Pitt Pharmacy Good as (Blue and) Gold in Student Award Season

Pitt Pharmacy students have earned several prestigious academic and competitive awards during the Spring 2023 semester.

Two third-year students received grants, and three third-year students were selected for national scholarships through the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), it was announced Feb. 28.

In addition, the Pitt Pharmacy contingent brought home accolades from the annual Pennsylvania Pharmacy Association (PPA) Mid-Year Conference at the Penn Square Marriott in Lancaster Feb. 24-26.

Alyssa Mekel and Annie Weyand stand in front of a window

Alyssa Mekel and Annie Weyand received a mini-grant from the PPA Educational Foundation for their research project, titled “Medication Adherence Packaging Services: Identifying Current Practices for Patient Assessment and Documentation within Independent Community Pharmacies.”

As students in the Community Leadership and Innovation in Practice Area of Concentration (CLIP ARCO), they are developing qualitative research skills to advance community pharmacy patient care services. Their objective is to understand current practices for patient assessment and documentation as part of medication adherence packaging services (MAPS) at community pharmacies across Pennsylvania.

Mekel and Weyand presented their project methods as a poster at the PPA Mid-Year Conference, where they were also recognized for their grant award. As part of the grant, they will have the opportunity to share the results of their research at next year’s meeting.

“It was important to emphasize the opportunity community pharmacies have to improve longitudinal patient care. Many pharmacies already offer MAPS, with varying procedures for administering the service,” Mekel said of their findings. “It was important to convey how [our] research could impact the future of this service, how it is conducted and how patient care outcomes can be improved beyond just medication adherence.”

Primarily, Mekel and her classmate explained the need for their research to conference attendees, while defining their methods and describing future implications of their research through a patient case example.

“Currently there is no literature describing how pharmacies assess, resolve and document patients’ drug therapy problems during monthly clinical touchpoints for MAPS,” she explained. “Thus, we wanted the audience to understand that there is an opportunity to systematically capture what is currently happening in practice, to further explore best practices for MAPS assessment and documentation.”

Elsewhere, the Pitt Pharmacy trio of Samantha Freiter, Joseph Chen and Shay Roth were given APhA scholarships. Freiter received the Boyle Family Scholarship, Chen was awarded the Juan and Esperanza Luna Scholarship, and Roth was honored with the Menighan Leadership Scholarship.

Chosen from a nationwide pool of applicants, the three were recognized for exhibiting outstanding leadership skills in both pharmacy school and the APhA-Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP).

Samantha FreiterFreiter, while enrolled in the School of Pharmacy, has also earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Pittsburgh, where, additionally, she has minored in Chemistry. She currently serves as an APhA-ASP chapter president and delegate, having held membership in the organization for all three years of college.

“In this role, I have learned so much from other leaders, and I have been able to connect with my peers across the School of Pharmacy as a whole, which I have enjoyed,” said Freiter.

In the summer of 2022, Freiter served as the Carl F. Emswiller Summer Intern at APhA headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she participated in strategic planning with the Student Development team, planned programming for the Summer Leadership Institute and advocated for pharmacy practice on Capitol Hill while meeting with Congress.

“I talked to them about the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act and the role of the pharmacist in supporting patients with opioid use disorder. The MAT Act removes the ‘X-waiver’ requirement when prescribing buprenorphine,” Freiter said, “and it was so fulfilling to see that Act pass following the end of my internship.

“Overall, it was interesting to learn more about advocacy efforts within the field of pharmacy and to be able to talk about these healthcare goals with state representatives.”

Upon her return, she helped plan the annual Welcome Back Picnic, as well as the Tucci Lecture series. She is also involved in the Rho Chi Honors Society and Lambda Kappa Sigma fraternity and serves as a class representative at the School of Pharmacy.

Her professional interests include the fields of pharmacy practice advancement and clinical research, where her goal is to help increase access to quality healthcare and safe medications.

Student in front of seal

Joseph ChenChen, who also minored in Chemistry, earned his Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Sciences degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 2022 as part of the accelerated track at Pitt Pharmacy. He has devoted his life to studying the policy and advocacy side of pharmacy, with the goal of helping others achieve healthcare equity by legislative means.

This passion has fueled Chen’s involvement with the Pitt chapter of the APhA-ASP and PPA. He currently serves as the APhA-ASP Policy Vice President, and as President of the PPA, for whom he has planned and hosted 23 advocacy events for Pitt Pharmacy students during the 2022-23 academic year.

