Pharmacy program spreads to rural areas

Florida A&M University is trying to expand health education options for Panhandle students.

FAMU plans to begin a pharmacy program in a 39,200-square-foot building in the city of Crestview.

As part of the deal, the Crestview City Council recently voted to transfer the title of the building to FAMU for use as a classroom/laboratory for health-related ­­educational programs. The Legislature gave FAMU a $2.5 million for the project.

University officials said the College of Pharmacy is likely to begin offering a program at the site. It was unclear Thursday when the school will open.

Nursing and allied health courses will also be offered from Crestview, a city of about 23,000 located in Okaloosa County, not far from Fort Walton Beach and Destin.

Many Crestview students attend college locally at Northwest Florida State College and the University of West Florida branch in nearby Fort Walton Beach. But those area students seeking a health education must drive 150 miles to Tallahassee or to Auburn and Birmingham, Ala.

FAMU president James H. Ammons hopes this initiative will change that.

“This effort would help to bring health education to a region of our state which sorely needs programs in areas where there are critical shortages,” Ammons said. “Our goal, and our hope, is that local residents trained in the health professions will remain in the area to address some of the health needs in a 12-county area stretching from Leon to Escambia counties.”

University officials said students interested in the program will be admitted to FAMU.  Lectures will be provided in real-time through video conferencing between the College of Pharmacy in Tallahassee and the Crestview facility. They hope that graduates of the program will help end the shortage of pharmacists throughout the Panhandle.

University officials said the Crestview initiative also allows FAMU to build on existing relationships in the healthcare industry. Faculty assigned to the Crestview location will be able to work closely with major hospitals and community pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and others, which will provide training for students, officials said.

But not everyone thinks the initiative is the best approach. When asked about the project, Kristen Taylor, 22, a second professional year pharmacy student from Orlando, said a satellite facility is a good idea but disagreed with opening it in a small town “so close to Tallahassee.”

“We should offer scholarships to students so they could come to the main campus,” said Taylor, who would have preferred to see another effort in a larger city like Gainesville or her hometown, Orlando, in central Florida, where the school could attract even more students. The pharmacy school operates satellite campuses in Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami.

The Crestview program is part of Gov. Charlie Crist’s rural health diversity initiative which seeks to improve healthcare options in underserved areas, said Crestview Mayor David Cadle. He said his community is getting more than just a pharmacy school.

“It means a great deal of educational and economic benefits to the city,” Cadle said. “We are excited they are coming here, and we are looking forward to a long relationship with Florida A&M.”