Joseph Cusimano, PharmD
PGY-2 Psychiatric Pharmacy Resident
Michigan Medicine Department of Pharmacy
Ann Arbor, MI
The scientific method is a powerful tool for the modern pharmacist; it allows pharmacists to gain a better understanding of how medications work, manage formularies while utilizing pharmacoeconomic data, and improve clinical practice. Conducting research as a pharmacist, or the very concept of the “pharmacist-scientist,” may sound strange to some—after all, many of the pharmacists I know entered pharmacy because they loved science (but not the laboratory), they were passionate about patient care, and they enjoyed talking to people. However, research is an integral part of our profession, and I would argue that research fulfills all three of those professional needs. In this piece, I will address (1) why pharmacy students should engage in research, (2) opportunities available to pharmacy students, and (3) how the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists (CPNP) can facilitate research.
No matter where you end up in your career—a bustling community pharmacy, the C-suite of a pharmaceutical company, or a large academic medical center—you will need to be able to perform research. Research isn’t confined to laboratories; sometimes, it means conducting a needs assessment to develop a new service for your small town, independent pharmacy. Other times, research means figuring out how to improve the medication reconciliation process for an inpatient psychiatry unit. Still yet, research can involve interrogating the genome to better understand why a particular medication works for some but not for others. Research is essential and learning how to conduct research as a student will almost certainly benefit your future career. For those eying residency, research experience will help prepare you for the mandatory research requirement. Finally, research helps build your curriculum vitae, which improves your chances of landing your dream job or residency.
Students can get involved in all kinds of research. For example, students may assist with survey-based research projects, where they may help design survey materials, disseminate surveys, and analyze results. Benchtop, or basic science, research can teach students new skills, like gel electrophoresis, in silico modeling, and cell culture (the importance of good aseptic technique applies to both cells and people!). Clinical research may involve manual chart review, which is a frequent method for resident research projects. In all of these, the possibility of gaining manuscript writing experience should be heavily considered because writing is a skill used in every domain of pharmacy.
CPNP has helped me gain experience with research, and it can help you too. Through the CPNP Communities and listservs, you can connect with future colleagues that need assistance with their research projects. This was how I was introduced to Jonathan G. Leung, PharmD, BCPS, BCPP, a psychiatric pharmacist at the Mayo Clinic. By connecting with Dr. Leung, I was able to enroll my alma mater, The Ohio State University, in a cross-sectional, multicenter survey study spanning the United States (and even a Canadian site). This experience prepared me for navigating the Institutional Review Board process as a resident the following year. By contributing to the manuscript, I gained valuable, real-world writing experience—not to mention that publications look great on your PhORCAS application. If your college has a CPNP student chapter, utilize them to network with prospective research mentors. Consider inviting local neuropsychiatric pharmacists to chapter meetings to describe their clinical and research responsibilities. If you attend the CPNP Annual Meeting, you can gain inspiration by attending the poster sessions and get feedback on your own projects. CPNP’s journal, the Mental Health Clinician, showcases the research of neuropsychiatric pharmacists; consider looking there for collaborators, ideas, and research methods.
Pharmacy school is tough (that’s an understatement), and it can be difficult to conduct research while managing one’s academic responsibilities. However, research is incredibly rewarding and provides skills and experience that will make you more competitive for residencies or the big job search. There always seems to be more ideas than time and personnel to pursue them, and you can make a big difference in the world, even as a student, through dedicating time to research. Whether you find a research mentor while on rotation, at a CPNP student chapter event, or through the CPNP listserv, there are many ways to get involved with research as a pharmacy student, and CPNP can help.