Bill creating UT Tyler pharmacy program advances

TYLER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - A bill drafted to create a pharmacy program at The University of Texas at Tyler has passed from the state Senate and House to the governor's desk for final approval.

Senate Bill 566, which would make way for a proposed public-private partnership to create the pharmacy school funded by philanthropic donations and student tuition, passed out of the Senate.

Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, the bill's author, said the school would benefit Tyler's place as a regional medical center as the demand for health care professionals continues to grow.
Business leaders expressed the need to establish a pharmacy school locally, Eltife said. Most qualified pharmacists come from outside Texas, he said. Businesses are challenged with hiring and retaining pharmacists, he said.

"This is a win-win for the school and the business community," he said. "It will open up opportunity for students and employers in a growing field."

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, co-authored the bill.

Eltife said UT Tyler presented a business plan to legislators that did not require state funding, which was critical for the bill's success.

UT Tyler President Rod Mabry said the university is excited about the opportunity to add a pharmacy program to its Top 12 ranked nursing program. The nursing program was expanded by legislative action in 2005. Doctorate programs also were created for UT Tyler that year.

The program will be funded by tuition generated from the expected 100 student slots within the four-year pharmacy school and will not draw from tuition or fees from other campus sources, Mabry said.

"Philanthropy will play an integral part in the development of the pharmacy school," Mabry said in a statement. "We've already been contacted by interested donors, and we'll reach out to engage other community leaders and alumni."

Creation of the program likely will require a new building, hiring of faculty and staff and a pharmacy college dean.

Rough estimates for the 40,000 square-foot facility are $16 million to $20 million, he said.

Mabry said if the governor signs the bill, creation of the pharmacy program would then go before the UT System Board of Regents for final approval, but he said all indications have been positive.

Business leaders, universities and colleges, professional groups and delegates put their support behind the bill to "make it clear this was a valuable education asset for region and state," Mabry said.

"Hospital systems and retailers are struggling to find great pharmacists who want to stay in East Texas, and we expect this will reduce turnover rates for local businesses," he said.

Five public universities and one private university in Texas offer similar pharmacy programs. Mabry said more than 3,000 students applied for 600 available slots last year in those schools.

Tyler's medical sector and East Texas' higher education institutions are expected to be an advantageous asset to pharmacy school students, he said.

"The students are looking for more opportunity, and businesses are asking for more pharmacists," he said. "Establishing the program will be an advantage to further highlight the quality programs we offer."

The bill was sponsored in the House by Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, who is on the Higher Education Committee. Clardy said support from Reps. Matt Schaefer, R- Tyler; Bryan
Hughes, R-Mineola; Chris Paddie, R-Marshall; David Simpson, R-Longview; and Dan Flynn, R-Van, also were instrumental in the bill's passage.

Clardy said he and his wife have long-standing ties to Tyler and he was pleased his position on the House's Higher Education Committee coupled with unanimous support from East Texas' delegation helped the bill clear the two toughest hurdles in the House and Senate.

"It was really a regional effort," he said. "Dr. Mabry and business leaders saw the benefit of creating the program. There was a want and a need there on all fronts, and we hope the governor will give his approval."

Upon approval by the governor and board of regents, the university will begin preparing for the two-year accreditation process and hopefully enroll the first pharmacy school students in fall 2015.


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