Skaggs School of Pharmacy Students on the Front Line of Preventative Services

At University of Montana, Pharm.D. students learn by doing. During their four-year intensive study and training, they gain hands-on experience by participating in special learning projects, conducting health-related interviews, counselling patients, engaging in health screenings, and directing patient activities in a variety of clinical settings throughout the state. But first, they learn how to immunize.

“We train all our Doctor of Pharmacy students to give vaccinations within the first two weeks of fall semester during their first year of their four-year professional doctorate program. This gives them the opportunity to gain valuable experience while contributing to population health early in their career,” said Marketa Marvanova, Dean of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Acting Dean of the College of Health.

First-year students complete 12 hours of self-study on immunization delivery developed by the American Pharmacists Association before classes begin and attend a live seminar with School of Pharmacy faculty to practice their vaccination techniques and, finally, successfully pass written and hands-on examinations to become certified pharmacy-based immunizers. They also complete a BLS/CPR certification class, which is required by the Montana Board of Pharmacy for an immunization endorsement.

 “We teach our students to be confident in their ability to administer any kind of vaccine. That starts with understanding a patient’s disease states, known allergies, or if the patient is immunocompromised,” said Clinical Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Rachael Zins.

After Pharm. D. students become certified as immunizers, they participate in vaccinating UM students, faculty, staff and retirees for influenza at a variety of clinics set up on campus - in dorms or other buildings like The Payne Family Native American Center. Pharm.D. students also practice in different pharmacy settings across Montana, including the summer after their first year of professional training when they participate in a three-week pharmacy rotation that includes actively giving immunizations. This differs from many other Pharm.D. Programs across the country where students are trained in immunization later, during their second or even third year.

“It’s so important to get the students involved in direct patient care as quickly as possible, and immunization training is a great way to give them one set of skills they need to do just that,” said Lisa Venuti, the Clinical Laboratory Coordinator.

Some Pharm.D. students choose to work in pharmacies as interns while attending UM, and with their certification they can vaccinate under the supervision of pharmacists for various vaccine-preventable diseases, such as pneumonia, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, herpes zoster (also known as shingles), and now even COVID-19.

The Skaggs School of Pharmacy faculty never imagined teaching during a modern public health crisis, but they have stepped up to prepare students to work on the frontline of the pandemic. Pharm.D. students, faculty and alumni have been assisting in the mobilization of the COVID-19 vaccine across the state, reaching rural communities where appropriate facilities for storing the vaccine do not exist and where human resources for undertaking such a large endeavor are limited. On campus, they are participating in immunizing other students, faculty and staff.

Ken Chatriand, Manager of the Curry Health Center Pharmacy (operated by the Skaggs School of Pharmacy), plays a leading role in the University’s COVID-19 response team which is operating in collaboration with the Montana Department of Public Health. He said, “One positive note about the pandemic is that it’s allowing us to flex our muscle more in terms of what pharmacists can do for the larger public health of the state, and provide our students real-time experience and training in addressing and being a part of this national response.” 

Director of Experiential Education and Clinical Assistant Professor Cherith Smith is administering the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to Native American and Alaska Native students, faculty and staff at UM who identify as high risk. She wears many hats and is also in charge of vaccinating healthcare personnel, elders and high-risk populations at the All Nations Health Center in Missoula. Pharm. D. students have been assisting her with this important work.

 “Students usually select the profession of pharmacy because pharmacists make a difference in patient’s lives,” said Marvanova. “During this pandemic, our students have the opportunity to provide essential preventative services and further demonstrate the impact that pharmacists can make,” said Marvanova.

University of Montana’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. Our Pharm.D. students have a 93% first-time NAPLEX pass rate and close to 100% graduate employment rate. For more information, contact us at