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My Manchester Story

Tom Smith

by Lauren Hughes | Jun 06, 2019

Tom Smith, associate professor of pharmacy practice and pharmacogenomics, teaches real world concepts both in and outside the classroom. 

What is one thing you hope students get out of your class?”

 “I try to focus on the idea that things aren’t always black and white, and that can be difficult when you’re introducing complex ideas. However, it’s important because I don’t want students to be surprised when they go into a [clinical] rotation. I want them to get real life experience, and say, ‘Oh, I guess things weren’t as easy as they seemed.’ I also want them to be able to walk out of my class and understand that there’s always something more to learn, evaluate, and to consider, because you really have to treat each person uniquely.” 

Do you have an example of a time when a student realized this in practice?” 

“It happens a lot during their fourth-year rotation. They take my course in their second year of pharmacy school, and I try to bring in stories of what I see with patients and try to present what a true patient looks like − and I think they get it, but it’s difficult to portray through lecture. It doesn’t truly hit them until they go out on rotation, see a patient, and then they come back and say, ‘Oh, you were right! You weren’t just making it up!’ That is why we have that last year of rotations where they can learn and see that firsthand.” 

What is the most interesting part of pharmacogenomics (PGx) to you?” 

“I think the most interesting part is that it’s not necessarily new, but it kind of is. You can go back years and years and find that we’ve known about genetics and how it relates to a drug response for a really long time. Most of what we want to do, in terms of applying it to people and getting it to where most people can access it, is still developing. It’s interesting to me that the majority of the articles we study came out this year or the previous year. There are not many textbooks that have everything we want all in one spot because there’s so much new information. What I find hopeful is that a lot of our graduates will be able to go be pioneers in this field.”

I saw that you worked with psychiatric illness and substance abuse. How do you apply PGx to that area of interest?” 

“One of the reasons I’m involved in the PGx program is my interest in psychiatry. It is probably one of the biggest fields in pharmacogenomics. We have many drugs that treat different psychiatric illnesses, but we don’t know when it’s best to use certain drugs. So, unfortunately, a lot of it is trial and error. We do our best to try to figure out which drug may be best for you, but it’s still a guessing game. Psychiatry is an area where we’re interested in starting to use this element of medicine. If we can drill down if there is something within your genetic makeup that tells us drug X is going to work over drug Y, it’ll be a breakthrough in the medical field.

That applies to many different psychiatric illnesses – one of them could be addiction. There is a genetic link between developing certain addictions and one’s genes. If we can take that next step and observe the genetic link for treating these specific addictions, then that would be a huge game changer for millions of people who are struggling. We need to do something to treat these individuals better, and pharmacogenomics could play a role in that.”

 “How did you get interested in this field of work?” 

“I’ve always been interested in psychiatry and neurology. After I completed my pharmacy curriculum, I completed a residency in those two areas, and pharmacogenomics wasn’t a large piece of it but it was always there. When I first saw individuals get the pharmacogenomics testing done, that’s when I realized something, it’s more than just theories and things done in a lab – this is something that can directly affect an individual. So I’ve always had it in the back of my mind, and we do a little bit of it at my practice site. Having a master’s program in pharmacogenomics was something that hasn’t been done anywhere and it was a great opportunity for me to get involved and do something unique.”

 “What advice would you give to people considering PGx?” 

“If you’re someone who wants a challenge, is comfortable with not having a direct path, adaptable, enjoy taking on responsibilities, and want to be part of a change, I think the PGx program would be perfect for you. We have many individuals who have gone on to places where they didn’t have anyone with a similar program history since this program is so new. It’s kind of intimidating at first, and there is an element of the unknown with it. I think people, especially at Manchester, like that. It was the same thing with our first couple of pharmacy classes – they didn’t really know what to expect – it was a new school. they could go to somewhere that’s been established for 100 years, or they could come here where they would be the first one. We like those types of individuals, and those are the people I think we need in health care. We need people to do new things and break boundaries, and I think PGx offers that. If you’re someone who is really excited about that, you’re not going to match that in other programs.”