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P3 research option / One-credit research elective grows in popularity

Pharm.D. students who want to get a taste of a postgraduate residency or who have an appetite for research have an option. The Institutional Practice Based Research Elective was started in fall semester 2015 as a one-credit course for both fall and spring semesters for P3 students.

“The course is designed to give SDSU pharmacy students an in-depth experience on the entire research timeline with them completing all steps in design, data collection, data analysis, interpretation of results and presentation of results. The design of the elective course closely replicates what pharmacy residents complete during a pharmacy practice residency. 

“A majority of students who take this elective have an interest in research or may plan on applying for pharmacy practice residency programs upon graduation. This elective gives them the opportunity to gain experience in research and the potential to present their own research results at national meetings,” according to pharmacy practice professor Tadd Hellwig, who oversees the course.

Rachel Propst, a 2021 Pharm.D. graduate, took the class in the 2019-20 school year to gain more research experience in preparation for a pharmacy residency, which she is now taking at CentraCare - St. Cloud Hospital.

“I gained valuable real-world experience with designing and carrying out a research study. I am implementing what I learned through this elective to my current research projects in my pharmacy residency. It was also a good team-building experience working with my dedicated group members Joseph (Keryakos), Robert (Kranz), Jena (Rathert) and Kelli (Semerad),” Propst said.

Research motivates Keryakos

Joseph Keryakos
Joseph Keryakos

For Keryakos, the motivation was a passion for research.

“My curiosity and love of learning were some of the many reasons why I chose to take this elective. During my Doctor of Pharmacy program, I wanted to engage in clinical research and learn more about the important role of pharmacists in the research process at larger health-care facilities, and that elective course helped facilitate such an opportunity,” he said.

The group’s research studied the role of sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors in reducing the hospital readmission rate for congestive heart failure using patient data from Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls.

SGLT-2 inhibitors are used to treat Type II diabetes, which is a major risk for cardiovascular disease.

The students identified 138 patients who met study criteria. Of those who were readmitted to the hospital within six months and were taking the inhibitors, only 7.2% were readmitted for congestive heart failure.

Kreyakos said, “We hope this research will add to the evidence supporting the use of SGLT-2 inhibitors in heart failure. Readmission rates are important to study for measures such as Medicare reimbursement rates. With more research into this field of SGLT-2 inhibitors, these medications may become a more standard of care for Type II diabetes therapy.

“Safety and cost are variables in which we did not examine but could be useful. Head-to-head trials of different SGLT-2 inhibitors could help select the best agents for heart failure use.” 

Time well spent

Rachel Propst
Rachel Propst

The hours students put in to gain one hour of credit per semester far exceeds what is normally required of a credit hour.

However, “This class is definitely worth the effort!” Propst said. “Some weeks it was more time consuming than others, such as when you were in the midst of data collection or synthesizing results. Overall, the ability to perform clinical research as a student and contribute to advances in medical research was well worth the time and effort put into this project.”

Keryakos, now an associate professor at Dordt University and a weekend pharmacist at Avera McKennan Hospital, fully concurs.

“My enthusiasm and passion for conducting research coupled with my fundamental understanding of the research process and my drive to publish this manuscript made this one-credit class worth every effort and every second spent on Zoom or in person working with my team and with our faculty mentors as well as journal editors to publish this paper,” he said.

The team had its paper printed in the September 2021 issue of the Journal of Young Pharmacists, a peer-reviewed, open-access, quarterly journal.

Pair place in research competition

Jacob Steckelberg
Jacob Steckelberg

Keryakos and company aren’t the only students to have had uncommon success with their research elective.

The tandem of Jacob Steckelberg and Taylor Severson won third place in Master of Science Proposal category at SDSU’s Sigma Xi 2021 Research Competition.

Their project was to determine the effect of Angiotensin System Inhibitors on glioblastoma patients receiving standard of care therapy. Glioblastomas are highly proliferative brain cancers with a low five-year survival rate.

“While there are many mechanisms behind ASI therapy thought to confer a benefit in glioblastoma patient survival, our research surprisingly showed a trend toward poorer outcomes. While this is certainly an interesting result, our study sample size was small and possible confounders must be considered,” Severson said.

The study also demonstrated that researchers don’t live their lives in a vacuum.

“The biggest challenge, by far, (in completing this project) was the emotional weight accompanying much

Taylor Severson
Taylor Severson

of the information-gathering process, Severson said.

“The process entails reading patient charts which, as with all instances of cancer, have information that leads to an emotional burden. Additionally, while research was underway, a family member of one of our authors was diagnosed with glioblastoma. As one can imagine, the emotional toll of gathering information regarding glioblastoma can be quite arduous, especially for those with close, personal ties to the malignancy,?” he added.

As for the Sigma Xi competition, Severson said, “It was an opportunity to present and answer questions about our findings to a group of SDSU faculty members outside the College of Pharmacy. It was great to hear their feedback.”

Class’s popularity grows

Hellwig said the class has become progressively more popular.

“The course started with 10 students in 2015 and it has been growing. One year we had 51 students. This year 37 of the 67 students are participating. The college has received very positive feedback from residency programs and others about the experience the students are able to obtain within this course,” said Hellwig, who has overseen it each year with help from other pharmacy practice faculty in Sioux Falls.

All students have an opportunity to present their study results at regional or national professional organization meetings.