Limited veterinary pharmacy training is available, other than a handful of pharmacy schools that provide elective courses on the topic.
Many pharmacists graduate pharmacy school knowing very little about veterinary pharmacy, which presents a challenge: if pharmacists aren’t exposed to veterinary pharmacy in the place they get their education, how are they going to learn about it to implement in their pharmacies?
After all, when it comes to dogs and cats, approximately 25% of all prescriptions written by a veterinarian for a pet are human-use products, requiring customers to visit their human pharmacy in order to get the prescriptions filled. But if the pharmacist is not versed in veterinary medicine, the customer is going to go elsewhere.
Gary Koesten, BPharm, president of Vet Pharm Consulting in Boynton Beach, Florida, and former director of pharmacy services at 1-800-PetMeds, understands the importance of education and training manuals for newly-hired pharmacists.
“I have found that there really is no training for pharmacists in veterinary pharmacy, as part of a typical pharmacist education,” he said. “When I retired from PetMeds and realized that there was this lack of information for pharmacists, I formed this company in order to provide training for independent pharmacies and chain pharmacies.”
Koesten also took his own certificate program in veterinary pharmacy at the University of Florida, one of the few schools in the United States to offer such a program, to broaden his knowledge base even further.
“We offer training programs in veterinary pharmacy either through training manuals or I give continuing education programs to pharmacists,” he said.
While he’s been helping pharmacists learn more about the space, there is no actual training available other than a handful of pharmacy colleges that provide elective courses in veterinary pharmacy, and only Perdue University has its own program in veterinary pharmacy as part of its curriculum.
Lauren Forsythe, PharmD, a veterinary pharmacist and assistant professor of social and administrative pharmacy at the University of Findlay, noted a student can seek out the information if they really want it, but a lot of students don’t even know that veterinary pharmacy is a real thing.
PowerPak, a continuing education company for pharmacists, also offers a set of programs that lead to a certificate in veterinary pharmacy.
These are 30-credit programs, so it’s quite intense,” Koesten said. “It’s a broad background for those pharmacists who are interested in veterinary pharmacy.”
Brian T. Bowers, PharmD, RPh, director of pharmacy at Oregon State University’s Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine, agrees that veterinary pharmacy is not receiving the recognition it deserves as a profession, especially in education programs.
“It is a specialty practice of pharmacy that we are not meeting the core practice measures that we owe to those we serve such as our pet patients, our pet owners, our students (both veterinary and pharmacy alike), our veterinarians and veterinary nurses,” he said. “We need to have an educational foundation to ensure best practices for filling prescriptions for our pets and animals dedicated to understanding patient care and legal aspects of veterinary pharmacy.”
Closing the education gap in the future will come down to convincing the pharmacy colleges that they need to provide an elective course in veterinary pharmacy that would give the students some knowledge.
“It wouldn’t necessarily make them experts, but it would certainly give them a degree of education that they need, and because they are pharmacists, they could also self-teach themselves,” Koesten said. “There are categories for medications used for dogs and cats, and if you’re a pharmacist, it should not be a big leap to look at the literature for those medications and have a clear understanding of what that drug is and how it works. The only thing that would be different is dosing an animal as opposed to a human.”
It’s not uncommon for Koesten to hear complaints from veterinarians where they have prescribed a medication and pharmacists are calling them because the dose is unreasonably high, and he noted that’s because doses for dogs are higher because they metabolize differently than a human, and pharmacists just don’t always know that.
“That’s another part of this education gap and why colleges as a group, really need to put in place these elective programs because more and more pharmacists are tasked with filling these veterinary medications,” he said.