Chen is also very active in the pharmaceutical fraternities Kappa Psi, Rho Chi and Phi Lambda Sigma, as well as ISPOR – The Professional Society for Health Economics and Outcomes Research.

Roth, who graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.S. in Pharmaceutical Sciences and a minor in Chemistry from Pitt last spring, is on pace to earn her doctorate in Pharmacy, with a concentration in Global Health, next spring. She is a member of the Pharmacotherapy Scholars Program, a selective pre-residency program involving focused coursework, clinical rotations and longitudinal research.

Shay RothThe Johnstown native serves as Class Representative for the PharmD Class of 2024, Vice President of Phi Lambda Sigma Pharmacy Leadership Society and a member of the executive boards of APhA-ASP, PPA and the Rho Chi Honor Society. She works for the Frederick Honors College at Pitt, is involved in several research projects and is a brother of Kappa Psi.

In her spare time, Roth has dabbled in art and animal rescue. She has used her love of art, in fact, to co-write and illustrate two children’s books, All Aboard the Rx-Express! and Diabetes, Pharmacy, and Me! Understanding Childhood Diabetes, using school personnel as inspiration for several characters.

“In the spring of 2021, I jokingly mentioned to fourth-year Pitt Pharmacy student Jaccie Hisashima that I always wanted to write and illustrate a children’s book, and she suggested that we could write one on pharmacy. We reached out to (Associate Dean) Dr. (Randall) Smith for his thoughts, and he thought it would be a great idea,” Roth remembered.

“Our main goal was to debunk the misconception that pharmacists are just ‘pill counters.’ We also aimed to represent a diverse range of people, hoping that any child that reads the books can picture themselves in a pharmacist’s role.”

In addition, Roth sat on the selection committee that appointed Dr. Amy Seybert to the office of Pitt Pharmacy Dean. From her committee chair, she helped rewrite the school’s Pledge of Professionalism, read annually at the White Coat Ceremony, to focus on representing minority patients and commit to minimizing healthcare disparities as future practitioners.

Meanwhile, Pitt Pharmacy was victorious in the OTC Competition, the signature event of the PPA Mid-Year Conference, where 24 students, eight faculty and staff and three fellows/residents and alumni represented the school.

Decked out in their distinctive Pitt Pharmacy team uniforms, students Tyler Zahurak, Sydney Lee and Costen Santelmo belted out their own rendition of “Sweet Caroline” to celebrate their school-record top score in the “Jeopardy!”-style contest, sponsored by pharmaceutical businesses and organizations such as Procter & Gamble, which tests knowledge of self-care.

“It was very shocking to be told we had the highest score. We competed at the local Pitt event on a whim, and never expected to get to PPA Mid-Year, never mind win it,” Santelmo said. “All three of us studied on the way to the conference to prepare, and the win and record both felt incredibly rewarding.”

“I am very proud of my teammates and myself. Personally, it meant a lot because my grandfather was a well-loved independent community pharmacist, and I am grateful for the opportunity to honor his memory,” said Lee, who wants to apply her pharmacy degree to a career in senior care.

“All of us were really excited when we found out. We’re very grateful to (Pharmacy & Therapeutics professor) Dr. (Karen) Pater for teaching us about OTC’s and self-care,” Zahurak recalled. “Thanks to her, we knew enough to win, and to set the record.”

Nine different faculty, staff, fellows and residents made continuing education presentations: Ravi Patel, Luke Berenbrok, Sophia Herbert, Joni Carroll, Kelsey Hake, Thai Nguyen, Brittany Stottlemeyer, Catherine Rebitch and Michelle Koverman. Seven alumni/-ae also contributed: Ashley Firm, Kyle McCormick, Nicole Pezzino, Mark Green, Kaycie Garvin, Nicole Hassen and Gale Garmong.

In all, Pitt Pharmacy was responsible for half the CE presentations delivered over the weekend. Furthermore, seven of the 13 Student Posters were presented by Pitt Pharmacy students, including Mekel and Weyand, who earned CE credit in the process.

“I really enjoyed being able to meet other pharmacy students and pharmacists, as well as catching up with other pharmacists that I have not seen in a while,” Santelmo said of his time spent in southeastern Pennsylvania.

“This was my first professional conference, so meeting pharmacy leaders and learning from my peers’ research posters were both new and fun experiences for me,” Zahurak added.

“Our students were clearly prepared and ready to be in a professional networking and presentation environment,” said Dr. Melissa Somma McGivney, Pitt Pharmacy professor and Associate Dean for Community Partnerships. “Most importantly, the students noticed they were ready and confident, and remarked how much they enjoyed the experience of presenting and networking.”