August 26, 2021
By Sheryl Caldwell
AUBURN, Alabama – When Sydney Meadows graduates from Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy, or HSOP, in May, the New Site, Alabama, native will join the ranks of seasoned pharmacists leading advancements throughout the industry.
Opportunities abound as pharmacists continue to wear multiple hats—anchoring neighborhoods through community pharmacies, bolstering health care teams in clinical settings, researching and developing treatments for devastating diseases and providing strategy and policy guidance on health care issues such as COVID-19.
“Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, public awareness of the role of pharmacists has expanded,” said Kimberly Braxton Lloyd, HSOP associate dean of clinical affairs and outreach. “People relied on pharmacists and pharmacies for their continuity of care for everything from vaccines to telehealth services and more. It really emphasized how accessible the pharmacy profession is.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also demonstrated the critical need for pharmacists to have a prominent seat at the policy table, advising leaders alongside their health care partners. Auburn’s Spencer Durham, HSOP associate clinical professor, served on Alabama’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force, appointed by Gov. Kay Ivey. Durham also practices as the infectious diseases clinical pharmacist with the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System and is a board-certified infectious disease pharmacist.
“Community pharmacies are the bedrock of our industry,” said Richard Hansen, HSOP dean. “But we also have pharmacists with the Department of Public Health, as well as Medicaid and Medicare policy agencies. We have research grants with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, and the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, just to name a few. There are pharmacists everywhere. And there should be.”
A team approach
To prepare future pharmacists like Meadows to work on health care teams, Auburn augments its rigorous curriculum with interprofessional education, or IPE. Combining pharmacy, nursing, medicine, social work, nutrition and other students in realistic health care settings, IPE provides unique insight into the roles of medical experts on a clinical team.
“I think it’s just as important to learn the roles of other health care team members like doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and social workers as it is to learn about those of pharmacists,” Meadows said. “These experiences have challenged me and helped me see the huge need for pharmacists in all areas—including rural and underserved communities. And it has helped me see that I want to be part of an interprofessional team.”
Braxton Lloyd points to the Auburn University Health Care and Education Clinic, known as the Boykin Clinic, as a prime example of the school’s interdisciplinary focus and practice. Primarily administered and staffed by HSOP and Auburn’s School of Nursing, the Boykin Clinic provides health care services for Auburn residents, including those who are uninsured or underinsured.
“The goal of the clinic is to bring our health care providers together—students from nursing, medicine, pharmacy, social work, dietetics, kinesiology and more—so they work as a team very early within their curricula, learning to respect and integrate the skills, abilities and knowledge of every team member into the care of that patient,” Braxton Lloyd said.
In addition to providing an innovative, practice-ready education, HSOP is known for groundbreaking research in the development of new treatments, particularly through its Department of Drug Discovery and Development. Professors and students focus on several therapeutic areas, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases, neurodegenerative disorders and oncology.
Third-year pharmacy student Carly Albright’s curiosity about medications and how they impact human behavior stems from years of watching her older brother, Jake, take a variety of medications to treat his intellectual disability.
“My brother was a big motivation for me to pursue pharmacy school. He would take these bright colored pills—some would help, and some caused negative reactions,” she said. “Growing up and watching this made me want to know more and to delve into the mechanisms behind these medications.”
Today, Albright has channeled that curiosity into drug discovery research with a focus on neuroscience.
“I’m fortunate to get to work with Professor Vishnu Suppiramaniam in the Department of Drug Discovery and Development,” she said. “He focuses on a variety of disease states and psychiatric conditions. I’ve learned a lot about the intricacies of the brain and neurological conditions.”
Her first research project explored the complex topic of Rett Syndrome, a rare neurodevelopmental condition.
“I think research like this broadens our understanding and increases the level of care we can provide to patients,” she said. “Pharmaceuticals are changing every day. We are creating so many new treatments and discoveries. Being up to date with all of this will increase the quality of care we can provide.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also revealed the importance of Auburn pharmacy students’ larger role in society.
“We were aggressive on multiple fronts last year,” Hansen said. “It was important to keep our students in health care settings as much as possible, and one way we did that is through our continuing community outreach.”
Harley Moore from Decatur, Alabama, was awarded a prestigious Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in 2020. Schweitzer Fellows develop and implement service projects that address the root causes of health disparities in under-resourced communities, while also fulfilling their academic responsibilities.
Through her fellowship, Moore spearheaded two outreach projects, including a screening for food insecurity though Auburn’s Student Counseling and Psychological Services office and an online tutoring program for K-12 students in Birmingham that combined staffing and resources from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, its School of Medicine and Auburn’s School of Kinesiology doctoral program.
“Outreach lets you see the struggles of everyday people,” Moore said. “For example, maybe you are privileged enough not to experience food insecurity, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Outreach puts you in clinics and environments where you can experience situations beyond what you might in your normal life. This helps you not only become a better person, but also a better practitioner.”
HSOP students like Moore served the Auburn community through COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinics during the past year and through clinical partnerships throughout Alabama, including with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the State Wellness Center in Montgomery and mobile clinics throughout the state.
The future of pharmacy
Like many health care fields, the future of pharmacy and pharmacists will include innovation, strategic thinking and often, doing more with less. Pandemics, health insurance debates, state and federal legislation and technological advances will continue to be at the forefront. And Auburn will be there as well.
“Pharmacogenomics, or precision medicines, is one of the key areas I see as being the future of pharmacy,” Braxton Lloyd said. “Integrating data that can predict how a patient will process medication and the metabolizers of medication will be a game-changer in community, primary care and clinical settings.”
From pharmacogenomics to groundbreaking research and policy changes, today’s pharmacy environment represents new challenges for the HSOP faculty and staff in preparing future pharmacists. With the support of the Auburn Family, it’s a challenge they are more than ready to tackle.
“The beliefs of our alumni and friends are rooted in the traditions of our profession,” Hansen said. “They’re rooted in taking care of patients. They’re also rooted in their love of Auburn because Auburn taught them so much about the profession, particularly in how to take care of their patients and how to give to their communities. So, by investing in our students today, they are shaping the future of our profession and the future of Auburn.”
Support the Harrison School of Pharmacy at https://aub.ie/AuburnPharmacists.
Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 25 percent of all pharmacy schools in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the School offers doctoral degrees in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and pharmaceutical sciences (Ph.D.) while also offering a master’s in pharmaceutical sciences. The School's commitment to world-class scholarship and interdisciplinary research speaks to Auburn's overarching Carnegie R1 designation that places Auburn among the top 100 doctoral research universities in the nation. For more information about the School, please call 334.844.8348 or visit http://pharmacy.auburn.edu.