As a student, it is good to be well-versed in nonacademic endeavors on campus, but Nick Keeling makes sure he continues to lead in his arena as a pharmacy graduate student. Keeling, Graduate Student Council president, recently led a group of his pharmacy cohort to the next round of the Institutions of Higher Learning Blueprint Mississippi Social Business Challenge state competition.
Keeling is enrolled as a full-time student in the Department of Pharmacy Administration and serves as a teaching assistant for the course Pharmacy Ethics. He is actively working on his master’s thesis to examine the impact of genetic testing on quality of life in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
The purpose of the competition was to present a business plan to better combat lack of health care solutions for those in the Mississippi Delta, Keeling said.
“Being in the School of Pharmacy, the team and I wanted to address the health disparities in the rural areas of Mississippi and how pharmacist intervention could improve this situation,” he said. “All of our team members agreed that some form of health education was a key aspect of what we wanted to do.
“With some research into more specific problems in rural health, I came upon the issue of primary medication nonadherence. This is essentially a patient not picking up [his or her] first prescription after it was written by a physician and can reach rates of almost 35 percent in rural areas. My department, Pharmacy Administration, has done research in this area in the past, but not specifically in rural areas. After a couple of brainstorming sessions, our team came up with the idea of an in-house pharmacy integrated into rural health clinics. This would allow the pharmacist to take on a medication management role with patients by educating them on how to take their medication and the benefits therein.
“Also, this would effectively prevent patients from not picking up their first prescription because they would have to pick it up before they even left the building. By promoting primary medication adherence, we hope to prevent unnecessary return trips to the physician, improve health outcomes and reduce future health expenditures to patients and the state.”
Keeling said his team members played as great a part as he did in placing first in the preliminary competition leading up to the state competition.
“As captain, I took on the responsibility of coordinating the formation of the group. I spoke with a member of my faculty, Dr. Erin Holmes, about this challenge to see if she knew of any pharmacy students who would be interested in competing. Dr. Holmes connected me with Sonja Falvey, a second-year pharmacy student, and we began to coordinate our first meeting with the other interested students. Dr. Holmes would also end up serving as our faculty adviser for the competition.
“This really was a great team effort from the beginning,” Keeling said. “In our written business plan, each of us took on the duty of writing on a specific aspect of the plan, and then I compiled and submitted the plan. I also agreed to be the presenter of the plan on the day of the competition. I must say that we all led our team to victory and that not one individual is responsible. It was a very rewarding experience to work so well with others and to see that hard work pay off.”
The statewide competition is slated for March 12, 2015, in conjunction with Universities Day at the Capitol, and Keeling is aware of how much harder the competition will be at the state level.
“Our competition plan looking forward is to examine our scores from the first competition and improve upon the aspects of our business that received the lowest scores from the judges. We met before the holiday break to plan the way forward. The competition will only get tougher at the state level, so we will have to focus our efforts on increasing the amount of detail and ensuring we have a solid business plan that can be implemented effectively and efficiently for these areas of Mississippi.”
So often with the lack of opportunities for employment after graduation, students migrate to different states to seek a better opportunity and forget the state they came from, but Keeling said his heart is deeply rooted in changing health circumstances in Mississippi.
“Having been born in Mississippi, I have been aware throughout my life of the health issues that have plagued this state for so long. This competition and the research required during the preparation process has shown me that even while still in school I can have a meaningful impact on a portion of Mississippi lives in a positive manner. I challenge others to seek out and take advantage of getting involved in ways such as this.”