Student Pharmacists Preparing for Emerging Roles in Digital Health

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Digital Health Corner Editor: Parisa Vatanka, PharmD, CTTS

Kiran Suryadevara HeadshotEarly last year I was making the rounds at an event in San Francisco, when I came across a group of students with “PharmD candidates” written on their nametags. I introduced myself, truly interested in how they found their way to networking in a crowd of mostly digital health investors and startup founders. As I spoke to them about their aspirations, I found myself reflecting on my own journey to that room. Back when I was in pharmacy school, there were only a few career paths and your network depended on what conferences or professional societies you participated in. While I knew my ambition would take me outside of practice one day, I wanted to be involved in direct patient care initially and took a role as a hospital staff pharmacist. I took advantage of that time and after many years extensively exploring my options, I took a leap of faith right into a, then, small analytics startup in a field that would later be known as Digital Health. Unknowingly, I landed in a gold mine.

The COVID-19 pandemic and a historically broken healthcare system have ushered in a new era of innovation. During Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences (IPPEs) and Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPEs), student pharmacists will experience these shifts in real-time unlike any other generation in the form of new hybrid models of care incorporating telehealth and greater access to longitudinal patient records made available by new CMS interoperability rules. To them I say, pay attention to the encounters that are unique to the role of the pharmacist on an interdisciplinary care team such as medication optimization. There are inefficiencies everywhere, and this institutional knowledge makes you a solution builder which is the most valuable resource in the digital health world.

Student pharmacists can equip themselves with the knowledge and skills needed for these roles through their university classes or online open source platforms, such as Coursera. Seek transferrable skills, modeling languages (SQL, R) are always in demand. Connect with companies and people on LinkedIn; they will remember a good first impression when it comes time to hire. Subscribe to newsletters, read blogs, and attend webinars to keep-up with trends. Look to get exposure through existing channels, every major hospital and pharmacy chain in the country has a technology innovation group. Apply for an internal transfer into those business units or find an opportunity to collaborate on a project if you are doing a post-grad program.

Pharmacists have always been uniquely situated to deliver actionable solutions amidst chaos, this inflection point is no different. It is the best time to be a student, absorb the world around you, and be ready to advocate for yourself and your profession no matter where your journey takes you.

Kiran Suryadevara, PharmD, is the Product Manager of Data Intelligence at Altais Health. She is a graduate of St. John’s University and practiced oncology pharmacy at Columbia University Medical Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. After a career pivot to health tech/digital health, she’s held product and analytics roles at early stage, high growth startups in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. Her areas of focus include productization of clinical decision support tools, data strategy, and data governance. She is also a HITLAB Fellow where she contributes her expertise to projects and organizations in the global digital health community. Kiran is a strong advocate for a clinical presence in every segment in digital health, and hopes to inspire the next generation of pharmacists and student pharmacists in bringing their clinical training to roles at the intersection of technology, data, and medicine.