URI College of Pharmacy dean Larrat provides communities with the right prescription

University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy Dean E. Paul Larrat says there are now more career pathways for pharmacy graduates to enter the health care field.
University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy Dean E. Paul Larrat says there are now more career pathways for pharmacy graduates to enter the health care field.

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Paul Larrat | University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy dean

THERE HAVE BEEN a lot of changes in the pharmacy profession since E. Paul Larrat, the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy’s dean, was a student there in the 1980s.

The days of the mom-and-pop pharmacy on street corners are mostly gone, as the industry has been taken over by big chains such as Walgreens Co. and Woonsocket-based CVS Health Corp. Drugs have become more numerous and complex, with rising costs becoming a concern.

But some things have not changed about the industry or its goals.

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“Our goal is to create knowledgeable and empathetic pharmacists,” Larrat said. “We go out of our way to encourage professional leadership and involvement in the community. It’s the leadership skills that set them apart.”

Larrat, 63, was born in Philadelphia but has lived in Rhode Island since he was a small child. Like many pharmacists, the profession runs in his family – an aunt, an uncle and a cousin all owned pharmacies. His mother was a chemist.

“I knew what [profession] I was getting into,” Larrat said.

With that background, URI’s pharmacy school was a natural fit, Larrat says, and he’s been based in the state ever since. He earned a bachelor’s degree, MBA and a Master of Science from URI, and a doctorate in epidemiology and biostatistics from Brown University.

Although he has been a URI faculty member since 1992, Larrat has also done some interesting work off campus. In 2004, he was appointed as a faculty fellow for NASA, and worked studying the risks of volatile organic compounds – gases such as benzene and formaldehyde – on humans and plants during extended space travel. Larrat says he always wanted to be an astronaut, and this was as close as he was going to get.

In 2010-11, Larrat worked in Washington, D.C., as a health policy fellow for Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. “It was a great opportunity to see how health policy is developed,” Larrat said. URI graduates about 120 pharmacy students each year. Some of them still work in retail pharmacies, although Larrat – the pharmacy college’s dean since 2013 – says career pathways have broadened since he was a student. Many URI pharmacy grads now go to hospitals, universities, research settings, large medical practices and corporations. Larrat notes that most of the people working behind the counters at retail pharmacies are pharmacy techs, not pharmacists.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacists now give immunizations and, in limited cases, can prescribe medication. “COVID-19 was a major turning point for us in some ways, as we saw pharmacists assuming new roles,” Larrat said.

Education in URI’s six-year pharmacy program has become more hands-on, Larrat says. Sometimes the school will recruit people to come in and pose as patients. Students also practice their skills on $80,000 “mannequins” that can stick out their tongues, move their eyes and even “die” if subject to a particularly severe drug interaction.

Larrat has also seen a gender shift at his school. When he was a student, he says, about two-thirds of his colleagues were male. Now about two-thirds of URI’s pharmacy students are female.

Larrat has also contributed research on the relationship between cocaine use and HIV infection, the development of special care units for Alzheimer’s patients, and pharmacy management in a state correctional system. URI has formed a partnership with the state to help manage pharmaceutical costs at the R.I. Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston.

Kerry LaPlante, who chairs URI’s department of pharmacy practice, says Larrat has been an effective leader who knows what it takes to train other effective leaders.

“He has the vision and the focus to create the next generation,” she said.

But Larrat plans to retire as dean at the end of the year after a decade and return to teaching.

“The school needs some new ideas and new energy,” he said. “But I still love the job and being with students on a daily basis. That’s very energizing for me.”

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