September 2017

Foundation Chat: The Future of Pharmacy with Dr. Marie Smith and Dr. Kate Steckowych

Tiffany Ventura Thiele
Tiffany Ventura Thiele

4 min read

Most people would admit that the only time they interact with a pharmacist is picking up prescriptions at their local pharmacy. But that’s only part of the story.

According to Dr. Marie Smith ’77 (PHR), consumers see their pharmacist an average of 10 times more frequently than their primary care physician, meaning the pharmacist can play a crucial role in patient care.

As the Dr. Henry A. Palmer Endowed Professor in Community Pharmacy Practice, Dr. Smith researches ways in which pharmacists–and the overall transformation of pharmacy practice–can impact team-based healthcare delivery in community settings. She recently created a fellowship that’s currently held by Dr. Kate Steckowych ’13 (PHR), ’15 Pharm.D. The two are studying pharmacy practice transformation, specifically the integration of pharmacists in community-based health care settings, such as the primary care doctor’s office, and the communications between community pharmacists and primary care clinicians.

The UConn Foundation had the opportunity to sit down with the two researchers and alumnae to discuss their work.

How did this fellowship come about?
A. (Dr. Smith) It was a professional goal of mine to “pay it forward” and bring on another generation of pharmacist practitioner-researchers. Given the current changes in health care, I thought we should focus the fellowship on pharmacy practice transformation.

Q. What is the study of “practice transformation” and what are “patient care teams?”
A. (Dr. Smith) There are two aspects of practice transformation. First, we look at how health care is delivered today, and second, we look at how we pay for health care. We want to make sure that other health care professionals, payers, policy makers, and consumers understand how pharmacists can bring their unique skills and clinical expertise to health care teams.

In primary care settings, many times when somebody says we have team-based care, that means a doctor and nurse practitioner working together. What we’re seeing now in healthcare is that the team needs to be established around a patient’s specific care needs. If more than half your patients are taking multiple chronic medications, how can the pharmacist contribute as a team member? A pharmacist’s expertise in medication optimization and management is complementary to the skills of physicians and nurses practitioners. Pharmacists focus on identifying and resolving any medication-related problems, and avoiding unnecessary medication-related hospitalizations and emergency department visits.

Q. What are the challenges and opportunities facing the practice of pharmacy today?
A. (Dr. Steckowych) I think one of the challenges is recognizing what pharmacists bring to the table and how to best incorporate them into existing care teams. Based on a project Dr. Smith and I conducted this past year, it’s evident that patients don’t fully understand the value of their pharmacist as a member of their community healthcare team. Most patients still see pharmacists primarily as medication dispensers. They don’t realize that pharmacists check prescriptions for possible drug interactions or adverse reactions, and make recommendations to physicians when a safer medication is needed.

Q. What are the goals of your research?
A. (Dr. Smith) Our overall goal is to improve medication use and safety. In one project, we had students assisting us in a study of four common medication-related activities performed in a primary care doctor’s office. These activities included getting an accurate patient medication list, medication refills, managing blood thinners and vaccinations, and medication communications between a physician office and community pharmacies. Our findings led to some recommendations in medication-related workflow processes and efficiency, as well as providing educational resources for physicians, nurses, and medical assistants.

This type of health services research – collecting data in a “real-world” care setting to improve the quality of medication-related practices — also opened the eyes of the students to practice-based research that a pharmacist can perform. You could see the light bulb go off as students said, “this is really great, I didn’t know this was considered research.” It’s had an impact on our students, which I think is part of our mission as educator-researchers. Students were able to feature their research project as part of their job or pharmacy residency interviews.

Q. How does it feel to know you’ve made such an impact on students?
A. (Dr. Steckowych) It’s very gratifying to see that I have made an impact on the students whom I’ve worked with over the past year. I know that the type of research that I conduct is not commonly known to students and sometimes others within our profession. I am grateful that I have been able to incorporate students into my research endeavors and provide them with an understanding of what practice transformation looks like.

Q. You’re both UConn alumnae. What is it like to come back and conduct this research at your alma mater?
A. (Dr. Smith) First, I’ll just say it was very much an honor to come back to UConn as a faculty member and to be named the Palmer endowed professor. Dr. Henry Palmer was one of my professors at UConn— so it had another level of meaning to me. Dr. Palmer was always encouraging students to find new ways that pharmacists could work closer with patients and other health care professionals. Also, he was very interested in expanding pharmacist services. Overall, it’s been a great opportunity to come back and conduct research that can facilitate new opportunities for pharmacists.

