Pharmacy Students Play Crucial Role in Combatting COVID-19

Photo of a COVID-19 test

Many experts agree that allowing pharmacists to play a larger role in patient care would improve healthcare access and equity in the U.S. Yet even during a pandemic, pharmacists remain “the most overtrained and underutilized healthcare professionals in America,” according to a recent article by Dr. Steven W. Chen, associate dean for clinical affairs at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy, in The Conversation.

As the COVID-19 pandemic  unfolds, some pharmacy schools are working to change this pattern by empowering students to join in the effort to administer COVID-19 tests.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued new guidance on April 8 authorizing all licensed pharmacists to order and administer any COVID-19 test approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In response, some pharmacy schools have worked with licensing officials to allow students to graduate early so they can assist with these efforts and relieve those who have fallen ill on the job.

In the hard-hit states of New Jersey and New York, Rutgers University Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy in New Brunswick and D’Youville College School of Pharmacy in Buffalo allowed graduating students to enter the workforce early. 

In May, Purdue University College of Pharmacy let 144 students graduate early in order to work as graduate pharmacists throughout the state of Indiana, which is experiencing pharmacy closures due to widespread illness among staff, according to Dr. Eric Barker, the school’s dean, in an interview with Pharmacy Times. 

In Rhode Island, more than 100 recent and soon-to-be graduates at the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy can receive emergency licenses, which will allow them to work in hospital settings should the state experience a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases. 

Other schools are collaborating with local healthcare officials so their students can volunteer much-needed services in their communities. Pharmacy students at Washington State University (WSU) are helping with intakes, screening, and volunteer training at a drive-through coronavirus testing site.

“As a healthcare provider, it’s a sacred duty to help others, whether it’s directing traffic, helping someone fill out an intake form, or even offering kind words of support,” WSU pharmacy student Lee Roy Esposo told the WSU Insider.

The willingness of such students to step up and play a critical role in combatting the coronavirus crisis is much-needed, according to Barker, who told Pharmacy Times that “pharmacy’s role will be even more important as expanded testing, treatments, and vaccines become available for COVID-19.”

Ginger O’Donnell is the assistant editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity. This article was published in our May/June 2020 issue.