From bench to bedside
PharmD degrees offer expansive and diverse career opportunities, and this career flexibility was one of the aspects that sparked my initial interest in the profession. I have always had an interest in research, and I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that encompassed it.
Starting as a lab assistant at age 15, I realized that benchwork was unlike any science I had ever been exposed to. As I continued being involved in research through college, I worked in various labs gaining a background in cell culturing, biotechnology, and animal models. When I transitioned into pharmacy school, I realized that research could encompass not only benchwork, but clinical aspects from patients as well. In my first year, I started planning how I could incorporate research into my curriculum and realized the research area of emphasis that was offered was not as in depth as I wanted. My mentor, Marina Galvez-Peralta, PharmD, PhD, suggested that I look into additional programs that I could pursue in order to gain the level of knowledge I was after.
My inquisitive nature led me to become a pioneer of sorts at the West Virginia University (WVU) School of Pharmacy.
Preparing my case
WVU already had a dual degree program for PharmD/MBA students; however, there were no other dual degrees previously established. If I wanted to find another program to pitch as a dual degree, I realized I needed to have a thorough and logical argument to present to the academic committee. I found that the perfect fit would be with a newer program that WVU offered, which was a Master of Science in Clinical and Translational Sciences.
Armed with the previous year’s registrar listings, I crossed referenced all of the MS program courses with the PharmD program. I wrote mock course schedules for my remaining semesters to show that all courses could be completed simultaneously. I met with Mary Stamatakis, PharmD, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Educational Innovation, and presented my plan. I received ample support, and we both met with the Director of Investigator Development Julie Lockman, PhD, who was also encouraging of the idea. And so, the WVU Academic Committee approved the curriculum modification.
An honor and a challenge
I am the first student in the school’s history to pursue this program, which has been a great honor as well as a challenge. Both programs have been graciously helpful with the logistics behind course coding, degree classifications, scholarships, and scheduling. I have been able to meet with both programs on a quarterly basis to further adapt the plans of study for both of the programs to coincide. While I am required to take more courses than my peers, I could not be happier with my choice. I have received a comprehensive education that merges my knowledge of clinical skills with research design. I have had the opportunity to conduct research with participants from a comprehensive opioid abuse treatment clinic by examining genomic and metabolomic components and treatment success with buprenorphine. As I am learning the clinical aspects of substance use disorder, I have also concurrently asked scientific questions about those treatments. My education truly has been shaped by the motto of taking medicine from bench to bedside.
After finishing my current education, I will be involved in research so that I can take the basic sciences and apply them in a way to further advance clinical practice. Currently, I would like to explore fellowship opportunities within the pharmaceutical industry in order to bring cutting- edge science to patients. My interests are primarily with pharmacogenomics, because I believe the future of patient care is in personalized medicine. I cannot see a better way of integrating translational sciences than with patients’ basic genomic make up and their pharmacodynamic clinical outcomes when given a medication tailored for their characteristics.
By being able to pursue both a PharmD and MS, I will gain a better understanding of why things work and how to make things that work differently.
Krystal A. Hughes is a third-year PharmD/MS candidate at the West Virginia University School of Pharmacy.