VCU agrees to automatically accept eligible Randolph-Macon College students into pharmacy school

V C U and Randolph-Macon College school logos

VCU and Randolph-Macon College have signed an agreement to automatically grant admission into VCU’s Pharm.D. program to eligible Randolph-Macon students.

Randolph-Macon sophomores who meet VCU’s requirement for health-care shadowing and who successfully complete an on-site interview will be given provisional acceptance into the doctor of pharmacy program under the articulation agreement. If they maintain their grades and score well on the PCAT pharmacy entrance exam they will be automatically accepted into VCU’s pharmacy school upon completing their undergraduate programs.

Students who do not qualify for provisional or guaranteed acceptance can apply through the standard application process.

Criteria for guaranteed admission under the articulation agreement include:

  • PCAT composite scores in the 70th percentile or greater for students with GPAs of 3.25 and in the 60th percentile or greater for students with GPAs of 3.4
  • Completion of VCU’s required prerequisite courses and credits with grades of C or better
  • A completed PharmCAS application submitted by Oct. 1
  • Two favorable letters of recommendation from Randolph-Macon faculty
  • One letter of recommendation from a health-care provider
  • Meeting all graduation requirements from Randolph-Macon

VCU is a major urban research institution in Richmond. Randolph-Macon is a private liberal-arts college with more than 1,400 students in the town of Ashland, about 20 miles from Richmond.

For more information, see the School of Pharmacy’s Pharm.D. admissions page.

Contact VCU School of Pharmacy Director of Communications Greg Weatherford at

Auxiliary Label: Working to build better opioids

Molecular model of hydrocodone.
A molecular model of hydrocodone. (Credit)

By Christian Ruiz
Auxiliary Label Staff

Opioids are a class of highly addictive pain-relieving drugs derived from the opium in poppy plants. These drugs are at the center of today’s opioid-overdose crisis, in which at least 115 people per day in the United States die after opioid overdoses.

If you have ever had your wisdom teeth removed, you might be familiar with opioid drugs that are not available over the counter but are prescribed by your doctor or dentist: Percocet (oxycodone/acetaminophen), Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen) or Tylenol No. 3 (codeine with acetaminophen). The widespread availability of these and similar drugs have caused many people to become addicted to opioids. 

At least 33,000 people in this country died in 2015 alone from overdosing on opioids. Overall, misuse of opioid drugs has cost the United States $78.5 billion per year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment and legal system involvement.

However, the major FDA-approved treatments for opioid abuse and addiction — methadone (Dolophine, Methadose), buprenorphine (Belbuca, Buprenex), naloxone (Narcan) and naltrexone (Vivitrol) — are not fully effective in treating opioid abuse and addiction. They have many of the side effects that the opioids themselves have, such as mood disorders.

For several years, Yan Zhang, Ph.D., and his laboratory in VCU School of Pharmacy’s Medicinal Chemistry Department have been working on modifying the chemical structures of drugs used to treat opioid abuse and addiction. In doing so, they hope to reduce the opioids’ addictive potential and their other harmful side effects such as sedation, decreased ability to breathe and constipation.

To do this, they use organic chemistry to synthesize these potential new drugs and then use biochemical techniques to examine how these drugs interact with different, specific proteins in cells.

Proteins: More Than Just for Bodybuilding

To understand how Zhang and his team are working to build better, safer opioids, we need to take a step back and talk about proteins.

Proteins are large molecules that are responsible for many survival functions in the human body. For example, they protect the body against viruses and bacteria, speed up chemical reactions within cells, and provide structure and support for cells. An important function that proteins play, particularly in terms of many drugs and their actions, is to relay biological messages throughout the body.

In essence, the way most drugs work is by binding to these receptor proteins (proteins that “receive” these drugs), which causes these proteins to send biochemical or electrical signals throughout the cells in the body. These signals in turn tell the body to reduce inflammation, relieve a headache or even decrease heart rate, for example.

G protein-coupled receptors are a superfamily of these receptors; opioids bind to a specific group within this superfamily of receptors, called opioid receptors.

The three major types of opioid receptors are named for the Greek letters mu, kappa and delta. For simplicity, these opioid receptors often are abbreviated MOR, KOR and DOR.  

The mu opioid receptor, or MOR, is primarily responsible for relaying signals causing pain relief. The KOR is primarily responsible for relaying signals causing depression and anxiety. The DOR is primarily responsible for relaying signals causing mood-related disorders.

