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September 3, 2015

Combined program in business & pharmacy said to be 1st in U.S.

The need to offer students the most practical, career-oriented education has climbed from high schools through undergraduate degrees all the way to professional programs, with the creation of the Master of Science in Pharmacy Business Administration (MSPBA) program. Heads of the School of Pharmacy and Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business say it is the first of its kind in the country.

Gordon Vanscoy, associate dean of business innovation in the Katz school and faculty member in pharmacy and therapeutics.

Gordon Vanscoy, associate dean for business innovation in the pharmacy school and faculty member in pharmacy and therapeutics.

The MSPBA offers a year-long course of study on Fridays and Saturdays for those already working in pharmacy or other aspects of health care and who want to add management and leadership training, with the aim of rising further in the business.

“I see the value in real-world academic experiences,” says Gordon Vanscoy, associate dean for business innovation in the pharmacy school and faculty member in pharmacy and therapeutics.

The concept grew from his experience partnering with a specialty pharmacy in Monroeville in the 1990s and creating its clinical department. He figured a combined business and pharmacy program would attract students who possess the drive to advance in health care and can’t leave their jobs, yet still are looking to catalyze their careers.

“This could be recognized as a national model to train these types of leaders,” he says. Instead of pushing out graduates of the existing pharmacy doctoral programs who will then try to fit into the big business of health in America, Pitt’s pharmacy and business schools decided to create a program from which industry would want to actively recruit people “because they knew the rigor of what our graduates were going through.”

The program will have two tracks: community pharmacy and specialty pharmacy. Vanscoy notes that specialty pharmacy is the fastest growing pharmacy area today. It focuses on high-cost, high-risk pharmacy practice, centering on newly developed treatments for such illnesses as cancer, cystic fibrosis and rheumatoid arthritis. These specialty pharmacies often dispense orphan drugs without pharmaceutical company backing, requiring government research support and resulting in medications that are very expensive and whose use by patients may be complicated. Such drugs also may have many restrictions from insurance companies surrounding their use. Fifty percent of health care spending may soon be in this area, he says: “A lot of the drugs in the FDA pipeline are specialty drugs,” which require an “unbelievable amount of research to get on the market.”

Vanscoy also is chair and CEO of PANTHERx Specialty Pharmacy, a company created by Pitt graduates in partnership with the University. The company will provide some faculty for the MSPBA program, and serve as a local training site for MSPBA students.

Faculty for the program also will be drawn from both schools as well as from local industry executives and working managers, beginning with those of MSPBA partner CVS, and other companies such as Rite Aid, Giant Eagle, TMG Health, Walgreens, UPMC Health Plan and Amgen. Larry Merlo, president and chief executive officer of CVS Health and chairman of the pharmacy school’s executive steering board, will be a faculty member in the program.

The 36-credit program will offer 18 credits from Katz and 12 from pharmacy, with the remaining six from either the community or specialty pharmacy track.

“Just like everything in business, it is a risk,” Vanscoy says. But, he adds, the idea was, “Let’s create something that is more alive in the world today.”

The MSPBA program, he concludes, “is a program that’s born out of need and is born completely in touch with the reality of the business world.”


Bridget Walker, director of the MSPBA program and pharmacy and therapeutics faculty member in the School of Pharmacy, has worked in health care for 20 years and says she certainly would have been interested in enrolling in such a program, had it been available years ago.

Today’s pharmacists, Walker says, need to understand the structure of how pharmacies are reimbursed by insurance companies, how business contracts are structured, how to marry clinical and business needs and how to understand the supply chain. In the near future, Walker hopes to expand options for the program’s final six credits, offering tracks in health system/hospital pharmacy, pharmaceutical manufacturing and pharmacy benefits and management.

William T. Valenta Jr., assistant dean of Katz’s MBA and executive programs, says he already is talking to School of Education officials and other Pitt leaders about adding some level of business education to their schools’ programs. “That brings together the best of both worlds,” Valenta says. Plus, such programs may make academic offerings more attractive to high school students who are considering Pitt.

“We see individuals with strong technical backgrounds who rise to positions of authority who need business education,” he adds. “We see that that can open up other opportunities as we grow the program.”

—Marty Levine

Filed under: Feature,Volume 48 Issue 1

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