Learning how to conduct research was a new and challenging experience as student pharmacists. One might envision spending hours laboring in a lab filled with beakers and solutions, hoping to discover a new miracle drug. Little did we know that some of the most important health-related research could be done with our minds, identifying critical problems and then developing evidence-based solutions.
Our experience began when Mathew Garber, PharmD, PhD, an Assistant Professor at the University of the Incarnate Word Feik School of Pharmacy, asked where I (Scott), could find sources to confirm my professional opinions. He noted that I was well-versed in several pharmacy-related topics, but I could not support my opinions with hard evidence.
Together, we began to perform a literature search. He showed me how to “go down the rabbit hole” and use informational resources to find the roots of an article. This allowed me to find the “golden source,” which provided a primary source. In our example scenario, it was about the cost of universal health care. I was hooked. Dr. Garber and I decided to expand by adding Mayank Patel to the team.
Once the team was formed, our first project was to determine what information resources students use in preparation for classroom debates on current pharmacy policy topics. Dr. Garber presented our project to the associate dean of academic affairs at the school of pharmacy and it was determined that our work would qualify as an academic elective. Therefore, the students would receive credit hours for completing a research project.
Preparation is a prerequisite for any type of research. For us, that meant reviewing the health care literature to determine the most common topics being discussed and understand how to ensure our hypotheses will be measurable. Our background research identified seven key pharmacy topics: medical marijuana, CMS star ratings, pharmacists’ role as health care providers, naloxone use, non-formulary drug compounding, physician-assisted suicide, and technician/pharmacist ratio. In addition to that, we identified what sources students were likely to utilize, and used them to develop our survey to collect data.
We had prior experience with using the scientific method in various labs from our undergraduate studies, however, this research opportunity provided a new outlook. One of the most difficult aspects of doing this research project was determining the methodology. We wanted to use a survey to collect data, but we had to figure out what questions to ask, how to ask them, how to measure the responses, and how to format the questions and survey. Luckily, Dr. Garber, who is well-versed in various methodologies from his past research experiences, assisted us in developing our methodology.
We learned different ways to ask survey questions, how to effectively use the Likert scale, and how the format of a question can tip the scale in various ways, which could potentially change how a responder would have an impact on our results. In the end, we grasped how imperative a solid methodology is to a project and how poor techniques can make or break research.
With background research conducted, hypothesis formed, and methodology determined, we developed an IRB, which was a new experience for both of us. Under the guidance of Dr. Garber, we put it together and got it approved. After we completed the debates and surveys, we began to start looking at the data. Our notable findings included that first-year student pharmacists had the lowest level of perceived knowledge about naloxone dispensing, and their highest concerns were liability and training related to naloxone dispensing. Also, more than half of the respondents (57.8%) stated profession-specific websites as their main source for pharmacy-related policy information. Faculty, professional colleagues, family, or classmates were the second leading source.
By the conclusion of our research, Mayank had his poster presented on “Information Sources Used by First-Year Pharmacy Students on Pharmacy Policy Topics,” at the South-Central Chapter of the Medical Library Association Annual Meeting, and Scott presented his poster on “Naloxone, Texas Pharmacists Liability is Covered,” at NCPA’s National Conference. From this experience, we gained invaluable skills and knowledge on conducting research, which we will carry on with us regardless of what direction we take in pharmacy.
We highly recommend exploring research opportunities now. The knowledge and experience gained will be well worth the effort to stand out in this increasingly competitive profession.