Expanding Education Well Beyond the Clinical

The School’s Business of Health Care course equips students with the business skills needed for success

Story by Kate Slate | Published May 9, 2023

graphic representation of the many aspects of health care

Most consumers pay little mind to the work that’s done behind the pharmacy counter – work that ensures medications are filled at a moment’s notice. Yet, despite the bevy of behind-the-scenes work that’s performed to ensure its availability, affordability and efficacy, medication can fall victim to the same pitfalls of supply and demand that affect any other consumer goods.

To help students better prepare for these and other complex non-clinical issues, the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy established Business of Health Care as a required course in 2021.

Equipping students with a business education came to fruition when Dean Angela Kashuba started her role in 2019. After she reflected with alumni on their experiences at the School, an underlying theme painted their conversations.

“While all of our alumni acknowledged the excellent clinical skills of our students, they consistently identified a gap in our students’ training – that being how the actual business of health care worked,” Angela recalls. “When we re-examined our curriculum, it turned out that they were right. We were not delving into the details critical to an understanding of our health systems.”

To create these additional learning experiences, Angela tapped Stephen Eckel, BSPhar ’95, PharmD ’97, Associate Professor, Director of Pharmacy Innovation Services, and lead for the School’s MS in Health-System Pharmacy Administration. “UNC pharmacy students are really strong clinically, but we have recognized they don’t always have the business skills and the understanding of the business environment in which pharmacies operate to make them maximally successful,” he explains. “Wouldn’t it be good to add some business skill training to our PharmD curriculum?”

The School’s PharmD program has historically paved a direct path for students to become pharmacists. The core curriculum entails pharmaceutical science and pharmacotherapy coursework supplemented with real-world experience and clinical rotations – an array of coursework that makes students “strong clinically” as Stephen describes. The Business of Health Care course has supplemented this traditional trajectory with additional education and exposed students to the unique opportunities available following graduation. 

“Even if I’m a pharmacist providing care in a community pharmacy, hospital setting or long-term care setting, there’s so much that happens before me that can impact how I do my daily activities or how my business runs,” says Stephen. “We feel that every pharmacy student needs to understand those intricacies.”

When Trey Gresham, PharmD candidate ’24, started at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, he planned to work in a hospital setting or in drug discovery and development. After taking a class that focused on U.S. healthcare, he decided addressing health inequities like the cost of medications would be at the heart of his work. To achieve these ends, Trey would first need to understand the business work a pharmacist’s role entails. The following semester, he’d take Business of Health Care.

“Every single class we have a guest lecturer come and speak from different areas of pharmacy whether that’s hospital administration or people who work closely with 340B pricing,” says Trey. The 340B Drug Pricing Program is a government initiative designed to lower medication costs for those who need it, an issue Trey is passionate about. “Hearing from people in the areas that really interest me and taking it upon myself to speak with them really helped me build my network.”

Those conversations paved the way for Trey’s current internship with Express Scripts, a mail-order home delivery pharmacy. He credits the Business of Health Care course with presenting him pharmaceutical career paths outside a traditional clinical setting. Trey is now able to tackle issues pervading access to medications directly through his work.

In addition to the course, the School has launched the Bizzell Business of Health Care Pharmacy Lecture Series. The series hosts alumni and friends of the school who are working in various sectors of the business of health care and is open to all students wanting to learn more about diverse career opportunities post graduation.

This expansion in offerings opens up new pathways for students and enhances the value of a degree from the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, as Stephen points out: “We have recognized that no matter where a pharmacy student goes in their career, understanding [the business] is essential to their ability to be successful in their chosen sector.”