Auburn Pharmacist Spotlight: Warren Smith

Warren Smith Warren Smith, a P2 from Tallassee, Alabama, is in HSOP's new Pharm.D./Ph.D. program.

March 28, 2016

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.Periodically, the Harrison School of Pharmacy will highlight one of its students, faculty members, staff members or alums. This month, we will feature Warren Smith.

Warren Smith, a second-year pharmacy student from Tallassee, Alabama, leads a normal pharmacy-student life for the most part. He goes to class, visits patients and meets with his study groups. When Smith is not working on his pharmacy coursework, he can be found upstairs in the research labs working under Dr. Vishnu Suppiramaniam. While working on his doctor of pharmacy, or Pharm.D. degree, Smith is also a part of a select group of students that are pursuing a dual-degree program that allows him to also work toward his doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences. While he is still early in the research/doctorate portion of his path, he has already been recognized for his work as he was named an Express Scripts Scholar last fall, becoming one of just four students in the nation to be awarded a $10,000 scholarship to further his education in the dual-degree program.

You are part of a small group of students pursuing both a doctor of pharmacy and a doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences. What are the differences between those paths as a student?
The main difference between the two programs is in how time is utilized each day. When it comes to the "Pharm.D. life," the vast majority of our time is spent attending classes, studying for exams and quizzes, working on assignments relative to our Pharmacy Practice Experience patients, or collaborating on group assignments like newsletters and marketing projects. Twenty hours of classes per semester has been the norm for the past year. While this may sound like a lot at first glance, Pharm.D. classes (18 out of those 20 hours) will have some overlap into the Ph.D. coursework. This means that after completing the Pharm.D. portion, becoming licensed and returning as a full time Ph.D. candidate, there will be less coursework to worry about. This is great news for the Ph.D. phase of the program, where the large majority of our focus is meant to be on research and not necessarily on a ton of time in the classroom. In short, the "Pharm.D. life" is centered around learning what you need to know to optimize safety and efficacy in the treatment of patients, while the "Ph.D. life" is about carving out paths to new knowledge that will eventually lead to novel treatment options and a better understanding of human physiology.

What initially caught your attention in research and why is that a path you want to pursue along with your doctor of pharmacy degree?
I initially became interested in research through participation in a mandatory research project within my undergraduate Honors biology course. While at the time I dreaded the thought of the extra work it entailed, the concept grew on me. I had a few conversations with family members who had received biology/chemistry related doctorates, and I was convinced that it was something I could see myself doing. Over the next few years I put the interest on the backburner as I focused on what I had come to Auburn to do, receive a Pharm.D. degree. It wasn't until after my first semester of pharmacy school that I decided to rekindle the curiosity I had for research, and met with a professor regarding the path to getting involved. Before I had any knowledge of a Pharm.D./Ph.D. program, and only four days after meeting, I began working in Dr. Vishnu Suppiramaniam's lab. I have been there ever since, and he has become my dissertation advisor and a great mentor. I want to pursue this degree along with my Pharm.D. in hopes of bridging some of the disconnect between pharmacy practice and laboratory research. This stems from the realization that the two programs shed light on each other, giving substantial insight on decisions made for the treatment of patients and for directional decisions made within research projects leading to new treatment options.

What kind of research are you specifically focusing on right now?
I am currently focusing on neuropharmacology research, specifically in the alleviation of cognitive deficits related to diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. Our lab investigates many causes of cognitive deficits, from the obvious ones, like Alzheimer's, through the ones that are less well known to the public, like diabetes and chemotherapy. It is very important for us to identify mechanisms by which these deficits occur and progress so that we can start to develop methods to treat or prevent the manifestation of such ailments.

What will winning the Express Scripts Scholarship enable you to do with your research?
The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Express Scripts Scholar program set out to assist students enrolled in dual degree programs by lightening the financial burden that is typically associated with spending an extended period of time in school attaining both degrees. While the scholarship was not necessarily intended for direct application to my research, the peace of mind offered by increased financial stability is unquantifiable. By AACP setting this goal of lessening the monetary obligation to further education, my mind and the minds of the other three recipients of this scholarship can stay more focused on research rather than tuition or cost of living. Therefore, the scholarship indirectly leads to a clearer mind and a more focused drive to pursue our educational endeavors.

What do you think you want to pursue right now and how will the two degrees complement each other in that pursuit?
As of right now, I want to spend a little bit of time working in industry and then eventually return to academia. However, I am very young and I have a ton to learn, thus this plan is subject to change as I go down this road. The two degrees go hand-in-hand by shedding light on the areas that may remain unfulfilled with one of the degrees alone. Having knowledge from the hybrid program will help improve the outcomes of laboratory research that could otherwise lack input from a clinical practice perspective. Conversely, that same knowledge will improve the success of clinical service by coordinating patient centered interactions with a greater understanding of physiological and pharmacological relationships in treatment. I predict that this crosstalk between the two degrees will be of great benefit in the development of new medications and treatments in industry and in introducing aspiring pharmacists to the coordination of science and practical knowledge in an academic setting.

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About the Harrison School of Pharmacy
Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 percent of all pharmacy schools in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the School offers doctoral degrees in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and pharmaceutical sciences (Ph.D.) while also offering a master’s in pharmaceutical sciences. In 2014, the school adopted the slogan, “Making Medications Work Through Innovative Research, Education and Patient Care.” For more information about the School, please call 334.844.8348 or visit http://pharmacy.auburn.edu.

Last Updated: March 28, 2017