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February 13, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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Pharmacy students have joined med school students, researchers and many types of health care professionals on Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile as of January.

The Ferris State University College of Pharmacy is the first pharmacy school to set up shop on the Michigan Street hill with the opening of its Center for Innovational Learning and Research on the seventh floor of 25 Michigan St. NE

FSU President David L. Eisler said at the opening ceremony in early February that the center is “an act of faith” in the promising future of the Grand Rapids health care and life science industries.

The Michigan Legislature approved a $6.6 million capital outlay for development of the facility and the FSU board of trustees approved the project in December 2010.

The CILR houses instructional and computer lab space, office space for 10 to 15 faculty and staff members, and a series of study areas that allow FSU pharmacy students to work in groups on case studies and other coursework. Almost 150 students graduate from the FSU Pharm.D. program each year, which is headquartered on the FSU campus in Big Rapids.

In 2009, Ferris revised its Doctor of Pharmacy curriculum to provide increased opportunities for its students to gain clinical experience and participate in inter-professional studies.

“It’s an incredible location,” said Dean Stephen Durst of the FSU College of Pharmacy, noting that it is next to the two-year-old Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and across the street from Van Andel Institute and four major Spectrum Health medical facilities. It is also close to the GVSU Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences.

The CILR is designed for use by students in the third and fourth years of the Ferris Pharm.D. program, during which they study and perform clinical internships at offsite locations where larger patient populations offer more opportunities for practical experience.

The Ferris College of Pharmacy was founded in 1894 and graduates more than half of all new pharmacists in Michigan each year. Approximately one-half of all the practicing pharmacists in Michigan earned their degrees at Ferris, according to the university.

Perhaps one of the most telling facts about the Ferris dominance in pharmacy in Michigan is one shared at the opening ceremony by Larry Wagenknecht, CEO of the Michigan Pharmacists Association. The Association was formed in 1883 and has about 3,000 pharmacist members; there are 31 living past presidents of the Association — and 27 of those are graduates of Ferris.

There are about 11,000 pharmacists licensed in the state of Michigan, according to Wagenknecht, about 80 percent of whom are actually working as pharmacists. The rest typically includes doctors and dentists who still maintain their pharmacist license even though that is not their primary occupation.

Advances in research within the pharmaceutical world has dramatically expanded the scope of prescription drugs, complicating and increasing the demands on the pharmacy profession. In 2000, according to Wagenknecht, the pharmacy profession across the U.S. expanded its curriculum requirements, adding a year to the education process so that students would have more experience in the health care setting. Pharm.D. is a clinical degree, and those graduates are experts in medications, according to Wagenknecht. “If you tell a pharmacist what the diagnosis is, they will tell you the best medication to handle that patient’s problem,” he said.

One of the most challenging developments hasn’t happened yet, he said, referring to genetic engineering of medications to treat a specific individual based on his or her genetic code. The pharmacist “is uniquely poised to be of great assistance to the physicians” when that day arrives.

Ferris, with a total student enrollment of 14,560, now has a significant presence in downtown Grand Rapids, with 4,000 students here and five facilities, according to Eisler.

The first partnership in the Furniture City was with Grand Rapids Community College at its Applied Technology Center in the early 1990s. In 2000, Kendall College of Art and Design became part of Ferris and has experienced 175 percent enrollment growth since then.

In late 2010, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University entered into a partnership with Christman Capital Investment Group in Lansing and the city of Grand Rapids on a $28 million renovation of the old federal building at 148 Ionia Ave. The partnership is transforming the building into art exhibition and studio space, classrooms, lecture halls and faculty offices. When it is completed, Kendall students will occupy educational facilities covering three blocks of downtown Grand Rapids.

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