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Pharmacy Faces the Future

By Rick Pilger

While it is celebrating its past, the University's Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is very much looking to the future in its 75th anniversary year.

Beneath the uncanny, translucent blue of the Alberta sky the dark brown bricks of the University of Alberta's Dentistry-Pharmacy Centre provide a solid contrast. For almost seven decades these bricks have been a University landmark and, were it not for the stray vapor trail of a passing jet anchoring the scene to the present, under this enchanted sky it would be possible to shed those decades, slipping back in time to when the building — then known as the Medical Building was new.

Inside the Centre's doors, however, time takes on a different face. A visit to one of the building's major tenants, the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, pushes the clock forward. In the Faculty's labs, researchers test and seek the medicines of tomorrow: "magic bullets" designed to carry their killing force directly to malignant cells, "vaccines" to further the fight against cancer, agents to allow antibiotics to gain their mastery over "resistant" bacteria strains, pharmaceuticals to lower blood pressure, and other drugs potentially useful to combat a wide spectrum of disease conditions.

In its other dimension, the preparation of its graduates for professional practice whether that be in the community, in a hospital setting, in the pharmaceutical industry, or within a government regulatory agency — the Faculty is also looking to the future. In this, its 75th anniversary year, the Faculty has reorganized its courses into a five-year program in recognition of a fundamental change which has taken place since instruction in pharmacy first took place at the University of Alberta.

That was in 1914. In the shadow of the war clouds that had begun to form over Europe the fledgling university in Alberta introduced a new course of study. On April 13, 1914, following some two years of negotiations with the Alberta Pharmaceutical Association, the University established the Department of Pharmacy in the School of Medicine.

The 1915-16 University Calendar, the first to list the Department of Pharmacy, describes the two programs in pharmacy offered at that time: "one of only one session in duration leading to the Licencing Diploma conferred by the Alberta Pharmaceutical Association; the other, of two sessions, to the Phm. B. degree." In the first year the pharmacy students (in 1915-16 there were 11 of them in the total University registration of 439) are required to take courses in chemistry, botany, pharmacy, materia medica, pharmacology, and toxicology. Physics and Latin are also required, but only for the PhmB degree students. The same courses, taught in greater detail, and a course in bacteriology are offered to the degree students in their second year.

Practical experience was considered of extreme importance in those early years and before entering university the would-be pharmacist was required to serve a three-year apprenticeship. Prospective apprentices had to be at least 14 years of age and to have completed grade 10.

At the University of Alberta the course of studies in pharmacy was originally put under the wing of Dr. H.H. Moshier of the physiology department. However, in 1916 with no easy end to the War in sight, Dr. Moshier enlisted for active service, was commissioned with the rank of major, and left for Europe, taking many of the pharmacy and medical students with him. Following Dr. Moshier's death short months after his departure, Red Deer pharmacist H.H. Gaetz was given charge over the pharmacy course. Prof. Gaetz, who had arrived in Alberta from Nova Scotia in 1884, served his apprenticeship in Calgary and then established in Red Deer the first drug store between Edmonton and Calgary.

In 1917 the status of the Department was raised to that of a School and under Gaetz's leadership the degree program was soon revised: the PhmB degree (which, in fact, had never been awarded at the University of Alberta) was dropped and a four-year course leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy was substituted in 1918. (That same year the one-year diploma course was done away with and a two-year licentiate course leading to a diploma in pharmacy was legally established as the minimum requirement for licensure in Alberta.)

In May of 1921 the first BSc(Pharm) class, consisting of three students, graduated with the unique distinction of being the first graduates of a four-year pharmacy degree program in the British Empire.

Following the Second World War the diploma program was phased out and the BSc(Pharm) degree became the sole route to licensure. Now, as the Faculty celebrates its 75th anniversary the BSc(Pharm) curriculum — much revised over the years (in fact, from the mid 1930s until well into the ‘60s it was a three-year program) — is being reorganized into a five-year course of studies. This includes a pre-professional year (the first year of the five-year program) which students must complete prior to their acceptance into the Faculty.

A person who played a leading role in designing the new five-year program is Dick Moskalyk, a native of Saskatchewan who studied pharmacy in that province before joining the U of A staff in 1963 and earning his PhD degree from the University two years later. He explains that the change to the five-year program reflects continuing developments in the Faculty and was made necessary by the important evolution that has taken place in the practice of pharmacy.

Dr. Moskalyk, who is serving as the Faculty's acting dean during its 75th anniversary year, says that pharmacy has changed from a product-oriented to a patient-oriented profession. Consequently, he says, his Faculty has had to adapt its curriculum over the years to get more and more involved in a patient-oriented approach.

"What happened over quite a few years is that we kept crowding more and more into our four-year program, until it ended up that our students were taking 25 full courses in four years, whereas the University average is five full courses a year. So, we essentially had a five-year program squeezed into four. The new curriculum still has only 25 courses (five of these in the pre-professional year). Some are new, some are revised, some have added material, but in large measure we have simply taken what we have been squeezing into four years and spread it over five."

Merv Huston, who got his start in pharmacy as an apprentice in his father's drugstore in Ashcroft, B.C., agrees that the role of the pharmacist has undergone a profound change in recent years. "When I graduated a pharmacist was important for what he did, latterly he's been important for what he knows. In other words, in present pharmacy the pharmacist works with the doctors and the nurses and the patients as a consultant on drug medication and other matters of pharmacy — so the pharmacist these days is patient-oriented and service-oriented.