Notably, several studies have shown that the MOR is responsible for relaying other signals, particularly the addictive potential and other harmful side effects of opioids mentioned previously.

These effects on mood are due to opioids’ interactions with the KOR and/or the DOR rather than just the MOR.

Hence, selectively blocking only the MOR should be able to block the signals for addiction, sedation, constipation and the other side effects without relaying the signals for mood disorders caused by interacting with the KOR and/or the DOR. This could mean new treatments for opioid addiction could be developed that avoid these unpleasant side effects. 

With this hypothesis in mind, Zhang’s laboratory group is working on producing new chemical compounds that selectively target the MOR without targeting the KOR and the DOR. After synthesizing these potential, new drugs, the group uses a series of biochemical tests to examine these drugs’ abilities to bind to and to relay biological messages through the MOR, the KOR and the DOR.

Through their hard work, we might one day have a drug to more effectively help those in need during this opioid-overdose crisis.

Auxiliary Label is a student-created blog examining pharmacy life, education and research at the VCU School of Pharmacy from a student perspective. It is overseen by Greg Weatherford, the school’s director of communications. Contact him here.

Confronting a crisis, VCU School of Pharmacy shifts curriculum on opioids

A pill bottle is surrounded by pills and a syringe.
Future pharmacists are learning how to better manage issues around opioid addiction and overdose.
By Karolina Blaziak
Communications Associate, VCU School of Pharmacy

With thousands of Virginians affected by the opioid crisis, the VCU School of Pharmacy has added to its curriculum material about how pharmacists can respond.

An article about these curriculum changes has been accepted by the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. The article, “Preparing pharmacy students to manage the opioid crisis,” also discusses the background of opioid prescriptions and pain management, and the rise of opioid misuse to an epidemic in the United States.

Opioid overdoses have killed more Virginians each year than car crashes or guns, with more than 4,000 deaths between 2012 and 2017, according to the Virginia Department of Health. That has made overdoses the No. 1 cause of unnatural death in the state.

In 2016, Virginia’s health commissioner declared opioid addiction a public-health emergency. The commissioner issued a standing order authorizing pharmacists via a statewide standing order to dispense naloxone to any person requesting the drug.

To prepare pharmacy students for this responsibility, a number of activities were added to the pharmacy curriculum. In the fall 2017 semester the VCU School of Pharmacy offered a new laboratory activity in opioid-overdose management to its third-year pharmacy students.

With the statewide reach of the problem there has been “a new change in culture and awareness about opioid overdoses,” said Krista Donohoe, Pharm.D., an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science at the VCU School of Pharmacy.

The laboratory course taught 130 VCU pharmacy students what to do in the event of a patient overdose, along with a discussion of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and how to do opioid calculations. The instructors — Donohoe and fellow VCU School of Pharmacy Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science faculty members Laura Morgan, Pharm.D., and Kacie Powers, Pharm.D. — wanted to prepare the pharmacy students to counsel patients and their families on opioid overdoses using naloxone.

Pharmacists can play a critical role in combating the opioid crisis. They have regular contact with patients and track their prescriptions through a database called the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program that lists medications prescribed and how frequently they are being dispensed.

The pharmacy students practiced with different prescription-monitoring database scenarios to learn how to identify red flags for opioid misuse.

For example, if a patient’s records show multiple visits to doctors or pharmacies, the pharmacist should recognize this as a possible red flag, and contact the prescriber to warn about potential opioid misuse, said Morgan, an associate professor in the VCU School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmacotherapy & Outcomes Science who served on a statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse for then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Students also practiced calculations needed to safely switch patients from one opioid to another such as from oral administration to intravenous.

In a survey conducted at the end of the course, students gave the curriculum changes high marks and said the class gave them the knowledge and confidence needed to care for their patients in the community.

“We’re going to continue it. Definitely,” Donohoe said.

Additional listed authors for the journal article are Thuy T. Tran, Pharm.D.; Ph.D. candidate Fawaz M. Alotaibi, Pharm.D.; and Archana Raghavan, Pharm.D.

For more information: Greg Weatherford, VCU School of Pharmacy director of communications

About Auxiliary Label

Auxiliary Label is a student-created blog examining pharmacy life, education and research at the VCU School of Pharmacy from a student perspective. It is overseen by Greg Weatherford, the school’s director of communications. Contact him here.


Nicole Carter has a BS in biochemistry with a minor in biology from Old Dominion University. She is currently pursuing her Pharm.D. from VCU. Her interests include ambulatory care, entrepreneurial pharmacy and horror films.

