GATORx Launch Program prepares students for pharmacy school journey

Shakneal Gaitor has her sights set on becoming a pharmacist. A native of the Bahamas, she aims to be the first member of her family to secure a professional degree. She moved to Gainesville in May and is eager to start classes at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy later this month.

Shakneal Gaitor
Shakneal Gaitor

Gaitor describes herself as a well-rounded student but acknowledges there are courses in the pharmacy curriculum that could prove difficult, including chemistry and anatomy and physiology.

“I took biochemistry as an undergraduate, and even though I performed well in the course, the material was a struggle to learn,” Gaitor said.

When Gaitor discovered the UF College of Pharmacy was offering a two-week academic enrichment program focused on these subject matters, she jumped at the opportunity for a refresher course. She was one of more than 70 incoming Doctor of Pharmacy students who participated in the inaugural GATORx Launch Program, held virtually July 26 through Aug. 5. For two hours every evening, these students were introduced to course concepts and learning strategies and received professional advice to help them transition into their first year of pharmacy school.

“First-year pharmacy students face many challenges, including a curriculum that is much different and more difficult than what they may have experienced as an undergraduate,” said John Allen, Pharm.D., associate dean for diversity, inclusion and health equity in the UF College of Pharmacy. “The GATORx Launch Program is designed to prepare students for these challenges and ensure everyone — no matter their experience or background — can enjoy an excellent start to their pharmacy education.”

Each session features a review of organic chemistry or biochemistry concepts, as well as anatomy and physiology. These courses are among the most difficult for first-year students, and the additional instruction helps familiarize them with the content. In addition, students receive professional and personal advice, including study tips, time management recommendations, self-wellness strategies and professional networking with faculty, staff and students.

Allen and Teresa Cavanaugh, Pharm.D., assistant dean for student affairs in the UF College of Pharmacy, created the GATORx Launch Program. All incoming pharmacy students were invited to attend, with students from backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented in pharmacy and first-generation students strongly encouraged to participate. Allen said that data shows these groups can have challenges transitioning into the first year of a professional program, and often if students fall behind, they may never catch up. The program aimed to provide students with an academic refresher, provide new learning strategies to promote long-term retention of academic material and facilitate building connections with colleagues.

“It is so reassuring to come into pharmacy school already knowing a friendly face,” Cavanaugh said. “We hope the advice shared and the connections made through this program will serve students well during their tenure at the UF College of Pharmacy.”

Gaitor attended every GATORx Launch Program session and found the presentations to be invaluable. She enjoyed hearing from alumni and current students about their experiences as a pharmacy student and credits the time management advice for helping her prioritize coursework around other activities.

“I have so much to learn in pharmacy school, and it’s important that I approach this next chapter of my life with the right mindset,” Gaitor said. “The GATORx Launch Program gave me exposure to what I need to know to be successful as a UF College of Pharmacy student.”