October 14, 2013
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Gayle Brazeau shepherds Maine's next generation of pharmacists into service

PHOTo / Tim greenway

Gayle Brazeau

College of Pharmacy dean and professor University of New England, Portland

Gayle Brazeau recalls an unforgettable moment during the first graduation ceremony at the University of New England's College of Pharmacy this year. Every student who came across the stage individually to be hooded also was given a university pin to present to someone who helped them get their pharmacy doctoral degree.

"I was trying to focus onstage, but found I kept looking offstage as the students were met by their families and gave away the pin," says Brazeau, who took over as dean of the College of Pharmacy three years ago, one of two pharmacy colleges in Maine. "UNE is about connections for life."

The memory also epitomizes her reputation as a community builder who brings together various constituencies, including companies, pharmacists, other academics, as well as students and their families, to improve the UNE program, which this July became fully accredited. She came to UNE in 2010 after being associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. At UNE, she soon began assembling her advisory team, which she refers to as the "Dean's Kitchen." She has grown it from nine to 15 members, including representatives from Hannaford and pet pharmaceutical company Putney Inc.

"They help me see the future, they serve as advocates for the college, they introduce me to people I need to know and they help get our name out there," explains Brazeau, leaning forward enthusiastically.

She spoke to Mainebiz from her Portland office replete with assorted moose tchotchkes — a stuffed moose head on the wall, a metal moose business card holder. She even wore a moose-shaped pin on her jacket.

"I love moose," says Brazeau, who has worked in pharmacy academia in Ohio, New York, Florida and Texas.

Now, she and her husband are actively absorbing the culture and scenery of Maine, including taking a drive from their home in Scarborough up Route 1 to Fort Kent and regularly enjoying Portland's First Friday Art Walk. Her other great love besides moose is Broadway music, which she listens to on satellite radio, but only when not tuning in to National Public Radio.

Dedicated to students

Despite her levity, Brazeau, who knew in the seventh grade that she wanted to become a pharmacist, has a quiet intensity and a dedication to her cause: getting scholarships and jobs for students and expanding the college. UNE President Danielle Ripich credited her with lobbying to keep a $5,000 scholarship for Maine students that was threatened by a state bond not being paid out. The top half of the College of Pharmacy students get $5,000 scholarships, and those from Maine get another $5,000. That's $10,000 of the otherwise $30,000 per year for a pharmacy education, opening opportunities for Maine students.

And after spending time at larger universities where the students were one in a crowd and where it took a long time to move ideas forward, she says she knew UNE's pharmacy college, with its 50 faculty and staff and classes of 100 students each year, was the right place for her, despite its relatively small budget of $14 million.

Ripich had already set an ambitious goal to make the pharmacy school one of the nation's top 25 (out of about 130 total schools now) within a decade.

"I knew I had a president who wants people to work hard. And every student is important. I don't want them to feel like a number," says Brazeau.

Beyond traditional work

Maine's pharmacists are aging, signaling potential job openings for the next generation. But Brazeau wants to increase opportunities by expanding the work her students potentially could do, such as helping manage patients and consulting. The state of Maine now allows pharmacists to work with physicians to do collaborative drug therapy management.

More than 20% of the recent graduating class went on to post-doctoral residencies and fellowships, for example to learn how medicines are used in hospitals or emergency rooms. Some 80% have jobs, though she's not sure how many of those are in Maine. About 30% of the students at the college are Mainers, many of whom she expects will stay in the state or return if they do leave temporarily.

Because UNE's College of Pharmacy still is new, it can move nimbly to be innovative and entrepreneurial to help change the face of the pharmacist profession, Brazeau says. That includes genomics and genetics courses and labs. It also means looking at the pharmacist's role in a new way, such as personalized disease management.

Brazeau wears a FitBit fitness tracker, which can monitor the steps she takes and also how long she sleeps. She says eventually that information could be downloaded to a pharmacist's personal computer for more individualized attention.

Technology also could be used to benefit rural patients who might live 40 miles or more away from a pharmacy, but who could use videoconferencing and technology to tap into expertise. The school also is looking at new degrees, such as the business of health care, pharmacy research or biotechnology, as well as industry partners to work with both its faculty and students.

"I hope folks look to the college as a potential partner to help manage medications for patients," she says, pointing to the University of Florida's Medication Therapy Management Call Center. Maine also could have such a call center, which she says UNE could help set up and staff with students. The university's faculty also could consult on drug delivery and drug stability, looking at whether patients are getting the right dose of a drug and making sure it's not degraded.

So far, it's difficult to say how much the fledgling College of Pharmacy has contributed to UNE's $738 million in cumulative economic impact to the Maine businesses. But Brazeau points to services pharmacy students already supply during fellowships and residencies at local hospitals. One of UNE's long-term contributions to Maine is the $323 million human capital impact created by graduates who stay and work in Maine.

Says Brazeau, "At the end of the day I want to know I made a difference in one person's life."

Read more

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Gayle Brazeau

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