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Pharmacy graduate program doubles in size thanks to students

Teaching and Learning

By Heidi Wicks

Money makes the world go around, and the song is no different for running a graduate program.

Both prospective students and their faculty supervisors can be challenged when it comes to finding funds to offset the cost of an education.

But half of the graduate students in the School of Pharmacy have received significant research awards. This injection of funding has helped lead to significant growth in the graduate program, which has essentially doubled in size since 2014.

CIHR Fellowship Award

Jennifer Donnan will have the opportunity to focus on her PhD without the distraction of simultaneously working, thanks to her successful application to the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) fellowship award competition for her project, Assessing the benefits and harms of the newest diabetes medications.

“I’m focusing my research on how people make decisions about their medications. I want to understand how people consider the various characteristics of options they are given to make personal decisions,” she explained. “In addition to the potential benefits of medications, patients also need to think about their own threshold for the potential risks, as well as things like cost and frequency of dosing.”

For example, some patients may be very averse to the possibility of experiencing weight gain, but not as concerned about the very small possibility of having a heart attack. They will ultimately make tradeoffs between the various characteristics of medications to reflect their own preferences.

Currently, there are no standardized approaches that take patient preferences into account. Ms. Donnan would like to change that. If patients are more satisfied with their drug therapy, they are more likely to follow it and therefore achieve better health outcomes.

“My goal is to gain a better understanding of how we can more routinely take patient preferences into consideration at all levels of decision making, from public policy, to clinical practice guidelines, to clinician-patient interactions.”

Ms. Donnan is supervised by Drs. John-Michael Gamble and Hai Nguyen.


NL Support for People and Patient-Oriented Research and Trials (NL SUPPORT) is focused on improving healthcare outcomes through collaboration with patients to identify their needs. In collaboration with the Translational Personalized Medicine Initiative (TPMI), NL SUPPORT offers competitive funding opportunities for patient-centric projects.

Three pharmacy graduate students received funding through this program in the spring and fall 2016 and the spring 2017 NL Support competitions:

  • Abigail Turner for Assessing patient and physician preferences for the pharmacist’s role in physician-assisted dying: A discrete choice experiment. Ms. Turner is supervised by Drs. Erin Davis and Jason Kielly in the School of Pharmacy.
  • Kathryn Dalton for Neurodevelopmentally-appropriate addictions treatments for young adults: evidence for use and patient perceptions of effectiveness. Dalton is supervised by Dr. Lisa Bishop in the School of Pharmacy and Dr. Stephen Darcy in the Faculty of Medicine.
  • Laila Albanna for Identifying barriers to pharmacy-based HIV Point of Care Testing (POCT) among high-risk populations in Newfoundland and Labrador. Ms. Albanna is supervised by Drs. Debbie Kelly and Jason Kielly in the School of Pharmacy.

National recognition

The research conducted by graduate students has, in turn, resulted in national acclaim for Memorial.

At the Canadian Society for Pharmaceutical Sciences (CSPS) conference in Montreal this May, two graduate students received poster awards. There were 56 entrants from across the country.

Matthew Lamont, a PhD student working with Dr. John Weber, associate dean of graduate studies and research, received an award for his poster presentation titled, Adolescent binge drinking causes long-term impairments to object memory, anxiety regulation and cerebellar based motor control in a rodent model.

Killol Chokshi, a master’s student working with Dr. Noriko Daneshtalab, also received an award for his poster presentation, Characterizing the molecular signaling pathways in the cerebral arteries of stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHRsp) before and after stroke.

Dr. Weber said the awards and recognitions students have achieved speaks to the potential of graduate students in any discipline.

Dr. John Weber (left) and grad student Matthew Lamont.
Photo: Memorial University

“Although our graduate program is still small, the success of our students speaks to both their drive and dedication and the training they receive here. I believe that this will continue to attract high-quality students. We have easily met our goal of doubling the number of students in our program from 2014-2017 and I see no reason why we can’t double the program again within the next three to five years.”

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