Meet the Innovators: Michael Katz, PharmD, Director of International Programs at the R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy

Dec. 8, 2021


The University of Arizona Health Sciences Global and Online partners with an extensive network of collaborators across the university. This allows us to expand global and online academic offerings in innovative ways to meet the needs of the next generation of health care professionals – at home and abroad. The “Meet the Innovators” series will shine a spotlight on the many experts who are working hard to reshape the future of global health care education, research and practice. 

In this edition of Meet the Innovators, we are pleased to introduce you to Michael Katz, PharmD, director of international programs and residency programs at the University of Arizona R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy. Dr. Katz has been with the University of Arizona for over forty years, and in his time has been instrumental in launching the College of Pharmacy into the global education domain. He is often called upon to present on pharmacy education topics at universities around the world, from the United Arab Emirates, to India, to Thailand. He has the vision to internationalize and globalize the College of Pharmacy to benefit students and the communities they live in—near and afar.

“At the end of the day, it's all about improving patient care and the health and wellbeing of people, whether that's people here in the U.S. or people in other countries. The more we can deliver the College of Pharmacy’s model around the world, the more patient care will benefit.” — Michael Katz, PharmD

What inspired you to take on this role in global education?

In the early 2000s I started getting involved in global education, initially involving Japan. I had been invited to go to Japan through a Japanese government-sponsored exchange program which sends U.S. pharmacy faculty to Japan for two-week stints to teach and to work with academics as well as clinical practitioners, and sends Japanese pharmacists to the U.S. for short-term training. For whatever reason, things really clicked, and I started developing some strong relationships with a lot of people, including the person who was running the program in Japan at the time. They kept inviting me to come, and we started having Japanese pharmacists and students coming here for short-term training, and, in some cases, longer-term training for even over a year. At that point, the Dean asked me to get involved in developing international experiences for other students.

That was really the start of my global activity with the university and now we have 10 or 12 countries our students can choose to complete international rotations in, and we have a number of other relationships with international universities to create educational opportunities in the U.S. and abroad.

Tell us more about the relationships you and the R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy are building with other universities and employers around the world.

A program I have had for a number of years is the clinical training program with Saudi Arabia. Basically, that program brings pharmacists, mostly faculty members and junior faculty members from Saudi Arabian pharmacy schools to the U.S. to get clinical training, including residency training. We have about six residents in our various programs from Saudi Arabia right now. Participants are usually funded by their employer, but it is funneled through a governmental agency in Saudi Arabia. We are currently exploring expanding that program to look at other areas, particularly countries in the Arabian Gulf region, since there is a lot of interest from other countries to send people to the U.S. for education and training.

We have also been working with Gulf Medical University for the last four or five years. That university is one of the more advanced pharmacy programs in the Middle East and certainly in the most advanced in the Emirates. One of the things that that they have asked if we could do is to develop a dual degree program in which students would earn a master's in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Arizona while also earning a degree from Gulf Medical University. This requires taking our existing pharmaceutical sciences master’s program and converting the curriculum to fully online. We are doing course articulation right now and could be looking at launching a dual degree program as early as fall 2022.

We are really pushing to develop pharmacy programs that can delivered online so that students, particularly from developing countries, can get a world class education from a top university in less expensive fashion.

Can you tell us about the international pharmacist PharmD program you created?

PharmD for Non-U.S. Pharmacists is a program we started about five or six years ago, and it's something I had been thinking about for some time. For people who already have a pharmacy degree from their home country or from some other foreign country, we basically open the door to them to come to the U.S. and get a U.S. PharmD. There is a lot of value placed in other countries on American pharmacy training. Certainly, from both a clinical training standpoint and clinical practice standpoint, the U.S. is looked upon worldwide as the pinnacle of clinical practice and clinical education. 

However, there have historically been a lot of barriers to international pharmacists coming to the U.S. to study. With this program we try to break down some of those barriers. Like for instance, we no longer require that pre-requisites be completed at an American university for international pharmacists to be considered for admission, since they already have a pharmacy degree from another country.

My hope is that our international pharmacist students would then go back to their home country and take the education that they got here and then start implementing those changes in their communities.

Another part of my goal was not only to help these participants get pharmacy training, but also to internationalize our campus and have more people from other countries, whether that be students, faculty or visitors, on our campus so that our American students can learn about not only pharmacy in those other countries, but also develop broader cultural competency that will ultimately help them in their practice.

What other global and online programs might be in the future for the R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy?

In addition to working to move the pharmaceutical sciences master’s program online, I am also investigating what an accelerated, online PharmD program for international pharmacists might look like. As I mentioned, typically the barrier to international pharmacist PharmD programs is expense—not only tuition, but also living expenses. I think there is potential for the University of Arizona to offer a condensed version of the PharmD program, as is done by a few other universities, in which the didactic work is fully online. This could allow international pharmacists to complete all classroom work in their home country, wherever they are, and avoid the cost of traveling to and living in the United States during those years. It could involve waiving some of those basic science courses that international pharmacists would have in theory already taken to compress it into three years. I think that there is a large market out there for such a program, and it would certainly help us not only to drive the internationalization but increase the number of students we serve.

What advice would you give to health sciences students around the world preparing to enter their careers?

The advice I give to all the students is to think long and hard about the kind of career you want to have, and not worry too much early on about a specific label or title. What are your intrinsic philosophies? What do you really want to do in the field of pharmacy? Think of that very broadly.  Do I really want to make a difference in patient lives? Do I want to be a researcher and develop a cure for cancer or for Alzheimer's disease? Do I want to be a teacher? Really think about it in kind of a big picture way, and then as you gain more experience and get advice from others, start narrowing things down. Eventually you can really start developing a career pathway.

There are many more choices and opportunities for global students today than ever before. And as a student or as a young professional, no matter the opportunities you were presented or the choices you made, you can reinvent yourself and make changes. I think as we start developing more certificate programs and master’s and other types of training programs, like for example, the interdisciplinary Innovations in Aging graduate program, current professionals around the world will have the opportunity to really do that kind of reinvention or to augment their training and education so they can achieve whatever their goals might be at that point. This is one of many new opportunities being created by the University of Arizona that we are all excited to see come to fruition.

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