The College of Pharmacy at 50

The Three Deans: The late Heber W. Youngken Jr., the first dean of the College of Pharmacy, is seen here with the late Louis A. Luzzi, left, the second dean, and the current dean, Donald E. Letendre, right.

“Introducing the College of Pharmacy at the University of Rhode Island,” reads the 50-year-old brochure proclaiming the birth of the University’s sixth college. Inside, the brochure says retail pharmacists in the United States were filling 250 million prescriptions a year.

As the college celebrates its Golden Anniversary in 2007-2008, its students prepare for an environment in which 3.2 billion prescriptions are being filled each year in the U.S.

It’s not just the astronomical jump in the number of prescriptions filled since the college’s opening that demonstrates how complex and expansive the profession has become. Fifty years ago, pharmacy students were not required to gain hands-on experience in community and hospital pharmacies. Computers, patient simulators, and other technologies in pharmacy education and practice were unimaginable.

The pharmacy experts of 1957 could not have predicted the explosion of prescription remedies for everything from depression and toenail fungus to erectile dysfunction and overactive bladder.

The College of Pharmacy responded with demanding curricula, improved facilities, and a commitment to preparing students who are adept at thriving in the volatile world of health care.

The first pharmacy class in Rhode Island was held in Providence’s Fountain Street Evening High School in the early 1870s, which led to the creation of the Rhode Island College of Pharmacy and Allied Sciences that operated out of facilities on Providence’s Benefit Street from 1924 to 1957.

In 1955, the college’s trustees agreed that with a five-year program on the horizon, the college’s physical and financial resources were no longer adequate. Pharmacy leaders felt an affiliation with the state university would be appropriate.

On July 16, 1956, the Board of Trustees of State Colleges established the College of Pharmacy at URI, with final approval granted by the General Assembly.

As the new college prepared to open its doors in 1957, the University published a brochure with a photo showing a dazzlingly white Pastore Hall on the Kingston Campus, the new home of the College of Pharmacy: “Its well-equipped, modern laboratories and classrooms are excellently suited for the specialized courses of the pharmacy program,” the brochure says. “The pharmacy students also make considerable use of Ranger Hall, the completely remodeled biological science laboratory.”

It didn’t take long for the college to outgrow Pastore. In 1960, the same year that the college instituted the five-year bachelor’s degree, voters approved a $1.5 million bond referendum for a new building. A University photo from March 1964 shows the late Pharmacy Dean Heber W. Youngken Jr. walking on planks over muddy ground, carrying supplies from Pastore to the new Fogarty Hall, the college’s home today.

Fogarty Hall was initially designed to accommodate 150 students, but now there are close to 700. There were 10 faculty members in 1957, and now there are about 40. With technology and equipment for major research projects, new learning technology—such as an animation lab and patient simulators— as well as growing outreach programs, Fogarty Hall is bursting at the seams.

Recognizing the increasing need for pharmacists in the state and nation and the college’s role as a leader in biomedical research, voters last fall approved a $65 million bond issue for a new pharmacy building to be part of a new health and life sciences district in the northern portion of the Kingston Campus.

But well before planning for the new building was under way, the college made another major change to its program. In 1998, the first students entered the six-year doctor of pharmacy degree program, which was accredited in 2004. The five-year bachelor’s degree program graduated its last class in 2002.

Despite a longtime need for new and expanded facilities, the college has been innovative in its efforts to serve the state, the nation, and the world. For example, the college was the first pharmacy program in the country to purchase both adult and baby patient simulators. The college’s Pharmacy Outreach Programs are known around the world for effectively bringing medication, counseling, and management to senior citizens.

President Robert L. Carothers credited the college for developing the state’s first comprehensive biomedical research network through $25 million in federal grants. “The initial grant led to unprecedented collaboration with Brown University, Rhode Island College, Providence College, Salve Regina University, Roger Williams University, and Bryant University, while the second resulted in the establishment of a center for toxicology studies open to all biomedical researchers in the state,” the president said.

Pharmacy Dean Donald E. Letendre said faculty continue to be at the forefront of research and discovery, placing the college among the top 20 nationwide in federal research funding in recent years. Pharmacy scientists are researching genetic triggers for cancer, environmental links to diseases like Alzheimer’s, toxicity of medicines given to organ transplant patients, and even the potential impact of growing plants in a space vehicle bound for Mars.

“Throughout the years, the College has benefited from superb leadership,” Letendre said. “During more than four decades of service, Deans Youngken and Louis A. Luzzi proved to be visionaries, statesmen, and champions of progress.”

“Our alumni are pioneers in all segments of the profession,” Letendre continued. “As the college embarks on its next 50 years, it does so with tremendous pride, a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, and a profound sense of appreciation for all of the remarkable achievements and contributions of so many during the past five decades.”

Two longtime members of the faculty have been witnesses to and participants in the profession’s dramatic changes. Professor Emeritus of Pharmacy Norman A. Campbell, who was in the last graduating class of the Rhode Island College of Pharmacy in Providence, was a professor and administrator in Kingston for 31 years. Associate Dean Joan Lausier earned her bachelor’s and doctorate from the college; in 1972; she was hired as the first woman faculty member: “When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, there were only three women in my class; now 70 percent of close to 600 students in the doctor of pharmacy program are women.”

Lausier said there was one professor who made it very clear that women had no business in the profession: “But like anyone, I had to prove myself. I set myself up to be a role model for women.”

“She was one of the best students the college ever had,” Campbell said. “So you always had respect for her. I always said you don’t laugh at a .400 hitter.”

Both educators chuckled when told of a 1969 University press release highlighting a voluntary program that for the first time provided students with practical experience in community pharmacies. The release said 16 third- and fourth-year students participated and that the college hoped to increase that number to 30 the following year.

Today, the college requires every third- and fourth-year student to log four hours each week for a full year in community and hospital pharmacies. Then, in their sixth year, students must complete six advanced practice rotations working directly with pharmacists, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. Each rotation runs 40 hours a week for five weeks. Students complete three each semester. Most students also complete paid pharmacy internships in the summer and during other academic breaks.

In the end, Lausier and Campbell agree that the college has always been about helping students to become top professionals, even if it requires a little tomfoolery.

The two remember a September meeting of the Maine Pharmacists Association in the 1970s that they attended with Youngken and others. The Mainers challenged the URI contingent to jump into the heated saltwater swimming pool fully clothed. One individual said he’d fork over $100 to assist a Maine pharmacy student at URI if someone jumped in.

“So Heber goes to the 12-foot-diving board in his skivvies and leads the charge,” Campbell said. “And I swam in my long green evening gown,” Lausier added.

“When Joan jumped in, her gown billowed over her head and we were worried about her, but she recovered. Then we all did a lap in the pool. We got a few hundred bucks for our Maine students,” Campbell said. “When I came into class the following Monday, the students gave me a standing ovation.”

The College of Pharmacy’s Anniversary Gala will be held on Saturday, March 29, 2008, at the Hyatt on Goat Island in Newport. Additional details will be announced as they are finalized. Pharmacy alumni should watch the mail for a commemorative book celebrating the college and many of its outstanding graduates. The college is also planning events throughout the year-long celebration.

By Dave Lavallee ’79, M.P.A. ’87