Want to Be a Pharmacist? Native American Students Should Try UM

The University of Montana Skaggs Scholars Program was created to recruit and train more Native American students in pharmacy, and it’s been successful; it will be endowed for $1.25 million.

In an effort to increase the number of community pharmacists in Montana and across Turtle Island, the ALSAM Foundation created the University of Montana's Skaggs Scholars Program in 2010. The scholarship provides financial aid to five Native American students studying pharmacy each year. The scholarship may also go to another underrepresented minority.

“In small towns across Montana, pharmacists do much more than just dispense medications,” says a press release about the program. “They serve as a vital health care resource for their patients, providing important health screenings and education for conditions like diabetes and asthma.”

Jessi Cahoon received the scholarship in 2012, 2013 and 2014. After graduating with a Pharm.D. in 2015, she completed a residency at Community Medical Center in Missoula, then accepted a position as an ambulatory care pharmacist for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Pablo.

“The scholarship offers inclusion in a wonderful network of people,” said Cahoon. “The scholarship coordinators, faculty mentors and other recipients eased the isolation of being a Native American student with many barriers to success. The support of my mentors emboldened me to pursue the highest goals of pharmacy.”

The Skaggs Scholars Program has been successful in recruiting Native American students. When it was created in 2010, the University of Montana ranked fourth among pharmacy schools nationwide in enrollment of Native American students. Now, as of the 2016-2017 school year, the University of Montana has the largest number of Native American students in any pharmacy program in the country.

And, Skaggs Scholars are making a difference in Montana. Currently, all 30 practicing pharmacists in Montana who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native are alumni of the program.

Because of the program’s success, the ALSAM Foundation has permanently endowed the scholarship with a $1.25 million gift, the organization is ensuring that the university can continue to recruit and support Native American students in pharmacy.

“The education of minority and underprivileged students and providing pharmacy services to rural communities were both goals of L. S. Skaggs,” said Ronny Cutshall, president of the foundation. Skaggs was a retail giant who, building onto a business his father started, pioneered innovative merchandising techniques that revolutionized the grocery and drug store businesses. “The ALSAM Foundation hopes the Skaggs Scholars program will continue to satisfy these goals.”

Howard Beall, associate dean of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy at the University of Montana, thinks the scholarship will have lasting effects on the quality of health care in the state of Montana.

“The scholarships will provide opportunities for future generations of Native American students to pursue their dreams of becoming pharmacists,” he said. “Many will then return home to serve and strengthen their communities.”

This story was originally published February 16, 2017.