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VU, Lipscomb partner on dual degree program

Aug. 23, 2012, 8:35 AM

Rachel Crouch, Pharm.D., left, is the first student to pursue a Ph.D. at Vanderbilt as part of a new dual degree program with Lipscomb University’s College of Pharmacy. With her are, from left, Joey Barnett, Ph.D., Scott Daniels, Ph.D., and Scott Akers, Pharm.D., Ph.D. Barnett and Akers developed the VU-Lipscomb partnership and are overseeing the dual degree program; Daniels is Crouch’s Ph.D. mentor. (photo by Steve Green)

A new cooperative program between Vanderbilt University and Lipscomb University’s College of Pharmacy is focusing on the next generation of pharmaceutical researchers.

By offering a pathway for students to earn both Pharm.D. and Ph.D. degrees, the program aims to boost the number of pharmacy-trained research scientists.

“There’s a big need for individuals who have Pharm.D. training — an education in pharmacy — who are able to do research,” said Scott Akers, Pharm.D., Ph.D., chair of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Lipscomb University College of Pharmacy and co-director of the new program.

“They have a unique background that makes them attractive as research scientists in the pharmaceutical industry and as faculty members in pharmacy schools.”

The Pharm.D. (Doctor of Pharmacy) is a professional degree that is required to practice pharmacy. A Pharm.D.-Ph.D. program is akin to an M.D.-Ph.D. program, Akers said, in that it combines clinical training and scientific research, but with an emphasis in pharmaceutical science.

Akers, who joined the Lipscomb faculty when the College of Pharmacy opened four years ago (the first class graduated this year), immediately approached colleagues in Vanderbilt’s Department of Pharmacology about establishing a partnership – to offer research opportunities for faculty members and students at Lipscomb.

“Many colleges of pharmacy have graduate programs that do research, but that didn’t exist at Lipscomb,” said Akers, who previously directed the clinical pharmaceutical sciences graduate program at the University of Kentucky’s College of Pharmacy. “We’re trying to build a research program in a unique way, as a cross-institutional type of training program.”

Over the last four years, Akers and Joey Barnett, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt and co-director of the new program, have put together multiple facets of the partnership. These include summer research opportunities at Vanderbilt and Lipscomb for pharmacy students, Akers co-teaching a Vanderbilt graduate course in drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics, cross-registration of courses to allow Lipscomb students to enroll in Vanderbilt courses and vice versa, and the new dual-degree program.

Rachel Crouch, Pharm.D., a member of the Lipscomb College of Pharmacy’s inaugural class, is the first student to pursue a Ph.D. at Vanderbilt as part of the program. This summer, she joined the laboratory of Scott Daniels, Ph.D., director of Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics in the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery.

Crouch began to think seriously about a research career when she participated in the pharmaceutical sciences summer research program. After spending time during her fourth year of pharmacy school in Daniels’ lab, she opted for the dual degree program.

“It’s a great program because a lot of my Pharm.D. coursework transfers for credit towards the Ph.D., so I’m able to focus mostly on research right away,” Crouch said.

Crouch credited her mentors at Lipscomb with introducing her to research and steering her toward a Ph.D.

“Without mentors like Scott Akers, Mike Fowler, and Susan Mercer, I don’t know that I would have found the path I’m taking.” Fowler and Mercer are both pharmaceutical sciences faculty members in the College of Pharmacy.

Giving students this opportunity is Akers’ and the College’s goal.

“We want to find those students in the professional pharmacy program who have a strong scientific background and make it possible for them to experience research and scientific inquiry – to see if a research career might be for them,” Akers said.

From Vanderbilt’s perspective, the program expands the pool of outstanding students for its pharmacology program, Barnett said. Also, graduate students in pharmacology can take advantage of courses at Lipscomb that focus on pharmaceutics and formulations, which might be especially useful for students focusing on drug discovery.

In the next phase of the partnership, Barnett and Akers anticipate offering teaching opportunities in Lipscomb’s College of Pharmacy for Vanderbilt graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Pharmacy school faculties are one of the few growth areas in academia for Ph.D. (and Pharm.D., Ph.D.) researchers.

“It’s really the perfect partnership,” Barnett said of the arrangement between Vanderbilt and Lipscomb. “We can provide opportunities that Lipscomb can’t, and they can provide opportunities that we can’t. There’s something for everyone.”

The advisory committee overseeing the partnership and dual degree program includes Akers, Barnett, Heidi Hamm, Ph.D., chair of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt, and David Gregory, Pharm.D., director of Education, Research and Clinical Services for the Department of Pharmaceutical Services at Vanderbilt University Hospital.

To keep program participants connected to clinical pharmacy practice while they are at Vanderbilt working on their Ph.D., Gregory will include them in professional pharmacy practice meetings and pair them with clinical mentors.

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