Tyler Wagner discovers his purpose and passion in Infectious Disease research
Infectious Disease (ID). It’s a broad term that embodies a certain level of apprehension. Are we talking about the much-publicized Ebola and Zika viruses, or the more familiar measles, HIV/AIDS, and pneumonia? In truth, infectious disease includes the conditions listed above, and over 200 additional diseases. As expected, these diseases vary in severity and incidence depending on location, the production and availability of vaccinations, and treatment options. In the United States, the two biggest infectious diseases in terms of death per year are pneumonia and the flu, as they are responsible for approximately 40 percent of all ID deaths over the past three decades.
When students attend college, family, potential employers, and members of society expect them to graduate with a skill set that translates to their profession. Prevalent attributes that graduates are expected to have include effective communication, integrity, creativity, the ability to perform in a team-setting, and a strong work ethic. While these skills are critical, they are typical. I believe that while students are attaining their degrees, it is important that they strive to maintain a desire to learn and find their passions. For when someone finds their passion, they find something that they can tackle with a certain level of intention and excitement that is contagious to those around them.
The mystery surrounding infectious disease is what excites me. I view infectious disease as an evolving puzzle, and as healthcare professionals we are entrusted to put the pieces together. Infectious disease can be an exhilarating field in which each patient can possess uncharted challenges that are waiting to be solved. ID physicians and pharmacists are tasked with the responsibility to detect, prevent, treat, and communicate the threat of infectious diseases before their impact spills across health systems and reaches the public. In order to ensure the ID workforce remains robust going forward, educators need to invest in students and provide opportunities for them to make an impact early on in their career. Thanks to the faculty and countless individuals who I have met through my time at the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy, I have been actively learning about and researching infectious disease since I stepped foot on campus.
What is your project?
In 2015, Dr. Brandon Bookstaver, an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Outcomes Sciences at the College of Pharmacy, and I were discussing current problems impacting hospitals across the nation. One of the most prevalent issues affecting healthcare systems is Clostridium difficile or C. diff, a type of bacteria that is one of the most common causes of hospital acquired infections. C. diff has the ability to produce a toxin that destroys protective cells found in the gut, can lead to colitis, dehydration, spread of infection, and an in severe cases, it can be life-threatening. Dr. Bookstaver spoke with a passion, detailing the severity of the disease, the toll it has taken on hospitals via the development of new protocols, increased health-care costs, and the impact it would have on healthcare going forward, especially regarding antibiotic usage. That day we laid the foundation for the construction of a C. diff database that would include adult patients who were admitted to Palmetto Health Richland and Baptist over the last three years with Clostridium difficile infections. My team, which consists of other faculty and students here at the College of Pharmacy, collect data regarding these patients’ hospital admissions, which includes baseline demographics, patient comorbidities, recent antibiotic usage, treatment course, and relevant lab values. From this database, numerous research questions can be answered. Patient health outcomes, such as recurrence rates, escalation of care, increased length of hospital stay, and mortality can be examined. My specific project that stems off of this database revolves around the ability of published C. diff severity assessment and scoring systems to accurately predict clinical outcomes.
What are you passionate about and how does that relate to this project?
There is a quote that says, “As long as you’ve got passion, faith, and are willing to work hard, you can do anything you want in this life”. The number of opportunities that exist in the field of medicine are endless; the key is to find a niche where you can make a difference. When I think of my passion in medicine, it all revolves around making a positive change. I am passionate about people, and with that comes patient care. I am passionate about problem solving, tackling challenges and finding a resolution that can improve the efficiency and quality of medical service. Lastly, I am passionate about creating solutions in which I can collaborate with like-minded individuals around a shared vision – the advancement and improvement of healthcare. Through this project, and as a future pharmacist, I have the opportunity to immerse my passions into my daily work. From my research involving C. diff, I hope to make a contribution to the treatment and management of the infectious disease, and ultimately reduce the number of poor health outcomes that result from it. I look forward to the opportunities that I have to share my research with others and provide education on this important topic.
How has your research impacted your education here?
Being involved in research is one of the best supplements to the academic curriculum here at the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy. I can undoubtedly say that having the opportunity to go through the stages involved in developing a research idea from inception to realization has been invaluable. In the classroom, I am more knowledgeable regarding medications and disease states due to experience that I have gained examining patient charts and asking questions. In addition, leading a research project has equipped me with better critical thinking, problem-solving, and leadership skills that are applicable to all aspects of my life. Lastly, the ability to participate in research has helped me develop a network of working professionals and professors whom I can communicate with not only regarding my research interests, but my personal and professional goals, and overall well-being. However, none of this is possible without a commitment to research and education from the administration at our college. By mentors, such as Dr. Bookstaver and countless others, taking on students and involving them in research, future pharmacists are being equipped with the skill sets needed to make positive contributions in their practice for years to come.
Describe how your growth and development has been influenced by faculty and students.
To determine the ability of a college or university to excel, one should look no further than its leadership. John Maxwell once said that leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others. I cannot think of a more dedicated set of leaders than the professors whom I have the opportunity to interact with on a daily basis. The constant support that we, as students, receive starts with Dr. Stephen Cutler, our dean of the USC College of Pharmacy. His commitment to providing students with opportunities to succeed in both the classroom, in practice, and on a national level is something that sets our college apart. This attitude is contagious and is one that has spread to the entire faculty and staff. As a result, there is a culture of leadership and success centered around equipping students with the tools necessary to make a difference.
I am fortunate to have numerous mentors and educators who have taken an interest in my education. It is because of faculty engagement and their investment in the success of students that I have been able to be involved in research and leadership at the College of Pharmacy. Each week, I serve alongside twenty fellow leaders of thirteen pharmacy centered student organizations through our Student Government Association. We look for opportunities to make improvements and create change within our community. To see the success of a college, one simply needs to look at its students. This past month alone, my classmates have raised money to support victims of Hurricane Harvey and Irma, led a successful supply drive for the VA hospital, continue to lead discussions about opioid abuse in front of the student union, and have raised awareness for countless causes such as National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Breast Cancer awareness, and the importance of immunizations.
My growth and development as a person, and a future healthcare provider, can be contributed to my countless interactions with so many great leaders here at the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy. When leadership is actively invested in the future of its students, the opportunities to make a difference are endless.
How does this project impact your goals and future?
This upcoming week I have the opportunity to present my research regarding Clostridium difficile at the American College of Clinical Pharmacy’s (ACCP) Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ. Since that start of my project back in 2015, this has been a goal of mine, and for it to come to fruition is fantastic. During this trip, I will be receiving a Distinguished Trainee Award from the ACCP Infectious Disease Practice and Research Network. It is a great honor, and I am extremely thankful to all the students, faculty, and healthcare professionals who have assisted in my project and made an impact on my early career.
The realm of infectious disease is dynamic, always changing and developing. In ten years, some of the challenges that exist today will be replaced by new problems needing to be solved. Hans Zinsser, a 20th century American physician, said that “infectious disease is one of the few genuine adventures left in the world”. To me, there is a thrill in learning about infections. Even though your interests may vary, I hope you can each find your passion and strive to make a positive difference because of that.
Tyler is a 3rd year pharmacy student here at the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy. He is set to graduate in May 2019 and looks to either pursue a pharmacy practice residency or PhD in Outcomes Sciences.