Wilkes University fourth-year student pharmacist Alexis Nicholson was overjoyed when she found out she had been accepted in the national Pharmacy Quality Alliance (PQA) and CVS Health Foundation scholars program. Nicholson is one of just 15 student pharmacists across the nation to be accepted into the program based upon their research proposal. PQA and the CVS Health Foundation have partnered to offer a scholars program that supports and recognizes student excellence in projects centered on quality-related initiatives.
Mentored by Nicole Pezzino, director of community outreach in the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy at Wilkes, Nicholson’s research focuses on how pharmacists can best communicate with prescribers after identifying high-risk drug therapy problems (i.e.: drug interactions, polypharmacy, fall risk in the elderly) since the national response rate to this is 33 percent. Nicholson’s goal is to learn how to increase that response.
As a PQA-CVS scholar, Nicholson receives funding to attend two national conferences and access to national mentors to assist in her research. PQA and the CVS Health Foundation provide a $1,250 stipend to each student within the mentor-mentee pair to support their expenses to attend and actively participate in up to two PQA live meetings.
Nicholson was approached by Pezzino about applying for the program since she had been employed by CVS for three years. The student and faculty member share a common interest in community pharmacy and direct patient care. It also was an opportunity to gain research experience for her professional portfolio.
“We both felt that pharmacists are at a crucial spot in the community to see where over-the-counter items and prescription drugs meet before they leave in patient hands,” she explains. Her research will examine an important question: “What do we do if the pharmacist sees a real problem in the community and needs to reach out to a provider? A lot of the time, providers won’t get a direct message from the pharmacist,” Nicholson says.
Looking ahead, Nicholson and Pezzino are following a timeline to complete their research, beginning with formatting of questions. “Our research is a qualitative design,” she says. “How can we figure out the best way to communicate with providers on these medication safety issues when we are counseling patients or conducting medication therapy reviews with them?”
As part of the program, Nicholson also will present a poster detailing her project results and present it at the PQA annual meeting in May 2020. At the conference, the judges will pick the top three projects.
“I can’t wait for the analysis part of this,” Nicholson says. “Even though we won’t be dealing with numbers, we found a unique system that will take into account the providers themselves, their daily occupational tasks, as well as personal motivations and outside factors that impact them doing their job. I think it’ll turn out some really great, well-rounded data.”
Nicholson knows that being well-rounded applies to more than research. During her time at Wilkes, she was a cross-country athlete, serving as captain for one year. She’s also completed community outreach with the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association and through the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy’s brown-bag medication review and health fairs.
In her final year as a student pharmacist, Nicholson is already looking forward to all the experiences she’ll have. “The biggest outcome will be, whether I choose to stay in the community setting or not, this is showing that I am really passionate about working with other healthcare professionals and developing collaborative strategies with them.”
Nicholson is spending the fall 2019 semester in a clinical rotation with Geisinger telepharmacy. She will complete several more rotations by the end of the spring semester.
Reflecting on her time at Wilkes, Nicholson shares her most valued piece of advice: “Join something you might be genuinely interested in pursuing because there are always older colleagues, mentors, professors, or even other students to help you learn what skills you might need. It can present opportunities down the road for you.”