My UMSOP Story: Michael William, PharmD ’13, senior pharmacovigilance scientist, AstraZeneca

Michael William, PharmD ’13, joined the Global Patient Safety department at AstraZeneca’s Gaithersburg location in 2015. Within a year, he and a group of his colleagues recognized the potential to design and launch a precepting program for eager University of Maryland School of Pharmacy students.

“As a grad student, I didn’t have much exposure to the pharmaceutical industry, and realized Patient Safety could provide this opportunity to fourth-year students. I wanted to give back to my alma mater and offer students the experience,” says William, a senior pharmacovigilance (PV) scientist. In his role, William supports teams in managing the safety strategy and maintaining the safety profile for drug products, in addition to ensuring adherence to PV best practices and procedural compliance.

Global Patient Safety is a function of AstraZeneca that ensures regulators, health care providers, and ultimately consumers are appropriately informed of the risks that may be associated with its products. The department works with products in all stages of drug development and in multiple therapeutic areas, including oncology, cardiovascular, renal, metabolic diseases, respiratory, and vaccines.

By 2018, a cadre of preceptors representing AstraZeneca’s Global Patient Safety department, in coordination with the School’s Experiential Learning Program (ELP), proffered rotations to 10 student pharmacists on-site in Gaithersburg. Seven students completed rotations there the previous year. “We have a strong team of preceptors, and they are the ones who deserve credit for
creating the program,” William says.

The preceptors in Global Patient Safety were driven to implement the project, thus enhancing their leadership and supervisory skills, while the rotation opportunity revealed the world of industry to student pharmacists. “Everyone wins,” William says.

Whitney Swears, PharmD, MS, a Global Patient Safety preceptor, completed a rotation at AstraZeneca during pharmacy school. “Being in the presence of someone who embodies professional skills you hope someday to acquire is one of the greatest benefits I experienced. I feel lucky to pass along those lessons to the next generation of pharmacists,” she says.

In fact, the success of the Global Patient Safety program has inspired several of William’s colleagues in other departments at AstraZeneca to organize their own precepting initiatives. ELP is a vital training component for School of Pharmacy students. Preceptors (practicing pharmacists and other professionals) oversee student pharmacists on rotations, which comprise more than 30 percent of the Doctor of Pharmacy curriculum.

“The School of Pharmacy has more than 900 preceptors at nearly 500 sites across the world,” says Agnes Ann Feemster, PharmD, assistant dean for experiential learning at the School of Pharmacy. “These rotations provide real-world experience in pharmacy practice, allowing students to merge the knowledge they achieved in school with practical experience, while also exposing
them to different career paths.”

Take, for example, the case of Jason Tran, PharmD ’18. He selected a rotation under William’s guidance, learning about the patient safety side of new drug applications. Prior to that experience, Tran was not particularly familiar with the pharmaceutical industry. “Being at AstraZeneca has opened my eyes to a lot of opportunities and given me invaluable exposure to industry,” he says.

Recalling his own student days at the School of Pharmacy, William says that besides benefiting from a strong basis in didactic and technical training, he is especially grateful for the mentorship and opportunities he was given to help him develop.

“Dr. William is passionate about his unique practice and incredibly enthusiastic about working with students,” Feemster says. “We’re fortunate to have him and the entire Global Patient Safety team as School of Pharmacy preceptors.”

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