A fruitful educational collaboration between the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy and the King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia is underway to train clinical pharmacists.
Michael Katz, director of the UA College of Pharmacy's international education efforts, said, "I was at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists Clinical Midyear Meeting when a young man approached me and said he was a pharmacist from Saudi Arabia who wanted to further his education at the UA. And that was the beginning of a beautiful partnership."
The partnership with King Abdulazizz University, also known as KAU, has resulted in a program to train 24 KAU faculty members at the UA.
Katz believes the collaboration is the largest agreement involving international pharmacy training in the U.S.
The UA will teach the professors more about clinical pharmacy practice and education so they can return to KAU and further develop their university's clinical pharmacy education programs.
Clinical pharmacy education and practice focuses on improving the outcomes of patient drug therapy by working directly with patients, physicians and other health professionals. Within the health care system, clinical pharmacists are experts in the therapeutic use of medicines.
They routinely provide medication therapy evaluations and recommendations to patients and healthcare professionals. Clinical pharmacists also are a primary source of scientifically valid information and advice regarding the safe, appropriate and cost-effective use of medications.
"What's happening in Saudi Arabia, and also several other countries, is that they're expanding their pharmacy education to be much more like ours," said Katz. "Prior to this, they had few clinical pharmacists. The Saudi university, which initiated a PharmD program several years ago, felt that the skill level and training of their new clinical faculty wasn't advanced enough yet to teach students about state-of-the-art clinical pharmacy practice."
The first of three groups of KAU educators started in the fall of 2009.
Each group of eight professors will first spend a year in rotations at University Medical Center and other locations to acquire internship hours toward becoming licensed as pharmacists in Arizona and learning about U.S. pharmacy practice and the American healthcare system.
In the second year, trainees will be placed in postgraduate pharmacy residency programs. An optional third year may entail specialty residency training.
King Abdulaziz University pays for all expenses and the cost of training for the visiting faculty members. In return, the KAU professors have committed to teaching at KAU for the same number of years that they study in the U.S.
Ahmed Al-Tyar, a faculty member at KAU and the young man who approached Katz at the ASHP meeting, said he wanted to study at Arizona because "the UA is a very good university and its College of Pharmacy is ranked in the top ten. I researched and talked to four universities before we spoke with Dr. Katz and chose the UA.
"Also, it is well known that American people are very friendly and open to other cultures," he added.
Reem Mohammed Diri is a pharmacist attending the UA program with her husband, Alaa Bagalagel, who is also a pharmacist on the KAU faculty.
"This is my first time in the U.S.," she said. "Through education I have found a passion: I want to discover a cure for cancer."
Katz hopes the Saudi Arabia partnership spurs a larger international pharmacy training and education program at the UA.
"I believe that since clinical pharmacy practice is more advanced in the U.S., we have a responsibility to provide that experience and training to other parts of the world," he said. "Part of that responsibility relies on pharmacists helping other pharmacists, or pharmacy educators helping other pharmacy educators."
"But really, the bottom line is that this is going to help patients. And if we can improve the training and education of pharmacists in other countries, that's going to translate into better patient care," he added.