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Pharmacy graduate student named Sorensen Fellow

Minghui “Sam” Li, a third-year graduate student in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Outcomes Sciences at the College of Pharmacy, was recently named a Donna and Andrew Sorensen Graduate Student Fellow, one of six students across the USC campus to earn the designation.

“It is a great honor to receive the Sorensen fellowship,” Li said. “I appreciate the endowment’s support for my dissertation. I’m so happy the university has these opportunities for graduate students.”

Before coming to the University of South Carolina, Li, a native of Hangzhou, China, earned a master of science degree in pharmaceutical health services research from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, as well as a master’s of pharmacy degree in pharmacoeconomics and a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical marketing from Chinese universities. He became interested in studying at USC after a conference where he met assistant professor Kevin Lu, who explained the array of opportunities for health outcomes research at the College of Pharmacy.

Li has distinguished himself throughout his training here, receiving a $5,000 SPARC graduate research grant from the university as well as USC’s George M. Reeves Graduate Fellowship.

In addition, this year he was granted membership to the EuroQol Group Association, an international team of multidisciplinary researchers who assess health-related quality of life. His career goal is to conduct important research as a faculty member at a university.

“He does everything very well,” professor Richard Schulz said. “He’s a student at the very highest level. He excels in research, working not only with his adviser Kevin Lu, but with other faculty members as well. His productivity for a graduate student is phenomenal. He has made numerous presentations at national and international conferences and has multiple publications. His level of achievement is remarkable, and he’s a joy to be with.”

During Li’s time at the College of Pharmacy, Schulz has seen him grow into a more confident researcher and scholar, becoming a presenter who can deftly answer questions with thoughtful responses. Li said he has learned to be a more independent researcher, capable of defining and developing his own research.

The $5,000 Sorensen fellowship supports Li’s dissertation research, an investigation of how changes in Medicare policy for red blood cell-stimulating drugs commonly prescribed to treat chemotherapy-induced anemia have affected drug utilization, patient health and health care costs. He will compare these outcomes in cancer patients, whose drug utilization is affected by the policy, to patients with chronic kidney disease (control group), a patient population that also uses the drug but is unaffected by the policy.

Li credits working with the CPOS department’s robust team of cancer researchers, including Lu, Schulz, Dr. Charles Bennett, John Bian and LeAnn Norris, with inspiring his dissertation topic.

Li said he has enjoyed the graduate health outcomes sciences curriculum, which requires students to take coursework, such as epidemiology and biostatistics, in the Arnold School of Public Health, as well as classes in economics, accounting and marketing at the Darla Moore School of Business.

Li said the interdisciplinary nature of the coursework has helped him to design and execute more robust research. Although taking marketing classes at first seemed illogical, he later made connections between marketing research and health research methodologies. “By studying across disciplines, you learn to take different perspectives, which is interesting to me,” he explained.

Schulz said having nimble, creative approaches to research is essential for outcomes researchers, who specialize in crafting a strong research approach rather than developing expertise around a particular disease state or patient population. “You have to have your ear to the ground and be flexible so if the national debate switches to a new area, you are ready,” he said. “Sam has that skill set.”

In addition to health outcomes, Li’s research interests also include pharmacoepidemiology -- the study of the utilization and effects of drugs across patient populations. He is particularly proud of his research examining the use of statins, a group of cholesterol-lowering drugs, in Medicare patients with diabetes. In that study, he found that only 50 to 60 percent of patients who met the criteria to receive statins actually took the drugs, even though the treatment is recommended as part of the American Diabetes Association’s standards of medical care.

Beyond his robust scholarship, Li has demonstrated strong leadership abilities through the university’s chapter of the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research, serving as vice president and now as president. He is an active participant in the chapter’s journal club where students take turns sharing important research with the group.

“The fellow graduate students are really very supportive,” he said. “We always help each other out and learn from each other. I really like the collaborative environment in our department from other graduate students.”

Li said he has enjoyed studying in the college town environment at USC. “Everyone is nice here,” he said. “They smile at you and say ‘hi’ to you. I really enjoy graduate student life at the University of South Carolina.”