County Judge, Veronica Escobar

  • El Paso pharmacy school proposed
  • By Brandi Grissom / Austin Bureau
  • LUBBOCK -- The El Paso region, the part of Texas most underserved by pharmacists, could become home to a new four-year pharmacy school.

  • "I look forward to bringing pharmacy back to El Paso," Dr. John Baldwin, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center president, said Thursday.

  • Baldwin said officials have begun exploring plans to create a four-year pharmacy program at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso. Although a timeline and a cost estimate have yet to be developed, those plans, he said, would be a priority for the school in 2008.

  • Texas Tech has pharmacy programs in Lubbock, Amarillo, Dallas and Abilene. The newest is the program in Abilene, which had its first class this fall.

  • Baldwin said the existing programs receive five times as many applicants as Texas Tech can accommodate.

  • "It's a very popular field for people to go into now," he said.

  • The popularity may have something to do with pay for pharmacists, who earn as much $85,000 a year fresh out of school, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Bilingual pharmacists stand to earn even more along the border, said Chris Fowler, a program director at the coordinating board.

  • Pharmacists, she said, are in high demand in Texas, especially as the baby-boomer generation ages and creates more need for prescription medicines.

  • The border area faces the greatest shortage of pharmacists, she said.

  • The El Paso region had 42 pharmacists per 100,000 people, according to a 2003

    coordinating board study. It was the lowest ratio in the state, which overall had 73 pharmacists per 100,000.
  • "They're right on the money, in essence, at looking at El Paso," Fowler said.

  • The University of Texas at El Paso has a small pharmacy program. Students at UTEP finish pre-pharmacy work in El Paso, then take two years of pharmacy courses at UT Austin, and finish their last two years back at UTEP.

  • That program started in 1999 and has graduated about 46 pharmacists, said its director, Dr. Jose Rivera.

  • About 75 percent of the pharmacy students stay in El Paso after graduating, Rivera said. That's not enough, though, and he said UTEP has been considering creating its own four-year pharmacy school.

  • Expanding the existing UTEP program, he said, seems more feasible than starting a new one at Texas Tech, which is in the middle of getting its medical school off the ground.

  • "One of the first things I will ask is É how can we work together, instead trying to compete," said Rivera, who is also on the faculty at Texas Tech.

  • Rick Francis, a member of the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents, said the El Paso program wouldn't need to be developed completely from scratch. A program existed at Texas Tech in El Paso but was closed three years ago because space on the campus was too tight.

  • With two new buildings and a third one planned for the future, Francis said, Texas Tech has the space and is ready to restart a pharmacy program.

  • "It is very exciting, the commitment Texas Tech has to bring resources into the El Paso economy," Francis said.

  • Initially, he said, the pharmacy program in El Paso would probably include two years, with plans to grow into a four-year freestanding school.

  • The timeline for developing the program, Francis said, would be dictated by the results of a campuswide study of the space in El Paso. A cost estimate for the pharmacy school was unavailable Thursday.

  • When Texas Tech decides to go forward with the full four-year pharmacy school, it will first have to be approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversees new degree offerings statewide.

  • Baldwin said he had already begun discussions with officials there.

    "I doubt we'll get much opposition," he said.

  • Brandi Grissom may be reached at; 512-479-6606.

  • County Judge
    Veronica Escobar