The two first-of-their-kind Paths of Distinction in psychiatric pharmacy and applied drug development give UW–Madison student pharmacists a competitive edge
By Katie Gerhards
As the role of pharmacists continues to expand, specialized and exceptional training are important differentiators for success. To prepare student pharmacists to thrive in the multifaceted, evolving profession, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy is introducing two new Paths of Distinction, or concentrations, in the Doctor of Pharmacy program: Psychiatric Pharmacy and Applied Drug Development.
The new Psychiatric Pharmacy Path of Distinction readies student pharmacists for a breadth of careers touching on mental health in the practice and research, while the Applied Drug Development Path of Distinction prepares PharmD students for roles in the pharmaceutical industry.
“We are excited to introduce these new options in our PharmD program and the possibilities they will unlock for our students,” says Mel de Villiers, vice dean and associate dean for academic affairs. “Our faculty and staff have been working hard to identify in-demand areas of pharmacy practice and translate those needs to provide unparalleled opportunities for students in our PharmD program to differentiate themselves.”
Both new paths are open to applications from first-year PharmD students, who will officially begin the coursework in Fall 2022.
“I wanted to explore other career paths that are available for pharmacists. These courses have exposed me to the various possibilities available to pharmacists that I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered.” —Miguel Mailig
With the new paths, the School of Pharmacy now offers 13 concentrations, certificates, and dual degrees that allow students to customize their PharmD program to reach and excel in their career goals faster. Other areas of concentration include leadership, research, antimicrobial stewardship, rural health, pharmacy operations and technology management, and interprofessional practice and education.
“By providing students with opportunities to gain specialized knowledge in an interest area, future pharmacists will be better prepared,” says Vincent Wartenweiler (PharmD ‘21), who took several courses in the Psychiatric Pharmacy path. “The leadership team behind Scholars in Pharmacy and the instructors in the Paths of Distinction are prevailing authorities in their respective fields, which yields fruitful outcomes for students.”
Psychiatric pharmacy and interprofessional mental health care
“I applied to pharmacy school knowing I wanted to help optimize and revolutionize psychiatric medicine,” says Wartenweiler. “Seeing patients struggle on so-called ‘therapeutic odysseys’ of pharmacotherapy was disheartening, so I wanted to learn more about novel treatments in psychiatry.”
While a PharmD student at the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy, Wartenweiler did just that, taking several courses that covered the proper use of abused drugs and interprofessional approaches to mental health treatment, in addition to clinical rotations that broadened his understanding of how psychiatric medications affect the brain and what pharmacists’ roles are in mental health.
The constellation of coursework Wartenweiler completed has since been curated and expanded to become the Path of Distinction in Psychiatric Pharmacy.
“This path will provide pharmacy students with a great foundation to understand the use, applications, considerations, and concerns with new generations of potential psychiatric interventions, with a focus on their effective delivery within interprofessional care surrounding mental health,” says Cody Wenthur, assistant professor in the School’s Pharmacy Practice Division and faculty director of the new PharmD path.
Seminars in interprofessional mental health care focus not only on medication but on holistic treatment, including psychosocial interventions, where medications fit into the bigger picture, and why a team-based approach to care is important.
“Pharmacists need to get comfortable with not just the medications that are used to treat the conditions, but also get used to having conversations around mental health,” says Casey Gallimore, associate professor in the Pharmacy Practice Division, who specializes in psychiatric pharmacy.
Students in the path also have access to a set of electives offered by units across the UW–Madison campus, including counseling psychology, neuroscience, horticulture, and biotechnology.
“There’s a broad swath of electives for our students that all provide added value to the core curriculum, which I think is a testament to the strength of our university in general,” says Wenthur.
Due to the specialized nature of the program, graduates who complete the Psychiatric Pharmacy path will have a leg up in landing a residency and board certification as a psychiatric pharmacist.
“This is a very in-demand skillset for pharmacists,” says Wenthur. “Having the credentials that indicate you are specifically trained in psychiatric pharmacy will be a signal to residency programs and others that our students will come into their programs well prepared and ready to make an impact.”
But the training will also prepare graduates to take on a variety of other roles, including clinical trial support, in industry or elsewhere, or research pharmacist within a healthcare system, says Wenthur.
“There is also a growing need for individuals who have a specialized knowledge in the regulatory environment and the application of controlled substance laws for new generations of psychiatric pharmaceuticals,” says Wenthur.
Even without practicing in a mental health specialty clinic, this training will help future pharmacists provide excellent, informed care to all patients, says Gallimore.
“Regardless of your practice setting, you’re going to be interacting with patients who have mental health challenges and often have a lack of access to mental health specialty care, so it’s really exciting that pharmacists can play a significant role in bridging that access gap and meeting patients where they are,” Gallimore says.
Like Wartenweiler, who hopes to ultimately become a professor in a school of health sciences, students can also transfer some of their credits from the path to matriculate into the School of Pharmacy’s groundbreaking Psychoactive Pharmaceutical Investigation master’s degree program.
“As we begin to unlock the mysteries of psychedelic medicine, the world will increasingly require educators who are passionate about the expansion in this field and the utilization of these novel treatment modalities,” Wartenweiler says. “However, before jumping into an academic role, it’s my aim to work in the pharmaceutical industry or in clinical research to help advance psychedelic therapies in the development pipeline.”
Pharmaceutical industry primer
The Applied Drug Development Path of Distinction, adapted from the School’s capstone certificate and master’s degree programs in Applied Drug Development (ADD), is designed to get PharmD students involved in the pharmaceutical industry. With the recent news from the Industry Pharmacists Organization that both industry fellowships and direct-to-industry employment are on the rise among PharmDs, this specialized training allows graduates to stand out.
“This path offers industry-specific experience, taught by people who are actively working in the pharmaceutical industry,” says Eric Buxton, clinical associate professor and ADD program director. “It’s very specialized information that most traditional PharmD programs don’t offer.”
PharmD students can enroll in three of four offered courses developed with industry insight, which include an overview of the drug development process, from compound discovery to post-marketing approval; an introduction to regulatory processes and interactions with the Food and Drug Administration; pharmaceutical economics and project management, which looks at how pharmaceutical companies allocate resources; and good practices (laboratory, manufacturing, and clinical, also known as GXP) for regulated environments.
“Procedures enforced in factory and laboratory settings, in a regulated environment, have to follow a very specific set of instructions every time you make a compound,” says Buxton, who is also chair of the School’s Division of Pharmacy Professional Development (DPPD). “Because these compounds are going into the human body, there’s a higher level of procedural best practices and recordkeeping.”
Instructors in the courses represent a broad cross-section of the drug development process — including 2021 Citation of Merit honorees Mehran Yazdanian (MS ’88, PhD ’90) and Jayne Hastedt (MS ’88, PhD ’90) — bringing expertise from Promega, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Genentech, and more.
“We have quite a few instructors because drug development is an area that needs a lot of different expertise,” says Leslie Dickman, teaching faculty in DPPD. Dickman is an instructor in the drug development overview course, who brings more than a decade of experience with Genentech and Amgen.
“There are a lot of avenues that a PharmD can go down in their career, including a huge place in drug development,” says Dickman. “For students who are really interested in a career in the private sector, especially drug development, this path of distinction will really set them apart from other PharmD candidates who apply for the same job.”
PharmD student Miguel Mailig hasn’t formally begun the ADD Path of Distinction yet, but he has completed two courses in the track and is working toward his third.
“I wanted to explore other career paths that are available for pharmacists,” he says. “These courses have exposed me to the various possibilities available to pharmacists that I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered.”
“This is a way that pharmacy students can distinguish themselves, bolster their qualifications, and show potential evaluators or employers that they have a solid grounding in how the pharmaceutical industry works.”
After graduation, PharmD students can choose to matriculate and transfer credits into the master’s degree program in Applied Drug Development. Whether graduates choose to continue their education, go directly into the workforce, or seek a residency or fellowship, this specialized training will give them an advantage.
“This is a way that pharmacy students can distinguish themselves, bolster their qualifications, and show potential evaluators or employers that they have a solid grounding in how the pharmaceutical industry works,” says Buxton.