Richard J. Silvia, Pharm.D., BCPP
Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice
One of the most common questions among pharmacists is how best to get research done and published. Interestingly, one of the most common complaints among pharmacy students is getting research opportunities to help them present and publish as their career develops. It would seem like a logical fit for pharmacists and students to pair together to accomplish what would appear to be a mutually beneficial goal. For academically-based pharmacists, this might not pose much of a problem, being surrounded by students most of the time. This might not be true for non-academic pharmacists, who may not have much opportunity to engage with pharmacy students. However, this can be accomplished with a little effort. Often, there is an opportunity to provide experiential education to pharmacy students that can be a phone call away to a college of pharmacy.
Utilizing students as research assistants assists both parties. The pharmacist who may not have time to engage in a research project on their own now has someone to assist in data collection and possibly poster or manuscript production. Even if external presentation is not the ultimate goal, help with a drug utilization project or other clinical concern might be needed. Simultaneously, the student obtains an experience that enhances their professional education and helps distinguish them from their colleagues as they apply to residencies and other post-graduate programs. The question is how to make the initial connection to develop a pharmacist-student research pair.
For those working or affiliated with an academic institution, the connection is generally easier. Many students actively look for research opportunities, so finding a willing student to assist with a project might not be difficult. Many institutions promote research activities among undergraduate students through internal grant programs for students and faculty, undergraduate research credit, research mentoring programs hosted by the experiential or professional development office on the campus, and so forth. Sometimes simply making announcements during large lecture classes might draw in interested students. Many student professional organizations also help make student-faculty research pairings. The students are out there- they just need to be approached.
In non-academic settings, the ability to locate a potential research student might be more difficult. If your facility brings in students for clinical rotations, either at the introductory or advanced level, speak with them to see if they might be interested in participating. If the facility employs students, there is another opportunity for possible student interest. Another avenue is to contact a local pharmacy school and inquire if they have students looking for research experiences. If no pharmacy students are around or available, there is also the potential to reach out to nearby non-pharmacy schools for students in other majors who might be interested in participating, possibly for college credit. While some paperwork might be required for some of these scenarios, the return on this is well worth it.
Once a student has been identified, you need to come to a clear understanding of the student’s role in the research project. Both sides need to be realistic in this. An undergraduate is most likely not going to be able to completely write a research proposal, but they might be able to assist in editing or performing a background literature search for the proposal. How much time is the student expected to be involved in the project, both on a weekly and overall timeframe? What role will the student play in the actual project? Will they just be performing chart reviews or something more? Remember that while students want these opportunities, they will appreciate something more than being locked in an office reading patient charts. It is important to involve them in all aspects of the research so they can learn important skills, and not just involve them in the most routine,and boring, tasks. Find opportunities for the student to engage in your daily activities to not only expose them to research, but what you do as a pharmacist. If the research allows for patient contact, try to include the student if appropriate. Students want opportunities to see what you do, so try to give it to them.
Once the project is completed, what will be the student’s role in any posters or manuscripts to come from the project? If the student is involved in some kind of campus-based grant or course related to the project, they will most likely need some product to present to the school for the program. Again, be realistic in the expectations for this; most students are not capable of writing a full manuscript on their own. While the student can be extremely helpful in conducting the research, the pharmacist will still be the lead for most any scholarship to come from the research.
Pairing of pharmacists and students for research can lead to worthwhile experiences for all involved. Pharmacists can get the help they need to conduct a project that might not otherwise take place, and students get exposure to research early in their career, possibly stimulating their own future research careers. Beyond the goal of the research itself, developing the student as a young professional is an equally worthwhile and compatible goal.