My UMSOP Story: Jannat Saini, PharmD, MPH, PHSR student

Jannat Saini, PharmD, MPH, is a fourth-year student pursuing a PhD in Pharmaceutical Health Services Research (PHSR). Dr. Saini received her Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) from the University of Rhode Island in 2017 and a Master of Public Health (MPH) from Emory University in 2019.

With a PharmD background, why did you pursue a PhD?

During my PharmD training, I was fascinated with the research behind guideline development, clinical decision-making, and ultimately, how those decisions translate into outcomes at a population level. The PhD in PHSR has allowed me to apply advanced statistical and epidemiological methodologies in diverse datasets and patient populations to understand the same research that intrigued me in pharmacy school.

At the same time, my PharmD training allows me to understand the clinical underpinnings of the research we are undertaking as PhD students. Both trainings complement each other perfectly, granting me a more thoughtful, complete picture of the research and the patient populations being studied.

What interested you in the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy?

While applying to PhD programs, I was looking for an interdisciplinary, collaborative program housed within a pharmacy school. I was first attracted to UMSOP’s well known PharmD and PhD curriculum, residency programs, and PhD research environment. However, via conversations prior to and during the interview process, the program transcended my initial criteria. Students and faculty alike were open and welcoming. I learned about the opportunities students have to grow their skillset and develop as researchers. The faculty are engaged with important and innovative work, and students can rotate with them to determine the best mentor-mentee match. Notably, the program emphasizes holistic training and does a remarkable job supporting its students.

How would you describe your experience at UMSOP?

My experience thus far has been very rewarding. During my first year, I took advantage of the student-faculty matching process and completed three rotations. I was able to work with several faculty members and obtain a more in-depth understanding of the research they conducted. Through one of these rotations, I was also able to collaborate with Dr. Susan dosReis on a manuscript on trends in antipsychotic use for youth with ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders. I had the opportunity to co-author this paper that was ultimately published in one of the top journals in pharmacoepidemiology, Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety. These rotations were application based, which also helped me understand the PhD coursework more comprehensively.

My advisor, Dr. Danya Qato, has been a great mentor, and an inspiration for my personal and professional goals. Her advice and guidance have been critical to my training in the program. As a part of her team, I am able to closely collaborate with clinicians, the FDA, and other researchers. With her encouragement and support, I generated a research question which I pursued from conception to publication in the American Journal of Public Health on self-reported treatment needs and barriers to care in US adults with opioid use disorder. Under her guidance, I have authored and co-authored manuscripts focused on evaluating treatment patterns and needs in patients with substance use disorders.

The PhD curriculum (particularly the core PHSR courses) and graduate assistantships provide students with the confidence to become independent thinkers and researchers. We can take classes across the University System of Maryland – I was able to take coursework in causal inference from a policy and econometrics standpoint at the University of Maryland, College Park. In and out of the classroom, we are encouraged to leverage large claims (Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial claims) and survey datasets to answer novel research questions. Recently, I was able to present the research resulting from my Advanced Topics in Pharmacoepidemiology course at the International Conference for Pharmacoepidemiology (ICPE 2022) in Copenhagen, Denmark, as a podium presentation.

What type of research are you conducting?  

Currently, the research projects I am involved in explore novel and traditional methodologies to understand drug safety and effectiveness outcomes, and how social and legislative determinants of health intersect with such outcomes. My populations of interest and focus include persons with substance use and mental health conditions.

Pharmacoepidemiology, my area of focus for my PhD studies, sits squarely at the intersection of my many passions – pharmacy, public health, and causal inference. During pharmacy school, I was able to see first-hand how research changes the whole picture when it comes to patient care – first, by informing changes in clinical guidelines and then by impacting policy (for example, access via insurance coverage, resource development, etc.). I am also passionate about advancing health equity. Our field is constantly evolving in its application of methodologies to develop and evaluate evidence-based solutions to health disparities and their interplay with health outcomes. Long term, I would like to engage in research using pharmacoepidemiology methods and ultimately, generate a positive change in patient lives.

What other activities have you been involved with at UMSOP?

Outside of the PhD program, the program supports leadership opportunities with professional organizations via local chapter affiliations at UMSOP. I served as secretary and then president of the UMB chapter of the International Society for Pharmacoepidemiology. I also served as the Regional Student Liaison (RSL) for the Mid-Atlantic region for the American Public Health Association, Student Assembly, and was awarded the RSL of the Year Award in 2021. I am also actively involved in the Maryland Public Health Association, where I have served as a board member at-large and the chair of the Membership committee since 2019.

This past summer, before the start of my fourth year as a PhD student, I had the opportunity to complete a rewarding summer internship with the Real-World Data (RWD) team at Sanofi. Through this internship, I obtained insight into a facet of real-world health care data, which I had not been exposed to before, and learned more about the implications of RWD generation and procurement. Due to the training and research environment in the PHSR program, I was able to adapt quickly and familiarize myself with new concepts and projects– even programming languages such as Python! It was gratifying to see how much of what we absorb in the PhD program can be applicable and how our training is versatile in the many aspects of the health care data domain.

What advice would you give to someone considering the PhD in PHSR program?

To understand whether this program is right for you, I would first advise prospective students to review the program website. Here, you will find faculty members and the current research they are conducting and publications on past research projects. Based on your interests, I would then recommend reaching out to faculty members with informed questions to learn more about their work. Also contact current students, who are very receptive to questions from prospective candidates and can talk about their responsibilities as research/teaching assistants, day-to-day tasks, how to balance work with classes, involvement with professional organizations, and other experiences.

About the PhD in PHSR program: The widespread use of medications in society has created a demand for individuals skilled in the evaluation of pharmaceutical services and interventions. The PhD in PHSR program provides graduates with the theory, practical experience, and decision-making skills they need to become expert researchers and address a wide range of pharmacy-related problems. Learn more and apply today.

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