Photo of Nicole Carter

Torey Hammond is a third-year pharmacy student who studied at VCU before attending pharmacy school. Her interests include public health, geriatrics and cats.

Michael Ong, a third-year pharmacy student, is a graduate of Bucknell University and Virginia Commonwealth University with degrees in psychology and chemistry. His interests in pharmacy include public health and global health.

Christian Ruiz  is a third-year Pharm.D. student who majored in chemistry and minored in music and biology at VCU. His interests include emergency medicine, critical care and fishing.


Healthcare policy fellow to work in office of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown

Photo of the U S Capitol
VCU School of Pharmacy alumna Tina Chhabra will spend a year working in Congress. (Photo credit)
By Greg Weatherford
Director of Communications, VCU School of Pharmacy

ACCP-ASHP-VCU Healthcare Policy Fellow Tina Chhabra has begun her congressional placement within the office of Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

In her work with the office, which will run through August 2019, Chhabra (VCU Pharm.D. ‘16)  will support Senator Brown’s health team in all healthcare-related matters such as Medicare, Medicaid, drug development, mental health, the opioid crisis, the Affordable Care Act, and more.

Pharmacists selected as American College of Clinical Pharmacy-American Society of Health-System Pharmacists-Virginia Commonwealth University Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellows have the opportunity to gain real-world insight into health care policy analysis and development via immersion in the congressional environment. Fellows are actively mentored in legislative evaluation, policy development, research and writing while integrating practical experience with theory.

“There is no typical day,” Chhabra said of her role in Congress so far. Her work includes writing policy memos, participating in health-care briefings and meeting with constituents. “Constituents are the best educators,” Chhabra added. “I really enjoy meeting with the people of Ohio and learning from their experiences and expertise.”

Prior to her placement with Senator Brown’s office, and as part of the fellowship, Chhabra spent one week at the Brookings Institution and three weeks each with ACCP’s and ASHP’s government affairs offices.

The fellowship program, now directed by VCU School of Pharmacy associate professor Kristin Zimmerman, Pharm.D., was founded in 2007 under the leadership of professor Gary R. Matzke, Pharm.D.

For more about the ACCP-ASHP-VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program, click here or contact director Kristin Zimmerman at

VCU School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 graduate programs in pharmacy in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.

VCU Pharmacy’s CPPI announces partnership with journal Pharmacy Practice

CONTACT: Greg Weatherford | (804) 828-6470 (o) (804) 937-4722 (m)

The VCU School of Pharmacy’s Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation is proud to announce an editorial partnership with Pharmacy Practicea quarterly full-text peer-reviewed online journal.

Pharmacy Practice was founded as an independent journal by a group of prominent pharmacy-practice researchers from around the world about 10 years ago. Pharmacy Practice is free to access, complying with the NIH’s policy on public access, and does not charge for submissions or publication. It is indexed and abstracted on PubMed, PubMed Central, Embase, Scopus, Ebsco EJS and the Directory of Open Access Journals, among others.

As part of the agreement, faculty members of the VCU Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation will have a designated section to publish non-peer-reviewed articles expressing viewpoints on a wide range of pharmacy-practice topics. VCU School of Pharmacy faculty members Teresa Salgado, M.Pharm., Ph.D. and David Holdford, Ph.D. were named associate editors of Pharmacy Practice; faculty members John Bucheit, Pharm.D.Lauren Pamulapati, Pharm.D., and Julie Patterson, Pharm.D., Ph.D. were named advisory board members.

Notably, the agreement between the journal and the center stipulates that the arrangement remains valid only as long as Pharmacy Practice does not charge authors to publish. No financial support was given or received by the VCU center to execute or maintain the agreement.

“One of our driving motivations for this partnership is to support the open-science philosophy, particularly in an area like pharmacy practice research in which many open access journals charge fees,” explained Salgado, assistant director of the VCU Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation. “We are honored to join the prestigious group of international colleagues who are part of Pharmacy Practice’s editorial and advisory boards.”

Pharmacy Practice is ranked among the best journals in pharmacy and is among the top journals in the field as determined by the Scopus CiteScore. In fact, Pharmacy Practice is the first open-access journal in this rank.

“We are excited to have an editorial partner as esteemed as the VCU School of Pharmacy’s Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation,” said Fernando Fernandez-Llimos, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of Pharmacy Practice. “We share the goal of supporting true open-access research of the highest caliber. We look forward to a rewarding partnership.”

