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UM pharmacy student partners with St. Jude

By Gabrielle Gero

University of Mississippi

Through a relatively new fellowship, a graduate student in the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy is working at one of the world’s premier pediatric cancer research centers, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

Nick Keeling, who is pursuing a doctorate in pharmacy administration, is working under the hospital’s chief patient safety officer, James Hoffman, Pharm.D., and a team in St. Jude’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Keeling’s work is specifically focused on patient safety and medication outcomes.

The Jackson native said that his experience has been extremely gratifying.

“To be surrounded by so many talented people, and to know that you are serving to advance the mission of St. Jude, has been very rewarding,” he said. “This is my first time to work in a hospital setting, and I have been trying to absorb as much information as I can.”

Donna West-Strum, chair of the UM Department of Pharmacy Administration, and Hoffman created the Medication Safety and Outcomes Research Fellowship in 2013.

“This fellowship in medication safety and outcomes research provides our students with the opportunity to train at a top-tier hospital,” West-Strum said. “St. Jude offers specialized research programs that provide a rich student-learning experience and appropriately qualified and credentialed faculty members who the student can learn from.”

In his role, Keeling spends two days a week working at the hospital as a research assistant. His first project involved assessing St. Jude as a high-reliability organization through a survey with hospital leaders.

A high-reliability organization focuses on reducing patient harm to none, a practice encouraged by the Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that accredits and certifies nearly 21,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States.

Keeling is working on a project to evaluate hospital safety at St. Jude, which involves administering a survey on patient safety culture to hospital staff in various departments. The research team is analyzing the results, produced by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Hoffman, who is an investigator for St. Jude’s ongoing study on how to integrate pharmacogenetic information into patient care, said he has enjoyed working with Keeling.

“Nick has been able to quickly contribute on several important efforts as we’ve also given him exposure to the hospital environment,” Hoffman said. “I am also excited about the pharmacogenetics research project he is developing. Pharmacogenetics is a practice that improves patient safety at St. Jude, but it is not as widely adopted as it could be in other settings.”

Keeling was selected as the program’s second fellow because of his “excellent communication skills and analytical skills,” West-Strum said.

“We have outstanding graduate students who are looking for real-world experiences to use their research skills in outcomes and safety research,” she said. “This fellowship will help the research program at St. Jude, as well as give Nick access to outstanding research opportunities.”

Keeling said he knows this experience will prepare him for a future in health systems financing and innovation.

“Being able to work with such high-caliber researchers is going to serve me well as I move forward with my career,” he said. “I am thankful to the Department of Pharmacy Administration and St. Jude for this amazing opportunity.”