WEST LAFAYETTE — A new cohort of pharmacy graduates from Purdue University will be entering the workforce early.
If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, right now, Suhani Mehta, a 25-year-old pharmacy student, would be working through her final rotation before graduating from Purdue this spring.
With graduation moved up to Friday, however, Mehta and her class of more than 140 students will be ready to fill the need for health care professionals on the front line of the coronavirus battle.
"It means that we can get licensed earlier and that means we are going to be able to assist this strain on our health care system by volunteering and being able to make more of an impact to be able to be antonymous and work by ourselves rather than having to latch onto another pharmacist," Mehta said.
The early graduation was approved by Purdue University amid concerns that COVID-19 could impact the pharmaceutical workforce in the coming weeks or months.
"I do hope to become involved in my community in participating in things like gathering PPE for our first responders, and making sure that we have enough supplies," Mehta said. "Also being able to being able to participate, if possible, in clinics and to have phone interviews with our patients to make sure that we are assessing our needs and meeting their needs."
The class of students, having already fulfilled their credit requirements for degree referral, can immediately put their skills to use.
"As graduate pharmacists, they can begin to fill important roles that can free up more seasoned pharmacists to do more advanced roles, and so having this workforce come in to provide support is important," said Eric Barker, the dean of Purdue University's program.
Barker hopes this decision relieves some of the pressure on healthcare systems struggling to cover for workers who might be sick.
"We have already had some reports of smaller community pharmacies particularly in rural Indiana that had to close because they have a small number of pharmacists and there has been in illness in staff," Barker said. "But we want to make sure our pharmacies stay open to provide optimal patient care regardless of what is going on."
Mehta and her classmates may not walk across the stage for their graduation, but they are getting a head-start in a workforce that badly needs their help and training to keep their communities safe.
"In this time, weeks matter and everything changes very rapidly from day-to-day to week-to-week," Barker said. "And so even having them available a few weeks earlier can really make a difference in health systems and community pharmacies."
Barker said students will still have to plan on taking their certification tests in May or June. In the meantime, some states are willing to issue temporary licenses while these students await to take those exams. Once the Purdue pharmacy students graduate, they can receive temporary licenses to begin working immediately.