Vice Dean of External Relations Linda Garrelts MacLean started seeing a growing demand for pharmacy students in April 2020, just two months after the COVID-19 pandemic officially kicked off in the US.

First came the requests by public health officials for students to help at COVID-19 testing sites. Soon, the need for student pharmacists and their skills in being able to communicate with patients and knowledge in administering vaccines became a bright spot in a very challenging year of virtual learning.

“We are receiving requests from pharmacies and providers, big and small, for our students. They know our students have the skills they need to communicate knowledgeably about the vaccine and other medications as well as administer the vaccines themselves,” said Garrelts MacLean.

Garrelts MacLean, along with Associate Professor Kimberly McKeirnan were recently featured in a New York Times article on the pharmacy hiring spree taking place across the nation. McKeirnan, who authored immunization training for pharmacy technicians, says that demand for the course has skyrocketed in the past year.

“The training has been a game changer for pharmacies,” said McKeirnan.

In the three years since the training was developed in 2016, McKeirnan instructed around 650 pharmacy technicians; in the past year, that number has grown exponentially to more than 10,000 since the training was adopted a year ago by the American Pharmacists Association.

Associate Dean Jennifer Robinson poses with a group of volunteer pharmacy students she precepted during a COVID-19 immunization clinic to vaccinate health care workers.

“This pandemic has been very difficult for our students on so many levels, but I’ve seen many of them turn this challenging time into a very positive experience, putting what they’ve learned into motion,” said Associate Dean for Professional Education Jennifer Robinson.

Though students have had to quickly adapt to learning from home, many have taken this once-in-lifetime pandemic and turned it into a learning opportunity.

“This has been the most rewarding experience of the entirety of my pharmacy education. Being able to feel the sense of community has changed my perspective on health care forever and I will utilize all the knowledge I’ve gained,” said third-year pharmacy student Shannon Patterson, Chair of the American Pharmacist Association Academy of Student Pharmacists Operation Immunization.

Patterson and a group of WSU pharmacy students began vaccinating frontline health care workers in late January at the Summit Cancer Centers in Spokane, Washington. Since then, students at the college have volunteered their time at mass vaccination sites across the state and country.

“It’s really cool that we are able to be a part of this vaccination clinic. I don’t know if we will have a chance like this ever again,” said Crystal Lewis, a third-year pharmacy student at the college.

For fourth-year pharmacy student Breanna Byrne, the pandemic has been a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Though still months away from graduating with her Doctor of Pharmacy degree, Byrne has already received a full-time offer at a large community pharmacy.

“There are tons of job postings online,” said Byrne. “For a while, there was a very negative attitude around job prospects and the future of pharmacy and I always kept a positive attitude and look what happened. Right now we are seeing the big push for the importance of pharmacy in the health care team.”