For more information contact Greg Weatherford, VCU School of Pharmacy director of communications, at

Press inquiries or questions about communications and media:
Greg Weatherford
Director of communications, VCU School of Pharmacy
(804) 828-6470 (office) | (804) 937-4722 (mobile)

Ask Dr. Rx: Simple steps to build stronger bones

Ask Dr. Rx: How can I avoid bone loss?

Dr. Rx gives smart advice on how to avoid osteoporosis, or bone loss. The monthly Dr. Rx column appears in Fifty Plus magazine and is a community service of the VCU School of Pharmacy.

Posted by VCU School of Pharmacy on Wednesday, September 5, 2018

By Kayla Sheets

Q: Osteoporosis is fairly common in my family. Is there anything I can do to prevent this from happening to me? I don’t want to have a fall and break a bone.
A: Bones are living tissue and are constantly being remodeled. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose more mass than they gain during the remodeling process. While genetics play a major role in the development of osteoporosis, there are steps you can take to prevent its development.
Believe it or not, you don’t have to take any medications to build stronger bones. Instead, make some simple lifestyle changes you can begin today.
For starters, ensure you’re getting proper nutrients by eating a diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, fruits, vegetables and protein. And avoid smoking and heavy alcohol intake as these can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Calcium: Postmenopausal women should consume 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily. For men, doctors recommend 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily for those 70 and younger and 1,200 milligrams a day for men older than 70.
Milk and other dairy products are great sources of calcium. Your diet already may give you sufficient quantities of calcium, so speak with your doctor or pharmacist before starting a calcium supplement.
Vitamin D: Your body’s vitamin D requirement is 600 international units daily for adults through age 70 and 800 daily if you are over 70. Ideally, this comes from your diet. Great sources of vitamin D include salmon, tuna, eggs and foods specifically fortified with vitamin D. If you’re concerned you aren’t getting enough, you should speak with your doctor before starting a supplement.
Activity: It’s important to have an active lifestyle involving weight-bearing activities such as walking, jogging, hiking, tennis and dancing. These activities help your bones and muscles stay strong. Thirty minutes of exercise three to four times per week is recommended. However, everyone is different. Know your limits. Speak with your doctor to determine an exercise regimen that’s best for you.
Stay safe: If you or a loved one is at high risk for osteoporosis, falls are one of the biggest factors that lead to complications. Due to the frailty of bones, even a fall while standing can cause a breakage. Here are some simple ways to reduce the risk of falling:
– Remove/minimize tripping hazards in your home, such as unnecessary rugs or furniture in high traffic areas.
Install handrails on stairs.
– Install grab rails and non-slip bath mats in the bathroom.
– Make sure you have good lighting.
– Speak with your doctor or pharmacist if you think one of your medications is making you dizzy or drowsy.
These small changes could have a big impact on your health. If you feel these steps are not enough, have a conversation with your doctor or pharmacist about your risk for osteoporosis and other options available for your individualized needs.
Kayla Sheets is a fourth-year Pharm.D. student at VCU School of Pharmacy. She majored in biology at The University of Virginia. Her areas of interest are internal medicine and critical care.

Dr. Rx is a monthly publication of the VCU School of Pharmacy. It can be read in Fifty Plus magazine, available at many outlets in the Richmond area and online via Beacon Newspapers. To submit a question or to request more information, contact us.

Dr. Rx: Apps can help people stay on top of medications

An I-phone screen shows a hand holding pills.
Apps can assist many people including older patients manage medications.
By Yasser Ali

Q: How can technology help me keep track of my medications?

A: Nearly 50 percent of Americans over the age of 55 are on at least one prescription medication, with 12 percent of those over the age of 65 taking four or more. That is a lot to keep track of on a daily basis.

No wonder about half of the 2 billion prescriptions filled each year are not taken correctly, according to Pharmacy Times. Luckily, there are ways we can use technology to reduce this problem.

A lot of people use smartphone apps – for games, email or video chat, for example. Apps also can help you keep on top of your medications. Many of them are available for free.

Apps for iPhones can be found on the iTunes store. If you have an Android device, you can search for apps on the Google Play Store. Once downloaded, these apps offer features you can use to manage both your prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.

For starters, let’s discuss managing refills. The two largest retail pharmacy chains in the country – CVS and Walgreens – each offer an app available to smartphone and tablet owners that can be downloaded for free. These apps promise to let you refill prescriptions by choosing from a list of existing prescriptions or even scanning the barcodes on a medicine bottle – no phone calls required. The Walgreens app also offers a feature that gives reminders to take medications, no matter where you got them.

