Purdue University pharmacy students graduate early to help fight coronavirus

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue pharmacy students are graduating early so that they can help in the fight against coronavirus. The Purdue University Board of Trustees approved the move last week. The University is one of the first in the nation to certify an entire class.

Suhani Mehta pictured her final months as a pharmacy student at Purdue with her classmates on campus, but instead she described, “We’re out in different practice sites at our pharmacies.” 

Purdue granted all 144 fourth-year pharmacy students’ early graduation. This move allows Mehta and her class to pursue their licensure exams and be ready to step up on the front lines.

“It’s also very exciting to be able to give back after waiting for so many years,” Mehta added, “Pharmacists have so many functions in healthcare.”

Eric Barker, the Dean for the College of Pharmacy at Purdue University says it was an obvious decision based on two reasons. The first reason is to get students signed up for their exams once testing centers re-open. Pharmacy students have to be graduated to be eligible to take the proper exams. The other reason is the shortage of pharmacists in the workforce.

“We have already begun to get reports from hospital pharmacies, health systems, community pharmacies that they’re concerned not knowing what the next 4-6 weeks might look like, and they’re hoping to have some graduate pharmacist available to fill in if need be,” Barker explained.

Barker’s concerned about the strain on pharmacies and the workforce in the next few months.

“They’ll be available to free up those more seasoned pharmacists to handle more complicated tasks, but having the graduate pharmacists there is going to be very important for the continuity of all patients,” said Barker, “We front load everything (during the last school year) in terms of requirements, so when we got to the end of March we’ve already met program requirements.”

There are 10,000 people who have a pharmacy license in Indiana, although not all practice here, according to Darren Covington, the Executive Vice President of the Indiana Pharmacist Association.

“We’re hopeful the governor will allow pharmacy students to practice once they graduate, like he’s done for physicians, nursing, physician assistant, respiratory care students, too,” said Covington.

He’s heard from smaller pharmacies that have had to temporarily close due to sick employees.

It’s left patients struggling to get medicine. He believes this move by Purdue will ensure patient care.

“Especially if you’re going into a hospital, you’re probably never going to see the pharmacist working behind the scenes for your care, but no our pharmacists continue to go out every day and to help our patients,” said Covington, “Pharmacists are particularly aware of the drug shortages that are existing as it related to COVID-19, treatments or therapies that may come on board, especially with our ventilator drugs that are needed to keep patients on ventilators, we’re beginning to experience shortages or difficulties ordering those drugs as well.”

As for Mehta, she’s ready to become a pharmacist so her skills can help the most vulnerable.

“Being able to jump in and provide that relief is going to be a big help,” Mehta added.

The certifications are effective starting April 17. Students will be able to work as graduate pharmacists until they are licensed.

To prevent risk at pharmacies, the Indiana Pharmacist Association asks that you use drive-thru or delivery options, if possible.

Purdue pharmacy students (Photo provided by Suhani Mehta)

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