Classes underway at Medical College’s new pharmacy school

Program received necessary accreditation last month

The inaugural class of the Medical College of Wisconsin Pharmacy School takes the oath of a pharmacist during a white coat ceremony.

School is officially in session for the 51 students that make up the Medical College of Wisconsin Pharmacy School’s inaugural class.

Classes begin today at the new pharmacy school — an undertaking three years in the making that last month received the accreditation needed to launch this fall.

The inaugural class of the Medical College of Wisconsin Pharmacy School takes the oath of a pharmacist during a white coat ceremony.

The school includes a three-year doctor of pharmacy program housed in an existing space on MCW’s Wauwatosa campus. The school is one of three pharmacy schools in the state, along with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Concordia University. It was granted pre-candidate status in July by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education.

MCW Pharmacy School leaders say the program will train students for the expanding role of a pharmacist, which includes more than dispensing medication, but also administering vaccines, conducting medical tests, performing physical assessments and helping patients manage chronic disease.

To that end, the pharmacy school will team up with the medical college to allow students in both disciplines to learn alongside one another.

“That’s pretty atypical, you would likely not see that at many campuses across the United States … a medical school that would want to invest in the future and the school of pharmacy,” said George MacKinnon, founding dean of the MCW Pharmacy School. “We’re aimed not just to produce the pharmacist of the future educationally, we too want to make sure we have practice environments available that are new and cutting edge.”

MacKinnon said the school’s proximity to Froedtert Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Blood Research Institute and the Milwaukee VA Medical Center will allow students to train at those facilities.

“Health care is going to get more complex, it’s going to be challenging for providers,” MacKinnon said. “So we’re going to have to learn to work with one another and know how to do the handoffs in care but do them appropriately so nothing falls through the cracks.” 

When announced in 2015, the school’s total startup cost was estimated to be around $30 million over five years, with MCW’s Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment providing $3 million for initial design and development.

The school has 20 full-time faculty and 10 faculty positions who are co-funded by Children’s Hospital and Froedtert. MacKinnon said the school recruited faculty and staff from across the country.

Kajua Lor, an associate professor with the pharmacy school and chair of the department of clinical sciences, joined the faculty after serving as interim director of pharmacy at a safety net clinic in Napa, California. She said she was drawn to the vision of developing pharmacists who care for patients holistically.

“The big picture is that you need to be able to look at the patient as a whole,” she said.

The inaugural class of students includes an even split between men and women, with about two-thirds coming from Wisconsin.

McKenna Schulz, a student in the pharmacy school, learned about MCW’s new pharmacy program while her mother received care at Froedtert Hospital following a bone marrow transplant. She was hired on at Froedtert as a technician in January.

Initially skeptical about the school’s accreditation status, Schulz said she’s now excited to be part of the inaugural class. She envisions herself ultimately working closely with patients in pediatric oncology and said training alongside medical students will help her develop as pharmacist. 

“Being able to have that experience with the medical students will be really helpful for me because I’m going to be working with the physicians in the future,” she said.

Luiggi Perez, who moved with his family from Puerto Rico to attend MCW’s pharmacy school, said he was drawn to the three-year program and its association with Froedtert Hospital.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to be in the inaugural class, to be a pioneer,” he said.

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