Rural and medically underserved populations in Arizona lack access to pharmacists. But thanks to a $1 million gift from the Molly Blank Fund of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, new generations of pharmacists will have the opportunity to fill this need.

The gift establishes the Molly and Max Blank Rural Health Program Endowment at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy. The endowment will be used to expand the college’s Rural Health Professions Program and Professional Certificate in Pharmacy-Related Health Disparities. Both aim to provide pharmacy students with training experiences in particularly remote or rural communities in Arizona. In honor of the gift, the professional certificate will be renamed the Molly and Max Blank Professional Certificate in Pharmacy-Related Health Disparities.

Access to health-care services is a top priority for the college, considering that the distribution of the state’s health-care workforce directly affects patients’ access to care. Fifteen percent of Arizonans live in a rural area but only 7 percent of Arizona’s pharmacists work in these areas, resulting in a considerable gap in service.

“This is the kind of major gift that will allow us to grow critically needed programs to help improve access to quality health-care providers in areas where it is needed most,” said Dr. Rick Schnellmann, dean of the college.

The Rural Health Professions Program began in 1997 and has grown from four PharmD students to approximately 20-24 each year, thanks to support from the Arizona Area Health Education Centers. Students are placed in areas from farming communities in Yuma to remote Navajo County to border towns like Nogales and Douglas. As of May, 86 students have earned the certificate.

“The University of Arizona’s land-grant mission focuses on serving our state in a meaningful way,” said John-Paul Roczniak, president and CEO of the University of Arizona Foundation. “Because of the Blank Family Foundation’s generosity, the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy is uniquely positioned to make an even greater impact on the health of Arizona, while also providing students hands-on learning opportunities.”

“My brother Arthur and I are pleased to be able to honor our mother’s legacy through a gift to the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy from The Molly Blank Fund,” said Michael Blank, son of Molly and Max Blank. “It is very appropriate that this endowment is named for our father and mother, as they were both deeply engaged in the pharmacy profession. Our parents would have been gratified to support the pharmacy needs of rural populations.”

For many students in the program, the experience leads to careers in rural communities, like 2017 College of Pharmacy graduate Kenneth Leutz, who opened a Sun Life Family Health Center Pharmacy in rural Florence, Arizona. Other graduates of the program highlight their experience working in rural areas when applying for postgraduate residency positions – which are increasingly competitive for students – allowing them to stand out from their pharmacy colleagues during the application process.

We have an excellent success rate with the program,” Elizabeth Hall-Lipsy, assistant professor and director of the program, said.

Employment statistics for RHPP alumni show that 52 percent have obtained postgraduate residency training, 34 percent are employed in a rural setting, and 47 percent are employed treating underserved patients.

“This program provides students firsthand exposure to the benefits and opportunities of working in rural areas,” Hall-Lipsy said.