HU Pharmacy student life: Six years for six figures

By Altamese Osborne

Kenneth Worsham flies into Hampton University’s dining room, Cleveland Hall, like a bat out of hell.

He makes little time for pleasantries, choosing instead to plop into the nearest seat, and down a “health-conscious” meal of mashed potatoes, broccoli, barbecued chicken, orange soda and three dessert plates like his life depended on it.

He won’t stay for long.

“I have to take a nap so I can pull an all-nighter for this test I have tomorrow,” he explains between chomps.

The said test is an immunology exam, followed by a Pharmacokinetics test later in the week.

“We pretty much have a test every week,” said Worsham.

With that, he’s out the door, leaving behind only the whoosh of a backpack held down with a few too many books, and the imprinted tread marks of his New Balance sneakers on the sensitive linoleum.

Worsham, of Carmel, Ind. is currently a second-year graduate student in Hampton University’s School of Pharmacy, a college known more for its military-style method of education than its existence as another campus degree program. Studies go beyond the obligatory four-year curriculum. The School of Pharmacy requires six years from its students (playing further into its boot camp-like nature), resulting in a Doctor of Pharmacy, or Pharm.D., degree.

“It sounds like a lot. I guess it is,” says Telayna Hampton, a first-year pharmacy student who actually entered the program a year behind her Quintessence 7 class cohorts.

“I didn’t pass the PCAT the first time I took it,” Hampton explained.

Indeed, the Pharmacy College Admissions Test is yet another nugget required of pharmacy students, one which ensures that only a select few cross over from pre-professional to professional status, provided that they prove their merits in an entrance exam and perform at a minimum 2.75 grade point level.

The hurdles only grant prospective students an interview.

“Pre-professionals were guaranteed a seat when I was a freshman, but now they aren’t,” says Onyinye Onyekwelu, a second-year graduate, or professional, pharmacy student. “I think my class was the last to have guaranteed seats.

“Also, the transfer students aren’t guaranteed a seat, either.”

It seems as if becoming a pharmacist, rather than being one, is the hardest part of the job.

A typical day for a pharmaceutical candidate reads like a prescription that needs to be decoded, then refilled. Take Onyekwelu’s daily schedule, for instance: at 9 a.m., there is a Pharmacokinetics class. At 10 a.m., Medicinal Chemistry takes its place. At 11 a.m., Immunology is in session. There are recitations, which are optional reviews for upcoming tests.

Health Care Administration comes next.

Students must be immaculately dressed at all times. Sometimes they wear lab coats. Sometimes they’re decked out in Ogden attire.

Pharmaceutical Care after that.

Studying must take the place of lunch, and sometimes, dinner.

Anatomy and Physiology.

Students’ nutritional diets must be tracked.

A Health Disparities elective.

A two-hour test.

And still, other students don’t see what all the fuss is about.

“I don’t understand what’s so hard about being in pharmacy,” says senior Biology major Darryl Stewart. “Isn’t it just handing out pills?”

Onyekwelu of Baltimore bristles at the question.

“That really annoys me,” she says. “Everybody thinks pharmacists just work at Rite Aid. There’s retail, hospital, clinical, research. Clinical works in a special field, like diabetes. Hospital is when you work in an actual hospital. It’s like retail, but it’s in a hospital. Research is finding new drugs, and relating them to diseases.”

Ironically enough, as she says this, Onyekwelu is engrossed in research of her own.

Sitting on her dorm room floor, she is an island surrounded by oceans of old test papers, Anatomy books, physics equations and the like.

Atop her desk sits a list of local hospitals.

“I have to find a preceptor for my rotations,” she explains. “It’s a five-week, non-paid internship we have to do every summer.

Alas, the pharmaceutical chasm grows even wider, and success-bound students jump in to fill its great gap with their endeavors.

Perhaps, all this rigor is for a good reason. Hampton’s School of Pharmacy recently emerged victorious from a probationary question mark surrounding its accreditation status. They are now a fully accredited institution, with a certification that will last until June 30, 2011.

“Maybe that is the reason why we have so much to do; I don’t know,” says Onyekwelu.

And yet, it is not all work.

The School of Pharmacy also houses student organizations, such as the Hampton University Student Society of Health-System Pharmacy, which allows students to network, not only with one another, but with pharmacy professionals, as well

“I’m a member,” Worsham said. “I applied to be president, but I didn’t make it.”

Make it or not, this organization has many fun things for students to do, such as a Diabetes Walk in October, a carnival in the spring and an annual trip to Busch Gardens in April.

“It’s like we get a reward for the work we did during the year,” Worsham said.

With the pharmacy program’s famed motto of “six years, six figures” held up to the light for all to see, Busch Gardens pales in comparison.

“I’ve heard that we make good money,” Onyekwelu agrees, “but I’m here to focus on medicine.

“I just want to help people.”

The writer is a junior in the Hampton University Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications