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University of Wisconsin-Madison

Research PharmD Alums Boost Clinical Practice

Rachel Jenson in a pharmacy
Rachel Jenson (PharmD ‘19), clinical pharmacist at UCHealth. | Photo by Chuck Bigger

Three years later, alumni of the School’s research-focused PharmD option use the experience to improve practice, mentorship, and patient care

By Katie Ginder-Vogel

Research — conducting it and interpreting it — is the cornerstone of healthcare, empowering pharmacists and other practitioners to provide evidence-based care to their patients. To encourage future pharmacists to deepen their research experience and officially recognize student research contributions and accomplishments, the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy, under the leadership of Professor Mel de Villiers, associate dean for academic affairs, created a new option in the PharmD program, the Path of Distinction in Research, in 2019.

“This Pathway of Distinction is a way for students to work longitudinally throughout the PharmD curriculum to gain in-depth experience with the successes and failures that accompany research,” says Mary Hayney, professor in the School’s Pharmacy Practice and Translational Research Division and director of the program. “Recognizing the commitment and work this research requires with a distinction at graduation gives our PharmD students an advantage when interviewing for jobs or applying for residencies.”

“My research experience made me realize how important it is to stay curious and how fun it is to ask questions and to explore the unknowns that we often encounter in clinical practice.”
—Youqi Zhang

Since it was launched, the research path has graduated more than a dozen students, including Youqi Zhang (PharmD ’19) and Rachel Jenson (PharmD ’19), two of the program’s first graduates. Three years after graduation, they are applying their research experience in varied ways, from translating published works to improve care in practice to participating on research teams.

“My research experience made me realize how important it is to stay curious and how fun it is to ask questions and to explore the unknowns that we often encounter in clinical practice,” Zhang says.

Enhancing critical care

Zhang is a critical care pharmacist at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), where she conducts clinical work, precepts PGY1 and PGY2 residents and fourth-year PharmD students on their Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences, and regularly conducts research.

Earlier this year, she was the first author of a paper published in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy exploring platelet reactivity testing in peripheral artery disease, and is currently investigating the management of hyponatremia — low blood sodium levels — as the principal investigator on an ICU study with a PGY2 critical care pharmacy resident and a medical ICU pharmacist. 

Youqi Zhang
Youqi Zhang (PharmD ‘19), critical care pharmacist at Oregon Health and Science University.

“The aim of the project is to look at the utility of desmopressin, a hormone that works as an antidiuretic, in severe hyponatremia management,” Zhang explains. “The outcome will help us decide whether desmopressin can reduce ICU and hospital length of stay.”

As a student at the School, Zhang joined the Hayney Lab to learn more about the role of pharmacists and how pharmacists can shape real-life practice. By the time of her graduation, she had spent nearly 500 hours on research to improve immunization strategies for patients with inflammatory bowel disease.

“Professor Hayney mentored me on my very first review article and my first research grant as a student, and she connected me with other alumni of the school, such as Kalynn Northam (PharmD ’14), who became my mentor during residency,” says Zhang.

“Youqi was focused and interested in the work we were doing, and you could see her critical thinking skills dramatically improve through this experience,” says Hayney. 

Zhang says her research experience at the School of Pharmacy helped her develop her writing and statistical skills.

“Additionally, Professor Hayney and Associate Professor John Dopp taught me how failure in research is almost inevitable, and there is actually nothing to be scared about,” she says. “There is value in every attempt because it brings us closer to the truth.” 

Zhang says Hayney and Dopp were more than excellent research mentors. They helped her envision her career.

“They helped me in every way possible to achieve my personal and professional goals,” she says. “I hope that one day, I can become a mentor for other students, just like they were to me.”

Research in mentorship

Jenson is a clinical pharmacist at UCHealth in Colorado Springs, a busy community teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Colorado academic hospital in Denver, Colo.

Jenson completed her PGY1 residency there and then landed her job as a clinical pharmacist and became the primary preceptor for the internal medicine rotation for students and residents from all over the U.S. Jenson serves as the principal investigator (PI) on PGY1 residents’ research projects, guiding residents through the processes of ideation, proposal, IRB approval, data collection, manuscript submission, and project completion. 

“They bounce ideas off me, and I guide them, and they lead the project,” Jenson says. “I enjoy leading residents through these projects; they see where we get the data to make system-level decisions about implementing hospital protocols, which impact our clinical work.”

Rachel Jenson washes her hands.
Rachel Jenson (PharmD ‘19), clinical pharmacist at UCHealth. | Photo by Chuck Bigger

Jenson majored in microbiology at UW­–Madison, then did bench work with Warren Rose, associate professor in the Pharmacy Practice and Translational Research Division, as a PharmD student, which resulted in a published manuscript in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy and the Best Student Poster award at the 2018 American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP) Global Conference.

“I had a fantastic experience working with Dr. Rose and am forever grateful to have had him as a PI,” Jenson says. “I like to present at big national meetings like ACCP, and I presented a poster there every year during pharmacy school, which made it easy to transition from student to resident research. It also allowed me to immediately step into my preceptor role to guide residents in their own research.”

Jenson says the manuscript writing experience she gained in Rose’s research group was particularly valuable. To date, she’s helped to create several project manuscripts, including two chosen to be presented at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists’ Midyear Clinical Meeting. One focused on an emergency department alert to speed up the administration of antibiotics for patients presenting with sepsis, and another about a pharmacist-driven MRSA screening protocol for patients with pneumonia who are taking anti-MRSA antibiotics.

“Professional writing is different from any other writing, and you formulate scientific manuscripts a certain way,” Jenson says. “As my research mentor at the School, Dr. Rose helped guide me through that, which really helped when I created manuscripts for my residency research project.” 

Empowering future researchers

Alongside Zhang and Jenson, other inaugural grads are today practicing in challenging areas like emergency medicine and hematology, blending their clinical work with research to help deal with drug shortages, improve student pharmacist education, or even to address barriers to pharmacist-driven research.

Rachel Jenson pours a liquid.
Rachel Jenson (PharmD ‘19), clinical pharmacist at UCHealth. | Photo by Chuck Bigger

Hayney says this inaugural group — as well as those to follow — fit the model of the goals of the Path of Distinction and have done exceptional work with their training. Since the program’s launch, it continues to attract new PharmD students interested in a variety of research areas. To earn the distinction, PharmD students must meet benchmarks for hours spent on faculty-mentored research, complete a rigorous research project, submit a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal, and present their findings at a professional meeting — the full scope of the research experience that can be applied myriad ways. 

“Each year, there is consistently a group of students who choose to pursue a research Path of Distinction, and we’re happy to provide that opportunity for them,” says Hayney, adding that the experience provides value to all students, even if their professional paths veer away from research.

“Even if students don’t continue to do formalized clinical research, the critical thinking skills they gain through this experience will help them forever,” says Hayney. “They’ll learn to ask a question and devise a way to answer it.”

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