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College of Pharmacy

Seeing the whole patient

Pharmacy student recognized for public health service

The assignment was routine: a seventh-grade science fair project.

But for Liz Rogers, studying how quickly various over-the-counter migraine medicines dissolved in hydrochloric acid did more than answer which pill to take when she could feel a headache coming on. It ignited her curiosity in pharmacy and science, leading her to earn a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Carolina in three years and pursue a joint Pharm.D./Master of Public Health, a dual-degree program offered between the College of Pharmacy and the Arnold School of Public Health. 

Along the way, she has amassed an impressive resume of pharmacy and public health-related scholarship and service, including rotations with the Indian Health Services in Alaska and the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic in Hilton Head, an eight-week internship at Rite Aid’s corporate headquarters, leadership positions with campus student organizations and state associations and poster presentations at state and national conferences, including HIV patient research. Besides championing health awareness at events such as the American Heart Association’s Midlands Heart Walk, Rogers has also volunteered at A.C. Moore Elementary School to educate children about diabetes, distributed toiletry kits for Oliver Gospel Mission and created valentines for patients at Prisma Health Senior Care.

 Because of her outstanding record, Rogers, a fourth-year student who will graduate in May, was recently given the United States Public Health Service’s Excellence in Public Health Pharmacy Award, becoming the college’s first recipient of this national award.

“It’s wonderful that Liz received this award, but more so that her efforts to combine pharmacy knowledge with a broader view of patient health were recognized on a national level,” said Amy Grant, associate dean for student affairs and diversity.

“I can’t count the number of discussions we’ve had concerning her view of patient care and the health care system. Because of her motivation and sheer curiosity, Liz has taken full advantage of everything that a dual-degree in pharmacy and public health has to offer. I cannot wait to watch her career unfold as I fully expect Liz to create a new position that doesn’t currently exist for pharmacists!”

For Rogers, building up her public health knowledge has given her a more well-rounded view of health care.

“Public health emphasizes taking the whole patient into consideration and looking at their lifestyle management,” she said. “Sometimes diet and exercise is what’s the best medicine for the patient!”

Under the direction of Midlands Cardiology nurse practitioner Rodel Bobadilla, Rogers conducted a retrospective case study for her master’s degree practicum, analyzing six months of the practice’s health records for 150 female heart failure patients who were evaluated for potential worsening symptoms, including difficulty breathing, fatigue or swelling in the legs or feet. She reviewed whether patients received the correct medications and were counseled about lifestyle modifications.

This topic is of particular interest to health care providers because of changes in Medicare reimbursement policy. If a heart failure patient is treated in the hospital and returns within 30 days of admission, the hospital is no longer paid for the patient’s stay.

Rogers found that the practice excelled in prescribing appropriate drugs and then explaining those medicines to patients but had room to improve in discussing physical activity and diet with patients.

“I think that’s very interesting because pharmacists are well equipped to provide both of those (services) and then free up some time for the physicians and nurse practitioners to spend time with other patients,” she said. “There’s an opportunity for pharmacy to really take charge with the lifestyle modifications and the medication instruction.

“A lot of times in the medical world we’re quick to put patients on medications, and we’re quick to only assess medications, and this project really showed me how important it is to also focus on the non-pharmacological interventions as well. That included those diet modifications — so reducing your salt intake, reducing your alcohol intake, smoking cessation, exercise. It was really cool to be able to utilize my public health courses to see potential changes in these patients.”

For instance, Rogers said a pharmacist could use motivational interviewing techniques to help patients want to make changes themselves rather than trying to force change on the patient. Likewise, through patient counseling, a pharmacist could assess a patient’s readiness for change (Is the appropriate timeline one month? Six months?) and then incorporate that knowledge into the treatment plan.

After graduation, Rogers will enter a general post-graduate pharmacy residency program at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. She may apply for a second year of residency but said she ultimately plans to pursue an academic career because of her interest in teaching, a family calling.

“It’s in my blood. I want to teach others what I’ve been taught,” she said. “The beauty of having my public health degree is that it opens up so many opportunities I don’t even know exist. I’m so glad I decided to pursue this dual-degree program. It was an amazing academic experience that I will never forget!”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.