Local University Hoping to Put a Dent in Pharmacist Shortage

When you go to the drug store, you expect to see the pharmacist. But these days, there aren't enough to go around. And the bad news is it's only expected to get worse.

Pharmacists at the Richmond Hill Pharmacy have been working a lot of overtime lately. "We've been looking for a pharmacist now for over a year," said the pharmacy's Alex Tucker.

A shortage of pharmacists nationwide is hitting close to home, with an increased demand for prescription medications thanks to aging baby boomers.

"We would like to spend more time with the patient, and not behind the counter, but with the shortage, it's becoming more difficult," said Tucker.

But those days could soon be over. South University is doing its part by becoming only the third school in the State of Georgia to offer a school of pharmacy.

"We had over 600 applicants this year with only 65 slots," said the university's Dr. David Hawkins.

Only two years old, the program will help fill many job vacancies. Its integrated classes are designed to work closely with local Savannah medical centers.

"Savannah was an ideal site for a school of pharmacy, given all the hospitals in the Savannah area, community pharmacies that could work with the faculty to create the kind of curriculum that we needed," said Dr. Hawkins.

South University is the only school in Georgia to offer an accelerated program, compressing four years of school into three. It's something that attracted many students to the school of pharmacy.

"You rarely forget anything because you are always studying, always taking tests," noted student Lauri May LaRoco. "You go to school throughout the summers. It's very intense, but I found myself getting into a routine early on."

"It's a lot of information pushed at you at once," said student Jason Bradley. "You have to stay on top of things. You can't slack off, if you want to make it here."

And if they do make it here, they will hopefully end up at places like the Richmond Hill Pharmacy.

The first pharmacy class at South University will graduate next spring. The school hopes to open more campuses and expand its pharmacy program within the next year.

Reported by: Melanie Ruberti, mruberti@wtoc.com