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The College of Pharmacy at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo has grown by leaps and bounds since it was founded in 2006.

“We’ve met every benchmark we have tried to over the past five years,” said dean John M. Pezzuto. “We are fully accredited. We started graduate programs, residencies. We are spread throughout the state on every neighbor island. And we really are Hawaiʻi’s only College of Pharmacy. I think we represent the state very well.”

Hawaiʻi’s College of Pharmacy

There are about 375 students enrolled in the college and about half of them are from Hawaiʻi, like Hilo’s Moani Hagiwara, who took part in the annual White Coat ceremony, a rite of passage for first year students.

“I kind of got a little chicken skin,” said Hagiwara after the ceremony. “A chill went through my body. I grew up here on this island too so it is a little bit of home pride as well. It’s exciting to have it here especially.”

Local students like Hagiwara can now stay home to pursue an education in pharmacy. It’s what attracted Davis Hanai, a second year pharmacy student, to the program.

“I would like to work in Hawaiʻi and I feel like if you want to train with the population you are going to work with, that’s a big deal to have the pharmacy school here in Hawaiʻi,” said Hanai.

The college and a lot of hard work is also a prescription for personal success. About 80 percent of the 2011 graduates found jobs or a paid residency. The average salary for graduates working full time $117,000 a year.

“You can go into retail, into hospital, you can go into industry, you can go into more policy making so there is a lot of choices and opportunities for students who want to make a difference,” said Hanai.

The college is also an economic engine according to an independent study by economist David Hammes, which has shown the UH Hilo College of Pharmacy contributes more than $50 million dollars a year to the economy of Hawai’i. There are faculty on O’ahu, Maui and Kaua’i, with students and residents placed in hospitals throughout the state. It was even named one of the top five new pharmacy schools in the nation by US News and World Report.

“Over the years, we have even exceeded even our own expectations,” said Pezzuto.

The school’s impact reaches far beyond Hawaiʻi. Besides being the only College of Pharmacy in the state, it’s the only one in the Pacific region. The College of Pharmacy extends its reach by sending students to conduct practical experience, called rotations, through a memo of understanding to Guam, Alaska and American Samoa. The agreement has encouraged students such as Francine Amoa to come to UH Hilo from American Samoa, which only has one pharmacist on the whole island.

“I personally think that having a college of pharmacy, and the only college of pharmacy in the Pacific rim, is a huge importance, just because there isn’t another institution for Pacific islanders like me to go and get an education and go back and serve our community,” said Amoa.

The college looks to the future

The school has always had one ambitious goal: to be a top-rated college. It is on its way, but there is one more big thing that has to be accomplished before that goal can be reached.

That’s one location for the entire college. Right now, the school is spread out over five different locations. Classrooms are in a temporary facility on the outskirts of campus. The administration is housed in a borrowed county building a few miles away that was built in 1920. The research labs are seven miles out of Hilo in antiquated buildings constructed in the ’60s.

“We really have to bring all of our people together,” said Pezzuto. “We have to ground our research programs. We have to strengthen our clinical programs. And there is no way we can really effectively accomplish that without a permanent building.”

UH Hilo Assistant Professor Dana Koomoa-Lange, a researcher at the college strongly agrees.

“To have that community together where we can really communicate on an everyday basis and have more research seminars and more interaction with the students as well,” said Koomoa-Lange. “I think that will be really instrumental in bringing the college of pharmacy forward into the future.”

The future is now. The building design is complete and the facility site has been selected. Now it is just a question of funding. The permanent college of pharmacy building is the University of Hawai’i’s top funding priority. Governor Abercrombie is including funding in the executive budget, according to Pezzuto.

“We have the site. It is shovel ready. It’s ready to go, so as soon as we secure the funding, we can have a groundbreaking and secure the future of the college, secure the future of pharmacy in the state and really help us do what we have the capability of doing,” said Pezzuto.

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