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College of Pharmacy sees improved scores


Tribune-Herald staff writer

University of Hawaii at Hilo pharmacy program graduates are helping to increase their school’s standing among competing pharmacy colleges across the nation.

On their first attempts at the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), almost 93 percent of graduates of the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy passed the test in 2012.

That represents an improvement from the first-time passing rate of just over 80 percent put up by students in 2011, the year the first class graduated from the school, which opened its doors in August 2007.

“We were obviously happy to see that it improved,” said College of Pharmacy Dean John Pezzuto of the passing rate. “… It’s all good news. We’re on the right track.”

The most recent NAPLEX scores, which were posted Friday on the website of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), which administers the exam, place Hilo in 94th place out of 109 colleges of pharmacy across the country. The average passing rate across the country was 96.76 percent.

In 2011, Hilo students’ first-time passing rate on the exam exceeded that of students at only one other school — Lebanese American University.

The exam is used to help individual state boards of pharmacy assess a candidate’s knowledge of the practice of pharmacy, according to the NABP website. Pharmacy students at UHH are also required to take an examination in pharmacy law before they can be licensed.

College of Pharmacy administrators have said that the comparatively poor showing in 2011 was not unexpected.

“The thing about that first year’s results, it didn’t devastate us that much,” Pezzuto said. “With a small class, we were talking about a handful of students that didn’t pass out of the 84 that graduated. If we had had only three or four more students pass, we would have been right up there with the national average.”

The first year’s results can also largely be chalked up to the fact that the program is so new, said associate professor Carolyn Ma, chairwoman of the college’s Department of Pharmacy Practice.

“We’re continuing to finetune our curriculum,” she said. “… With all the activities of building a new school, recruiting faculty, building facilities, developing a curriculum, it’s all part of the growing process and of building a strong foundation.”

In 2012, the lowest performing school in the country was another young pharmacy school, Touro University of New York, which opened its doors in September 2008 and whose first graduating class earned a passing rate of 81.97 percent. Some of the other schools Hilo’s Class of 2012 bested were Texas Southern University, Washington State University, Texas A&M, Florida A&M, and Hampton University.

While the improvement in the passing rate was a welcome event, administrators continue to stress their oft-repeated goal: to become one of the nation’s top 25 pharmacy schools.

Outperforming the majority of other schools in the country on the NAPLEX exam is an important part of that goal, Pezzuto explained, and therefore the college is working to give its students the tools they need to pass the exam with flying colors.

“We looked at it very seriously,” he said of the first year’s results. “We started thinking about what we would do to aggressively improve. One thing has been the number of faculty. When that first class started, we had 10 people on faculty. Now we have 45. We’ve been getting stronger with people coming in, and, frankly, we’ve been getting stronger with some people going out. We had a couple who are no longer with us and there’s good reason for that. We’ve gotten stronger that way.”

While avoiding focusing too much on teaching just to the test, faculty are finding ways to help students prepare for the NAPLEX exam, Ma said.

“We’ve really tried to increase the amount of preparation for the test, giving a more detailed NAPLEX review week before graduation. We’ve included more faculty in various specialties. And we helped to decrease the cost of a textbook review guide the students use, so that they could purchase it at a much more economical amount,” she said.

The book, “Rx Prep,” sold for $988, but the school managed to negotiate that price down to $248. Students are encouraged to purchase the book at the end of their third year and use it as a study guide through their entire fourth year of studies, Ma said. It includes access to a video library, review guide and a bank of practice quizzes.

One potential change that is sure to have an impact on student scores is an issue that is largely out of administrators’ hands, Pezzuto added.

“One thing we can probably attribute some of the NAPLEX (scores) to is a lack of a building,” he said. “We have people spread all over. When you have students not walking by a faculty member’s office and stopping to chat … that can’t be measured. That’s another mark of a top school. With a building, I think we’ll hit that 95 percent pass rate, and we can be in the top 25.”

College of Pharmacy administrators spent last week lobbying legislators to approve funding for a new building, and they are hoping that a line item for the construction project will be included in the state budget, which is to be finalized by May. That item was dropped from an earlier version of the state House budget that was handed over to the Senate earlier this month.

“I think the permanent building is vital to our continuation,” Ma said. “It’s not an insignificant matter. A building houses where we can have all our functions, it provides accessibility to faculty and our research labs. Right now, we’re all over the place at three different sites. It’s not efficient and doesn’t help us to be productive. … We need grassroots support from the community. Whatever testimony they can submit will be helpful at this point.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at


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