Rachel Callender wants to be an advocate for her family’s healthcare. As a mother of four young children and a caregiver for her mother, who recently suffered a series of strokes, Callender was drawn to the pharmacy profession for personal reasons.
“I want to be able to have conversations with my family’s healthcare providers and speak their same language,” Callender said. “With the knowledge gained in pharmacy school, I can make suggestions about my family’s therapies and ensure they receive the best possible healthcare.”
As a second-year pharmacy student at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy’s Lake Nona campus, Callender is well on her way to achieving those goals. She participates in multiple student organizations and has built a strong network of classmates, who are navigating together a challenging curriculum at one of U.S. News & World Report’s Top 5-ranked pharmacy colleges.
“It’s the people here that make the campus, and I am truly blessed to be surrounded by the most supportive classmates and faculty who are always available when I need them,” Callender said.
Callender is one of nearly 300 students pursuing a Doctor of Pharmacy degree at the Lake Nona campus. The UF College of Pharmacy moved into the state-of-the-art, 110,000-square-foot UF Research and Academic Center on Sanger Road in 2012. Since then, the Pharm.D. program has thrived in Lake Nona and grown to an annual enrollment of around 70 students per year.
Orlando is one of three cities in Florida where the UF College of Pharmacy trains future pharmacists, with Gainesville and Jacksonville serving as additional locations. At all three campuses, students participate in the same curriculum, and a state-of-the-art videoconferencing system allows for simultaneous instruction and classroom discussions among the campus cohorts. All four years of the program can be completed entirely in the Central Florida area, and many students find the innovative curriculum prepares them well to be leaders in the pharmacy profession.
UF pharmacy students in Lake Nona give back to the community in many ways. Many students choose to complete their clinical training requirements at pharmacies, hospitals and other medical facilities in Lake Nona and throughout Central Florida. Through these experiences, they are improving the health and wellbeing of the patients they serve. In addition, the Lake Nona campus features more than a dozen student organizations, which provide students with service and leadership opportunities. These organizations regularly participate in community health fairs and offer educational programming around topics such as diabetes awareness, medication consultations and heart health.
“Our students are passionate about pharmacy and eager to share their time and talents through community outreach activities,” said Erin St. Onge, Pharm.D., a clinical associate professor and assistant dean for the UF College of Pharmacy’s Lake Nona campus. “We are also fortunate to have some incredible healthcare partners in Lake Nona who share a common goal of training tomorrow’s healthcare leaders while working collaboratively to improve the lives of those around us.”
The UF College of Pharmacy has made great strides in recent years diversifying the student body. In 2021, the college had the highest percentage (31%) of underrepresented minority PharmD students among the Top 40 pharmacy colleges ranked by U.S. News & World Report and the highest among all the health professions colleges at UF. This diversity is evident in Lake Nona as students from many different backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures bring their unique perspectives and experiences to the college and the local community.
In addition to training future pharmacists, the UF College of Pharmacy’s Lake Nona campus serves as the home for the Center for Pharmacometrics and System Pharmacology. The center is among the first academic centers in the nation to adopt sophisticated mathematical modeling and computer simulations to mimic clinical trials of new drugs. UF researchers are taking large amounts of data to build virtual models and test drug outcomes without embarking on expensive and time-consuming clinical trials. These efforts are helping scientists make medicines more personalized to deliver the right drug at the right time to the right patient. The center maintains a robust educational program to train graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and launched a new certificate program in pharmacometrics this fall.
UF College of Pharmacy researchers are also using the latest experimental and computational approaches to combat bacterial “superbugs,” which are resistant to most antibiotics and present one of the most serious threats to human health. Jürgen Bulitta, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacotherapy and translational research, leads an antimicrobial research team in Lake Nona that is developing innovative antibiotic combination therapies to successfully treat “superbug” infections.
Another team from the UF College of Pharmacy that calls Lake Nona home is the Center for Quality Medication Management, or CQM. With the help of pharmacy-led clinical teams, the center contracts with national health plans to provide medication reviews via telephone. CQM uses industry-leading technologies to attain deeper analytical insights that help its team of pharmacists and technicians better manage patient medications and their complex health issues.