USF Health Communications and Marketing