URI pharmacy graduate ready for next major step

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Harleysville, Pa. resident to embark on prestigious fellowship

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 19, 2010 – University of Rhode Island pharmacy student Karen Thudium has learned numerous lessons during her advanced clinical rotations and research placements in Providence, Bay Pines, Fla., Allentown, Pa. and St. Louis.

But one stands out. “I learned that pharmacy students from URI are better prepared than students from other schools,” said Thudium, who will earn her doctor of pharmacy degree May 23. “URI students have much stronger therapeutics knowledge, experience in compounding, counseling patients, and interacting with physicians. At URI, we have such a wide range of experiences that we are prepared for almost any setting.”

But the Harleysville, Pa. resident who has a 3.6 grade point average, hasn’t limited her learning to her professional pharmacy degree. While completing that six-year program, Thudium embarked on a master’s degree in pharmacokinetics, a research-based degree that focused on how drugs are absorbed in the body, metabolized, and excreted. She will earn her master’s degree in August.

A resident assistant in Eddy and Merrow halls for three years, Thudium was a member of the University’s Division I women’s swim team for three years.

“As an RA, I gained a great deal of confidence in mediating disputes and helping people deal with conflict,” Thudium said.

As a member of the swim team, she practiced four hours a day. “But it was a stress reliever for me,” she said. “The team is like a family, and it becomes your emotional support. I’d be so stressed out from classes and dorm life that when I walked into the pool it was like heaven.”

Now she will take all of those lessons from the classroom, laboratory, residence hall and swimming pool to a fellowship at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute through the State University of New York-Buffalo and pharmaceutical giant Novartis. She will be at the cancer institute for a year and then move to Novartis in New Jersey for the second leg of the fellowship.

“The researchers in Buffalo are the tops in pharmacokinetics, and the exciting thing is Novartis is based in Switzerland, so I am keeping my fingers crossed for a trip to that country,” Thudium said.

Accepting such a competitive fellowship is a natural progression for a young woman who built a six-page resume of prestigious clinical and research experience while at URI. As part of her doctor of pharmacy program, she worked closely with Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Kerry LaPlante at the Providence Veterans Affairs Hospital. There she updated the antimicrobial guide for the hospital, attended daily meetings to discuss cases and optimization of pharmacotherapy for patients, and she presented to faculty and peers on “Management of Fever in the Neutropenic (low white blood count) Patient.”

Since 2005 as part of her master’s degree, Thudium has been a research assistant for Fatemeh Akhlaghi, professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Pharmacy. Thudium’s work has focused on drug metabolism in patients with diabetes. In the summer of 2008, she was a protein therapeutics summer fellow at Pfizer Inc. in St. Louis, where she evaluated the safety and risk of therapeutic antibody agents. Her findings were included in a recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigational new drug submission.

She also made presentations at the American Society of Health System-Pharmacists Mid-Year Meeting in Las Vegas in December 2009 and the Walgreens Pharmacy Student Compounding Training Program in St. Louis.

She credits the URI pharmacy faculty with providing her a comprehensive education. When she was on rotation at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Bay Pines, Fla., she was allowed to prescribe medications under the supervision of her mentor. “URI helped me become familiar with the process. The faculty helped me get ready for that type of experience.”

But once she finishes her master’s degree, she will leave pharmacy practice and enter the world of oncology research. “I have always been more interested in drug development and how drugs are metabolized.”

A research fellowship at Pfizer in St. Louis involved Thudium in oncology therapeutics. “This experience and working alongside Dr. Akhglahi got me really excited about research,” said Thudium, who also served as president of the pharmacy honor society Rho Chi, which is open only to the top 15 percent of each class.

She has considered pursuing a doctorate in pharmacokinetics. “I am not ruling it out, but right now I am happy with my decision to complete the fellowship at the State University of New York at Buffalo/Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Novartis – it is my dream job!”

Pictured above

Karen Thudium

URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.