(Dr. Steckowych) What I was most excited about with coming back is applying what I’ve learned in my postgraduate training to health care transformation here in Connecticut. I’m very excited to be back at UConn and be doing things that I love doing.

Q. The Palmer Fund is still actively accepting donations. What would you say to potential donors as to why they should give?
A. (Dr. Smith) Sometimes when you’re on the leading edge of doing practice-based research, it’s still too new for many organizations to fund. So, the Palmer Fund allows us to be more forward-thinking when we don’t have other sources of funding. The Palmer Fellowship is 100 percent funded through the Palmer Fund, so we rely heavily on the funds that are available to us from donors.

(Dr. Steckowych) Without donor support, this postgraduate fellowship training experience would not be possible. I’m very grateful for the continued support of this fund, otherwise myself and future fellows wouldn’t have this opportunity to learn more about practice transformation.

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UConn Rises to 18th Among U.S. Public Universities (UConn Today)

Jennifer Doak-Mathewson
Jennifer Doak-Mathewson

< 1 min read

UConn has achieved its highest-yet ranking among the nation’s top public universities, reaching No. 18 on this year’s U.S. News & World Report list and marking its seventh consecutive year in the Top 25.

The No. 18 ranking, released Tuesday, places UConn ahead of many other noted schools and reflects the University’s strides in retention and graduation rates, reputation among peer institutions and guidance counselors, and other factors measured by the rankings.

UConn has been ascending steadily in the rankings since 2000, when it was No. 38 among public universities. It moved into the mid-20s over the following years, then remained between Nos. 19 and 21 for the past six years before this year’s best-yet No. 18 showing.

“We are thrilled and incredibly proud that UConn has reached our highest-ever place in the U.S. News ranking of the nation’s best public colleges and universities,” UConn President Susan Herbst said. “This is a reflection of our core academic strength and UConn’s exceptional faculty, staff, students, and leaders – and state investment over many years.

Read the full article on UConn Today.

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UConn Remembers Neag School Alum Robert Dunn

Tiffany Ventura Thiele
Tiffany Ventura Thiele

2 min read

Neag School alum Robert E. Dunn ’51 MA, ’55 Ph.D., an accomplished educator and administrator, spent his life inspiring bright young minds in the classroom and abroad. With his passing on July 18, 2017, UConn remembers Dunn’s philanthropic vision of ensuring student success and opportunity.

Dunn was raised in Watertown, Mass., and East Hartford, Conn. He received his bachelor’s degree from Bates College, where he met his wife, Gladys. Dunn then earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. from UConn’s Neag School of Education. He worked for almost 40 years at West Hartford’s William H. Hall High School as a history and social studies teacher, department head, guidance counselor, assistant principal, and school principal until his retirement in 1990. He was selected as Connecticut’s Principal of the Year during his tenure.

Following his retirement, Dunn served as deputy headmaster of the Seoul International School in South Korea for five years, where Gladys was director of admissions. It was this experience that inspired the couple to establish The Robert E. and Gladys B. Dunn International Fund, which helps defray the costs of additional fees associated with UConn students traveling abroad, giving them the opportunity to immerse themselves in cultural experiences.

“This scholarship helps offset the extreme financial burden that is on the price tag of studying abroad,” says Lexi Bodick, a Neag School alum and past recipient of the scholarship who served last fall as a music intern at London’s Rooks Heath College, a secondary school where she taught general music, rock band, string ensemble, and music technology classes. “I did not feel nearly as limited in my ability to travel and seek out new experiences as I would have without the scholarship.”

“We felt very fortunate to travel abroad,” Gladys Dunn says. “We wanted students to have the same opportunity we did.”

This support, says Alan S. Marcus, associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the Neag School, “greatly impacted many students who could not have traveled abroad without the extra funding and who said their time studying abroad was ‘life-changing’ both professionally and personally. Dr. Dunn was genuinely excited for the students, and the students were quite grateful for the opportunities he helped support.”

In addition to fostering opportunities for student travel, Robert and Gladys have given generously to help the next generation of school administrators. Through the Robert E. and Gladys B. Dunn UCAPP Fund, the UConn Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP) receives significant support to prepare qualified and capable school leaders for all Connecticut schools.

“The Dunn family has had and will continue to have a long-lasting impact on the Neag School,” says Dean Gladis Kersaint, Neag School of Education. “Many students have benefitted from the support provided to continue their education and to study abroad. Dr. Dunn will be remembered, and his legacy and its impact on the Neag School will continue to be appreciated.”

Learn more about the Robert E. and Gladys B. Dunn International Fund

Editor’s Note: Alexandra Walz contributed to this story.

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