KINGSTON, R.I., October 4, 2016 — Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., has seen its share of make-or-break, high-stakes wagers over the years. Last month, Matt Lippertshauser and Ethan Melillo, URI College of Pharmacy students, joined the casino’s ranks of steely-nerved risk-takers when they bet it all in the Pepto Bowl competition and won big.
They represented URI in the “Jeopardy!”-style academic competition at the annual New England Pharmacy Convention on Sept. 23. Their victory marks the third time in nine years that URI has won the contest, says College of Pharmacy Clinical Professor Kelly Orr, who nervously watched the high-stakes play. “It was very stressful for me,” she says of the moment in the second round when URI landed a Daily Double.
The two decided to bet all of their 9,000 points on the question “What is the primary indication of ketotifen?” Answer: “Allergic conjunctivitis.”
“Ethan made us do it. We kind of argued about that,” says Lippertshauser of Bethpage, N.Y. Melillo agrees that he pushed his friend to take the risk. “Matt wanted to bet 500 but I calculated that if we doubled our points, then the other teams couldn’t catch us,” he says.
The Daily Double itself turned out to be a lucky pick. “In one of my summer rotations I did a PowerPoint project on that drug,” says Melillo of Portsmouth, R.I. “I knew it right away.”
The strategy paid off, and the teammates were able to skip tricky questions, eliminating the risk of losing points. With a score of 20,000, they did not even wager on the final question. “We were able to relax at the end, so that was nice,” Lippertshauser says.
The classmates, who will graduate with doctorate of pharmacy degrees in May 2017, vanquished pharmacy schools from the University of Connecticut, MCPHS University/Worcester-Manchester and the University of St. Joseph in Connecticut. Four other schools were eliminated earlier in the day during the written exam portion of the competition.
“It’s a fun rivalry for the schools, and the pharmacists watching the competition get continuing education credits for it,” says Orr. “There’s no prize money, just bragging rights.”
The Pepto Bowl is so-named because the contest is endowed by Proctor and Gamble, maker of the over-the-counter stomach medication, Pepto-Bismol, but its official name is the Student and Pharmacist Self-Care Championship. In the pharmacy profession “self-care” encompasses a person’s independent actions to prevent, diagnose and treat illness, of which over-the-counter medications and supplements are an important part. The national Non-Prescription Medicines Academy and the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations compile the questions, which cover a broad array of products and uses, doses, side effects and adverse reactions. Contestants have 20 seconds to respond to each question.
Clinical Associate Professor Ginger Lemay chose Lippertshauser and Melillo to represent URI because of their strength in self-care classes and their previous pharmacy experience. Currently, the students are on advanced rotations at Rhode Island Hospital and Steere House, a nursing and rehabilitative center in Providence. They had about two weeks to prepare, taking Orr’s advice to closely study “The Handbook of Non-Prescription Drugs,” a tome with more than 1,000 pages.
The students, neither of whom had participated in an academic competition like the Pepto Bowl before, had the support of College of Pharmacy classmates who formed a cheering section at the front of the room, complete with signs. In the end, the students’ knowledge — and nerve — carried the day. “Go big or go home,” is how Melillo summed it up.