Dr. Debbie Byrd named new dean of Gatton College of Pharmacy at ETSU

Byrd comes to ETSU from the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy in Knoxville where she has served as associate dean of Professional Affairs since 2010. She has worked at UT-Knoxville since 2006, holding various other roles including professor and assistant dean.

Many high school students in Northeast Tennessee pondering their life’s work can’t help but consider the medical field. With the region awash in hospitals, medical groups and associations and medical schools, and the industry being the region’s largest employer, the possibilities are many. One of those schools is now offering high schoolers access to a growing medical field that pays extremely well — pharmacy.

On average, pharmacists make $121,500 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest 10% earn an average of $89,790, while the highest 10% earn more than $154,040.

The doctor of pharmacy degree program requires at least two years of specific undergraduate college study followed by four academic years (or three calendar years) of professional pharmacy study. Most students enter a pharmacy degree program after completion of three or more years of college.

The bureau says employment of pharmacists is projected to increase in a variety of health care settings, including hospitals and clinics.

High school students across the region now have an opportunity to learn more about the profession thanks to East Tennessee State University’s Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy. The school is offering a dual-enrollment course for students to give them more insight into the field and how to get into pharmacy school. The class will be free for students with a GPA of 3.0 or above.

The course explores more than 30 career options students can work toward, financial aid options, student life on campus, and gives students a chance to chat with Dr. Debbie Byrd, the dean of the college. Virtual office hours will be offered to meet with faculty and admissions. Byrd said the university aims to “teach and inspire the next generation” of pharmacists.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, and I believe many students feel the calling to make an impact in health care and help patients,” Byrd said in announcing the program. The course will be online and asynchronous, meaning students can participate whenever and however they choose.

Dr. Brooklyn Nelson, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice, said students will be able to make an early decision about entering the field through the course.

“They will be able to interview a current pharmacist practicing in the Tri-Cities area and interview current pharmacy students to learn more about student life on campus, and they’ll be able to get individual feedback on potential applications to a college of pharmacy,” Nelson said. “We really want them to make an informed decision. Whether that ends up with them applying to pharmacy school with us, a different college somewhere else or a different profession altogether, I think having more information at an earlier age to make that decision is important.

“I think the profession of pharmacy is going to step up in the next few years to provide the COVID-19 vaccine once it is released and become a more prominent part of the health care team, and I think students are starting to see that even now.”

Pharmacists are important members of the health care team, play a key role in caregiving, and work directly with patients in a career offering mobility and stability. And everything needed to enter the profession is available right here in our region.