First Rockford pharmacy class graduates Friday

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Natasha Patel, Susan Nguyen and Xavier Torres study at the College of Pharmacy’s Rockford campus. The first class of 35 students graduates Friday. Photo: Richard Foertsch

The College of Pharmacy graduation will take a little longer Friday, as 35 additional students walk across the stage at the UIC Forum to accept their diplomas.

The students are the first graduates of the college’s Rockford campus, which began classes in 2010 after an expansion of the building that houses the health sciences campus there.

The College of Pharmacy is viewed as a single institution with two campuses, Chicago and Rockford, said David Bartels, the college’s vice dean.

Students in Rockford complete a curriculum identical to the one on the Chicago campus. Core classes are taught using state-of-the-art technology, shown simultaneously at both campuses. Laboratory sessions and electives are taught by faculty in Rockford.

Bartels said the new campus is thriving.

“It’s operated very smoothly and gone the way we had anticipated,” he said. “The technology has work flawlessly. The students have received a great education.”

The targeted enrollment for each class is 50 students, Bartels said, and subsequent classes have 44 to 52 students. Most hail from Illinois, but some are from California and the eastern U.S.

“Historically, 90 percent of students who enroll in the College of Pharmacy are from Chicago and the surrounding areas,” Bartels said.

“Most of those in this area who are interested in pharmacy have gone to schools in surrounding states because they didn’t want to go to Chicago. Many people are surprised to learn that our program is exactly the same and are glad we’re here.”

The college participates in county fairs and visits local high schools and colleges to recruit, Bartels said.

The program began as a way to address the shortage of pharmacists in Illinois and the need to train pharmacists to practice in rural areas.

Besides the regular curriculum, the college offers a Rural Pharmacy Program, which includes training and mentorship focused on the health care needs of rural communities in Illinois. Pharmacy students train collaboratively with medical students in the College of Medicine’s Rural Medicine program in Rockford.