Other apps can help you stay on top of your regular medication regimen. One we like is Mango Health, an app that aims to make keeping track of your doses fun and rewarding. Users create fully customizable reminders for their daily regimens, and can earn points to enter weekly raffles for gift cards and charitable donations.

The MediSafe Meds and Pills Reminder app is another free option that reminds users when to take medication. Also, it can track blood glucose, blood pressure and weight. The app, which uses a simple-to-understand design that looks like a pill box, can be synced with iPhone’s built-in Health app.

With so many great apps out there, we encourage everyone to delve into the app stores and see what’s out there. There are many more well-reviewed apps available, including some from independent pharmacies.

It is important to keep in mind that all healthcare-related technology should be used as tools to help supplement your care. Speaking regularly with your doctor and pharmacist remains the most vital aspect of medication management.

Yasser Ali is a recent class of 2018 Pharm.D. graduate from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy. Ali is from Rochester, New York and is a 2014 graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he received a B.A. in chemistry.

Dr. Rx is a monthly publication of the VCU School of Pharmacy. It can be read in Fifty Plus magazine, available at many outlets in the Richmond area and online via Beacon Newspapers. To submit a question or to request more information, contact us.


With White Coat Ceremony, a new class joins the profession

    Members of the V C U Pharmacy Class of 2022 stand in a group, wearing the white coats.Gathering backstage for their official white-coat portrait, members of the Pharm.D. Class off 2022 joke and laugh. Photo: Dan Buth


WATCH: Pharm.D. students try on their white coats for the first time

By Greg Weatherford | VCU School of Pharmacy

The Pharm.D. Class of 2022 received their white coats and took the Oath of a Pharmacist for the first time Saturday in an annual ceremony that underscored the excitement and responsibility of the profession.

“The white coat … is a time-honored symbol,” Dean Joseph T. DiPiro told the new pharmacy students, joined by family and faculty in the packed auditorium of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Henrico County. “It symbolizes trust, compassion, empathy, altruism, integrity and respect. It recognizes that pharmacists are entering our profession as a vocation and as a commitment to service to society.”

One by one, K.C. Ogbonna, Pharm.D., associate dean of admissions and student services, read out the names of the students. One by one they walked onstage to receive their coats.

The incoming students took different paths to the White Coat Ceremony.

Natasha Boyette came to the VCU School of Pharmacy from Virginia Beach, where she worked in a nonprofit resource center for the LGBTQ community and saw firsthand the importance of medicine and compassion.

“VCU’s pharmacy school really cares about their students,” added Boyette, who was pre-med at University of Virginia. “And it’s in the forefront of the pharmacy revolution. Having such an impact within the field is very important to me.”

Joel Wagner had been working in Richmond as an organic chemist after receiving his chemistry degree from William & Mary. He was drawn to health care and pharmacy in part because as a child he had been treated successfully for leukemia. VCU appealed to him, he said, because of its compounding center and strong reputation among physicians and technicians he knew.

Faatihah Meunier came to VCU from Georgia as the daughter of Haitian immigrants who taught her early to value both traditional remedies and medical care. After earning an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Valdosta State, she set her eyes on VCU for pharmacy school.

“I love that the faculty here are really focused on community service,” Meunier said to explain her choice.

Patrick Kiley came from Virginia Beach, pursuing a career in health care after years as a beach lifeguard and in emergency medical services. Inspired by his uncle, a pharmacist, he hopes to pursue clinical pharmacy.

Despite their differing backgrounds, all confessed to some anxiety about starting pharmacy school.

“We already feel behind,” Kiley said.

Judging from their track records, they are up to the challenge. The average undergraduate GPA for the Class of 2022 is 3.43. Also notable: Of the 139 accepted students in the latest Pharm.D. class, 19 percent identify as traditionally underrepresented minorities. Three-quarters of the class members are from Virginia; two-thirds are female; their average age is 23, though ages range from 19 to 35.

In her keynote, longtime faculty member Patricia Slattum, Pharm.D, offered 10 lessons from her 35-year career in pharmacy (see the list of lessons here).

“We need pharmacists more than we ever have,” Slattum said. “We need your passion, your creativity, your caring … and your intellectual strengths.”

Slattum, who this year added Preceptor of the Year to her long list of accolades, is retiring from VCU after this semester.

“Pharmacy has been an absolutely wonderful career for me,” Slattum said. “I’m excited to see what it can do for you.”

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