A program of The University of Texas College of Pharmacy designed to address pharmacists shortages in the lower Rio Grande Valley was recognized Tuesday, October 1 as America's top program for increasing achievement for Latino students.
The announcement of the UT's Cooperative Pharmacy Program (CPP) as the top Example of Excelencia was made in Washington, D.C. by Excelencia in Education, a non-profit organization that works to accelerate Latino student success in higher education. Dr. Lydia Aguilera, assistant dean for CPP, attended the awards ceremony on behalf of the program.
The CPP is a joint venture between The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy and University of Texas Pan American University. It was developed in 2001 to encourage students from the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas to pursue pharmacy as a professional career and to provide recruitment, training and retention of proficient pharmacists that understand the language and culture of the largely Hispanic South Texas community. Students remain in their communities to complete their pre-pharmacy coursework at UT Pan American before coming to UT Austin for the first and second years of pharmacy school. The students return to the Rio Grande Valley for the third and fourth years of pharmacy study that includes internships in various pharmacy settings.
The Cooperative Pharmacy Program was selected for the Excelencia honor from a field of 165 program applications representing 22 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Awards are presented at three academic levels: associate, bachelor, and graduate. The UT program awards a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. This year marks the eighth annual release of Examples of Excelencia by the organization that describes itself as the only national initiative to systematically identify, recognize, and catalogue evidence-based programs that improve Latino college success.
"The University of Texas College of Pharmacy is committed to addressing health care disparities and to partnering with other institutions in the UT System to address critical pharmacy education needs," said Dr. Lynn Crismon, dean of the UT Austin pharmacy program. "The Cooperative Pharmacy Program with UT Pan American, as well as a similar one with UT El Paso, are prime examples of what can be achieved when people positively collaborate. We are so proud that the UT Pan American Cooperative Pharmacy Program is being recognized as the top Example of Excelencia. Dr. Aguilera and her team are to be congratulated for their outstanding efforts and successes."
A maximum of 12 students are admitted into the CPP annually. They represent a cross-section of the approximately 89 percent Hispanic student population at UT Pan American, according to Aguilera. Students may be accepted into the cooperative pharmacy program as early as their final year of high school or after completing the majority of two years of required pre-pharmacy education at UTPA. Students admitted via either path are afforded conditional admission to the UT Austin College of Pharmacy with successful completion of the pharmacy pre-requisites and other admissions requirements.
"The Program's achievements are the students' achievements," said Aguilera. "Our students continue to succeed, and, in the last two years, we have had 100 percent success at the first attempt of the licensure exam by the State Board of Pharmacy."
To date, the program has graduated 68 individuals who have earned the Doctor of Pharmacy degree through the program and more than 80 percent of these graduates have remained in the area to practice pharmacy. Many are the first in their families to attend higher education.
Daniela Moreno Bazan graduated from the program in 2011 and is a pharmacist at Knapp Medical Center in Edinburg. She also serves as a part-time lecturer in the program.
"I grew up in Starr County, a South Texas community with the highest poverty level in Texas," said Bazan. "The cooperative pharmacy program opened the door to a better life for my family and me. I am a first generation college graduate. Walking across the stage at graduation and hearing my name called out as 'Dr. Daniela Moreno' is a memory that still brings tears of joy to my eyes."
Ginger Garza, a second-year pharmacy student, was raised by a single mother. She was awarded several scholarships to ease the financial burden associated with college. "The funds helped me transition to pharmacy school in Austin without being a financial burden on my mother."
"I feel as though my life would have turned out differently without the program to mold my future," she said. "Thanks to the leadership training I received while at UTPA, I feel prepared to be a leader in the pharmacy world and represent my community well.
Stephanie Garza, another second year pharmacy student in the program is the first in her family to earn a doctoral degree. "Twelve high school graduates across the Rio Grande Valley and the Laredo area were selected to be Cooperative Pharmacy Program students, and I am eternally grateful that I was chosen to be one of them," she said.
Aguilera said students in the program have led an initiative to observe Pharmacy Month in the region thereby increasing awareness of the role of pharmacists in the healthcare delivery team. In addition, the students provide screenings at health fairs throughout the region. Data collected from these events has formed the basis for several research investigations that were presented by students and their faculty mentors at the 2012 American Society of Health Systems Pharmacists Midyear Clinical Meeting.
"Scholarship, research, and community outreach by our students provide them with opportunities to hone their skills as compassionate health care professionals and leaders in the pharmacy profession and the community," Aguilera continued. "We are providing the region with culturally sensitive pharmacists that are genuinely dedicated to serving our Hispanic South Texas communities."
"The UT Austin/UT Pan American Cooperative Program is at the forefront of meeting the challenge of improving higher educational achievement for Latino students," said Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education. "No longer should policymakers and institutional leaders ask how to improve college success for Latinos – we have the largest accumulation of proven examples and tested strategies that show them how."
"As America's fastest growing minority, Latinos are a true asset for our country, and their educational success will be critical for the future economic success of all Americans," said U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (Ariz.), chairman of the Education and Labor Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.