ETSU pharmacy school kept students in the area

Douglas Fritz • Oct 24, 2019 at 6:57 PM

Before 2004, the only choice for aspiring pharmacists from Johnson City was a school located 500 miles away.

As might be expected, local high school graduates in search of a pharmacy degree were finding other routes, such as private schools or out-of-state colleges. Those expensive choices helped fuel a groundswell in the area, calling for a pharmacy school attached to East Tennessee State University.

Just six years later — on May 8, 2010 — the school produced its first-ever graduating class. In a Johnson City Press editorial following that momentous occasion, it was stated, “the graduation of the school’s first class is an exciting new chapter of academic excellence at ETSU.”

According to the ETSU website, the idea for the school began to take root when regional pharmacy leaders headed a group of citizens, and they talked to then-president Dr. Paul Stanton Jr. about establishing a college of pharmacy. Getting state support was difficult because of funding issues with the pharmacy school in Memphis.

A plan to start a private college of pharmacy, funded through donations and tuition, was put in place. After a challenge from then-Governor Phil Bredesen, the community responded by raising $5 million in just 58 days.

The ETSU College of Pharmacy was approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission in 2005. The primary donor was local automobile dealer Bill Gatton, and the college was named in his honor in 2007.

The first class began coursework in January of 2007. Students had only seven months to complete the first year of school. And during their first two years, the students were in a single classroom in an old College of Medicine building on the Veterans Affairs Medical Center grounds at Mountain Home. The Press editorial called it “a fitting place to start the new school.”

Part of that first graduating class of 66 students was Matthew Tyler Williams. He came from Newport to study pharmacy at ETSU after getting his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Tennessee.

Williams said it was amazing to go through the accelerated program and finish in 3 1/2 years. He also said he made lifelong friends while getting his College of Pharmacy education.

These days the school is thriving, with students hailing from 33 states, according to the school’s website. Faculty members have extensive experience, teaching an integrated curriculum that equips students with mastery-level knowledge and skills necessary to become competent pharmacists. The mission of the pharmacy is to train pharmacists for improving health care with a focus on rural and under-served communities.