"In the earlier days it was more a matter of getting a number of pills or prescriptions into a patient's hands. That was a responsibility, of course — I'm not denigrating it but the more recent developments have expanded pharmacy enormously and therefore the educational requirements have had to be increased."

Dr. Huston earned the BSc(Pharm) degree from the University of Alberta in 1937 and his MSc four years later. He then joined the staff of the School of Pharmacy and returned to it after earning his PhD from the University of Washington in 1943. After the resignation of A.W. Matthews in 1946, he was named acting director of the School, an appointment which was confirmed on a continuing basis in 1948.

(Dr. A.W. Matthews, who now lives in Toronto, was one of the three members of the University's first pharmacy degree class in 1921. He joined the faculty of the University's pharmacy School in 1923 and in 1941 became the first Canadian pharmacy faculty member to be granted the PhD degree, which he earned at the University of Florida.)

When the School of Pharmacy was granted Faculty status in 1955, Dr. Huston became its first dean, and he served in that capacity until 1978. During his tenure the pharmacy school developed its reputation for excellence in the pharmaceutical sciences. (In 1968 the Faculty was renamed Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.)

Says Dr. Huston: "The biggest thrust that I initiated when I became director and later dean, was to initiate a research program. I could do that once I had my PhD; I could supervise and teach people at the master's level and later the PhD level. This enabled the Faculty to develop a research potential and a research effectiveness which had an impact on the contributions the staff could make to the students going through and to science in general."

In 1961 Kenneth M. James, now a member of the pharmacy faculty at Dalhousie University, successfully completed his research under Dr. B.E. Riedel of the U of A and became the first student to receive the Doctor of Philosophy degree from a Canadian pharmacy school. At fall convocation in 1963 Mangalath Nayar, a graduate student from India, received the second PhD degree to be awarded by the Faculty — this was also the second PhD ever given for work in a Canadian pharmacy school.

Another milestone of Dr. Huston's tenure as dean occurred in August 1972 when his Faculty played host to the first radiopharmacy conference held in Canada. Radiopharmacy — the application of radiation and radioactive compounds in medical diagnosis and therapy — was to become a major thrust within the school and in 1974 the Edmonton Radiopharmaceutical Centre, which continues to be located within the Faculty, was established, the first multi-hospital service facility for provision of radiopharmaceuticals on this continent.

In 1978, the year that Dr. Huston retired as dean, the official opening of the Faculty's $250,000 SLOWPOKE II nuclear reactor (SLOWPOKE is an acronym for Safe, Low Power, Critical, Experiment) was celebrated. The reactor was the first in Western Canada and helped the University of Alberta to become the first institution in North America to initiate a graduate program in radiopharmacy at the PhD level.

The challenge for Dr. Huston's successors — Dr. G.R. Van Petten, who served as dean from 1978 until his untimely death in 1980, Dr. G.E. Myers, who served on an interim basis until 1980, and Dr. John Bachynsky, who stepped down this summer — has been to match the strides made in the pharmaceutical sciences at the University with innovations to meet the demands made upon the graduates by the changing nature of the professional environment.

The challenge is one which has been passed on to acting-dean Moskalyk. "The basic elements of a strong academic pro-gram are here," he says. "We have long had strength in the pharmaceutical sciences. We have people with excellent reputations in bionucleonics, medicinal chemistry, therapeutics, and all the other areas. From a basic sciences standpoint I am very proud of our people. We're trying as hard as we can to build up our professional practice component, but without additional funds being available, it's not easy."

On the other hand, he is quick to point out the "excellent co-operation the Faculty is receiving from the Alberta Pharmaceutical Association and the practitioners in the province. And he emphasizes that, in spite of the constraints imposed by the current economic climate which the Faculty is faced, progress is being made.

"Our undergraduate program has undergone some big changes, and I'm very proud of the product we put out now," says the acting-dean. "I think our people are very well trained, very capable of practicing pharmacy the way we would like to see it practiced. I believe that the public is better served in general in this province because of the changes we have made to our undergraduate curriculum, and we are hoping for an even better product with the new five-year program.

"And I guess that the tangible evidence that we must be doing something right is a message that I got across my desk within the last couple of weeks. It informed us that our students came first in the national pharmacy exams which the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada runs every year to allow pharmacists some mobility across Canada. Our students came first both in terms of the percentage who passed and the marks that they achieved — we obtained the highest average mark for Canada, plus we had the most people passing the exam."

For a moment, the acting dean reflects back over the years. Outside his window the blue of the sky is unmarked by clouds or even a vapor trail. "We've come a long way in 75 years," he says. "This is my 26th so I've been through a third of it, and definitely there have been very significant changes in that time. And, of course, if you go back further, we have had more significant change."

However, it is not the past with which Dr. Moskalyk is concerned — not even in this special anniversary year. It is the future which his Faculty is addressing.

And about that future he is cautiously optimistic: "I think we're headed in the right direction. I think with some luck and good management — if we can manage to do some work in being able to establish some new positions and replace some of the people who will be retiring in some of the areas — I think we are going to proceed into the next 75 years with a good base. And it would help a lot if the economy would turn around."

Published Autumn 1989.

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