New pharmacy dean looks to school’s future

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Joseph T. DiPiro, Pharm.D., began his tenure as dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy on July 1.

DiPiro’s appointment was announced in December, and between then and June 1 he made several visits to VCU to become acquainted and to prepare for the new role. He then spent all of June working with outgoing dean Victor A. Yanchick, Ph.D., to ensure a seamless transition.

DiPiro is past chair of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Council of Deans and has previously served as president of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy. He also is former editor of the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, the official publication of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, and has published more than 200 journal papers, books, book chapters and editorials in academic and professional journals.

DiPiro said the transition to his new post has been productive and exciting.

“While it is a very busy time right now, people here have helped me become aware of what needs to be done and what the next steps are to keep us all moving ahead at full speed,” he said. “There is no lapse of progress that needs to happen in the school.”

What are some characteristics of VCU and the VCU School of Pharmacy that drew you here?

I’ve always been at an academic medical center, which is the foundation of a good school of pharmacy. You must have other health professions schools to have the best school of pharmacy, and VCU has that.

Another key thing about the VCU School of Pharmacy is its intensive research program. We have medicinal chemistry, pharmaceutics and other vibrant research programs. That is essential in a school of pharmacy.

Also, I knew before coming here that the school had a very progressive curriculum, doing things that are at the forefront of health professions education. That includes the way teaching occurs, active learning techniques, interprofessional education and service learning.

Can you expand upon why interprofessional education is important?

It is driven primarily by changes in health care. The health care models of today and the future are team-based. People have realized that no one health profession can serve all the needs of society.

To get the best health care system will require using all health professionals to their utmost. This requires close interworking relationships. It’s not just for the sake of education. It’s where health care is going. We have to prepare our graduates to fit into that team model, and we can’t just talk about it in the classroom. The students have to see it and experience it.

Why is it important for pharmacists to be a part of that interprofessional team?

Pharmacists are the drug experts. They can manage chronic diseases as well as other health care professionals. The shortage of primary care physicians and nurse practitioners also creates the need for pharmacists to be a part of managing chronic disease.

Are there new opportunities you are excited about implementing to improve the student experience?

The major components of what I would like to see in the student experience are already in place, so it’s a matter of building on what’s there.  I don’t think we will ever be at a point where we can say the curriculum or the student experience has been perfected. We will continue to improve it.

The assessment process is already done very well here, obtaining information from a lot of different sources, including the students, to determine how well things are going.

Here students have the opportunity for interprofessional and research experience, and it just isn’t the same at some other colleges of pharmacy. Also, dual degree programs are important. For example, we have a program where Pharm.D. students can earn their M.B.A. or a Master’s of Public Health.

Students here also have a great opportunity to go on to residency programs, as we have one of the top residency programs in the country at VCU. This is something that students are increasingly interested in.

Another thing about the student experience which we will continue to build on is progressive instructional methodology. There is less passive classroom instruction and more active, hands-on instruction. This is a trend that our faculty has been putting into place over the past few years.

We are also very excited to begin construction this fall on the Center for Compounding Practice and Research. Compounding is where pharmacists prepare extemporaneous medication, and the center is going to emphasize sterile compounding. We think that in the future our students will be better prepared in the art and science of compounding than most students around the country. As part of this, we’ve just launched a search for the director for this program.

In addition to the Center for Compounding Practice and Research, what are some exciting developments or places to build upon to improve the faculty experience?

We’re also looking for opportunities to partner with key groups around the campus. Massey Cancer Center is one example, and the School of Engineering is another. There is a field, pharmaceutical engineering, where we can have a real connection with engineering.

We want to work to our strengths. The Institute for Structural Biology and Drug Discovery is another place where we can build our faculty.

We’re also looking to hire faculty who can help us with the new models of health care, which we might call practice innovation or practice transformation.

What are the new trends in pharmacy education that you’re excited about?

Some of it is not unique to pharmacy. It’s the shift from passive classroom education to active hands-on learning, which includes problem-based learning, team-based learning and service learning. Interprofessional education is also a part of that.

Is VCU ahead of the curve in that regard?

Absolutely, there is no doubt about it, particularly with interprofessional education. We’re up there with the top handful of schools in the country in terms of IPE, and part of the reason is the strong institutional component here starting with Dr. Alan Dow and his Center for Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Care. We wouldn’t be successful just in the school alone if there weren’t a big emphasis in the university and in health sciences.


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