Reaping the Benefits of Research

AACP Article

AFPE scholarships help close funding gaps for student pharmacists who want to strengthen their clinical skills and participate in faculty-mentored research

By Emily Jacobs

Student pharmacists who pursue advanced degrees can look forward to greater career opportunities, thanks to their increased knowledge and experience. However, not just the students benefit. The rewards of an advanced degree in pharmaceutical sciences also extend to students’ peers and patients.

Advanced pharmaceutical degrees may help improve patient outcomes. For example, a doctor of pharmacy degree prepares pharmacists to counsel patients on medication adherence and managing chronic conditions. Graduate students in pharmacy school often participate in research projects that help further healthcare knowledge and benefit large or underserved populations. Pharmacists who participate in research as graduate students can more effectively collaborate with other researchers and clinicians, and may be better able to turn around and communicate those research findings to patients.

Unfortunately, a lack of funding continues to restrict these opportunities for student pharmacists, which puts those future benefits at risk. Students and researchers may face inconsistencies in the funds they do receive, even if the amounts are adequate. Without a steady source of funding, many students cannot pursue an advanced degree or participate in their desired research projects.

The American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education (AFPE), with the help of donors, seeks to alleviate this problem for student pharmacists. For more than 75 years, AFPE has supported pharmaceutical science education through a variety of funding opportunities. AFPE’s Gateway to Research Scholarship program is one such opportunity. Available to students currently enrolled in an ACPE-accredited school of pharmacy, this program helps them understand the importance of research. Recipients can improve their clinical skills and participate in a faculty-mentored research project. Candidates must be recommended by a faculty member, propose a relevant research topic and demonstrate superior academic performance.

Dissemination of research is extremely important. We’re looking at people who will be published in peer-reviewed journals and will be sharing their acquired knowledge of research broadly…We’re really looking at putting top scientists in places where they can achieve.

Ellen Woods

Five years ago, AFPE brought its Gateway to Research Scholarships back from an extended hiatus. After following the careers of scholarship recipients, AFPE had the data to support the scholarship’s continuation, as well as confirmation from former recipients. “The benefits were incredible,” said Ellen Woods, AFPE president. “A Pharm.D. may go into clinical practice but doesn’t have the experience of understanding how to explain research to patients or caregivers. Having that mentored research project, they have a full year of working with a very experienced faculty member.”

AFPE awards about 15 Gateway scholarships each year from a pool of as many as 150 applicants. Schools can only put forward two applicants each year, making the award highly competitive. Gateway to Research Scholarship recipients have the chance to develop skills for their future careers. Students learn to establish a hypothesis, develop a cohort and interpret data, all of which they can use in future research. Even if they do not pursue a career in research, scholarship recipients can apply these skills in clinical settings by becoming more effective collaborators with researchers and physicians.

Ensuring Steady Funding

As healthcare advances rapidly, more research is needed to examine the efficacy and long-term impact of these advancements. Some of the research projects conducted by scholarship recipients have attempted to tackle these healthcare issues. Studies have ranged from opioid alternatives to breast cancer research to drug formulations. Following the careers of Gateway recipients, AFPE finds that many who pursue a research track are widely published in peer-reviewed journals and continue to educate other professionals. Some have gone on to receive federal funding to support their research. “Dissemination of research is extremely important,” Woods noted. “We’re looking at people who will be published in peer-reviewed journals and will be sharing their acquired knowledge of research broadly.”

Another potential source of funding for advanced pharmacy students is the new Dr. Paul B. Myrdal Memorial Fund for Pharmaceutical Education. Myrdal was a professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy before his death from colon cancer last May at the age of 50. Myrdal’s family established the fund according to his wishes, to support AFPE’s Gateway Fellowship and Pre-Doctoral Fellowship.

In 18 years at the university, Myrdal promoted the idea of classical pharmaceutics as the foundation for all drug delivery systems. He helped to mentor pharmaceutical students from high school to the graduate level, including AFPE fellows. As a staunch supporter of research and learning, Myrdal understood the funding challenges for pharmaceutical sciences. Prior to his death, he requested a memorial contribution be given to AFPE to help students like those he had mentored. Although not an AFPE fellow himself, he believed that supporting AFPE was the most effective way to get funding to pharmaceutical science students.

These types of funding opportunities can help pharmaceutical graduates gain the knowledge and experience necessary to increase research knowledge and improve patient care. Funding sources often change due to shifting health priorities or political interests. AFPE’s programs seek to fill in those gaps and encourage research in areas that have a proven need. “We’re really looking at putting top scientists in places where they can achieve,” Woods said.

Emily Jacobs is a freelance writer based in Toledo, Ohio.