Mehmet Burcu is a current student in the Pharmaceutical Health Services Research (PHSR) PhD Program at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.

A native of Cyprus, Mehmet received his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Ohio Wesleyan University, and his master’s degree in epidemiology and clinical research from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His research interests include questions surrounding public health and how advanced quantitative methods can be employed to answer those questions, with a particular focus on the utilization and risks associated with prescription medications used for psychiatric conditions among vulnerable youth populations. He currently serves as president of the School’s student chapter of the International Society for Pharmacoepidemiology (ISPE).

What inspired your interest in the field of pharmaceutical health services research?

After graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University, I knew that I wanted to continue to work on projects that examined the downstream effects of drugs in the human body. I found work as a laboratory research assistant, where I assisted with the development of new strategies to overcome and reverse multi-drug resistance to help improve treatment outcomes in patients with leukemia. Although I found laboratory research very rewarding, it helped me realize that my true passion was in population-based public health research, which has the potential to directly influence health policy and medical decision making.

What interested you most about the PHSR PhD Program at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy?

The PHSR PhD Program is a very unique graduate program. It is very interdisciplinary, with students gaining exposure to a number of different areas within health services research as they work to acquire skills in a specialty track. The program is also well known for housing large datasets of which students can take advantage for their research, including administrative claims data from Medicaid and Medicare, which are not readily available in many other health services research programs. In addition, the School of Pharmacy is located in downtown Baltimore, which is close to leading private and public health organizations, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Our proximity to these organizations opens many doors for students in terms of internships, research collaborations, and future careers.

How would you describe your experience since being admitted to the program?

My experience in the PHSR PhD Program has been a remarkable adventure, and I feel very fortunate to have Dr. Julie Zito as my mentor. It’s not just about learning how to conduct research, but also about having a vision to help generate research questions and seeing the “big picture” of what’s happening in our complex and ever-changing health care system. Dr. Zito is an internationally renowned expert in child and adolescent psychiatry and pharmacoepidemiology. Under her supervision, I have had the privilege to collaborate with the FDA on several projects relating to the use and safety of marketed medications. Currently, I am working on a project that aims to develop innovative methods to assess the long-term comparative safety of marketed psychotropic medications. Having the opportunity to conduct this type of research has fortified my interest in regulatory science as it relates to pharmacoepidemiology and health services research.

What are your thoughts about the coursework offered through the program?

The coursework is very rigorous, but manageable. The PHSR PhD Program includes very comprehensive coursework that trains students in a wide range of aspects related to health services research, including, pharmacoeconomics, pharmacoepidemiology, patient-centered outcomes research, and health policy. During our first year in the program, students receive training in basic statistics and research methodology, which helps create a strong foundation of skills that we can build upon with additional advanced courses. We also have the opportunity to take elective courses that are specific to our unique research interests or craft one-of-a-kind projects with faculty members to gain more in-depth training in specific areas. The program is also very interdisciplinary, which gives students access to courses and resources from different schools and programs across the University System of Maryland. Although my primary research interest is in pharmacoepidemiology, I was able to take courses in advanced econometrics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and structural equation modeling at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, which helped me acquire more methodological and statistical modeling skills.

What is your advice to prospective students who might be considering whether or not to apply to this program?

I would recommend that prospective students review the program’s website to find out more about the different areas of research that it embodies. Prospective students should also consider reaching out to faculty and current students through email to learn more about their current work, and see if their interests align with those areas. Current students are also more than willing to address any questions that you might have. I also recommend exploring the School of Pharmacy’s website to learn more about the resources available to graduate students, professional development opportunities, and student life.