Jinani Jayasekera is a current student in the Pharmaceutical Health Services Research (PHSR) PhD Program at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.
Jinani earned her bachelor's degree in pharmacy and her master’s degree in financial economics from the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka. She currently serves as a graduate research assistant for Ebere Onukwugha, MS, PhD, studying health disparities, cost-of-illness, and the role of multidisciplinary care in oncology settings. Her current research examines race disparities in treatment receipt in the presence of community-level deprivation characterized by county-level measures of poverty, education, access to health care services, living environment, and crime level in the neighborhood. To learn more about Jinani, including her research interests, projects, and awards, please download her CV.
What inspired your interest in the field of pharmaceutical health services research?
After completing my undergraduate degree, I joined a health policy research institute to gain experience in applied health research. My first project involved collecting data to examine the impact of public health spending on health outcomes of individuals in low-income communities. This project gave me the opportunity to interact with physicians, social workers, health economists, and statisticians who contributed different analytical and social perspectives to help resolve the different issues that arose. It became clear to me that many practical health problems in society require interdisciplinary approaches, and in order to make meaningful contributions, I needed to be knowledgeable in different fields that had direct applicability to health care. This revelation motivated me to explore my options for a career in health services research.
What interested you most about the PHSR PhD Program at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy?
The PHSR PhD Program at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy included some key features that I knew I would need in order to launch a successful career in health services research. The program’s four core research areas are rooted in population health sciences. In addition, the program offers in-depth training in quantitative and qualitative research. Students can gain skills in statistics, data manipulation, and statistical programming, as well as research methods, health and pharmaceutical economics, epidemiology, and health behavior. The faculty members are nationally recognized in academia, industry, and government, and the School is also located near leading health policymaking institutions, including the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
How would you describe your experience since being admitted to the program?
My experience in the PHSR PhD Program has been rewarding. The program is truly interdisciplinary, and has provided me with numerous opportunities to learn and collaborate with faculty from both inside and outside of our department. In addition, as a graduate research assistant, I have been able to contribute to various research projects in health economics, multidisciplinary care, and racial and ethnic disparities. These projects have allowed me to gain experience in study design, analyses, and presentation.
Mentoring also plays a critical role in the PHSR PhD Program. Most students in the department have advisors who effectively double as mentors, providing guidance on both their research and careers. Dr. Onukwugha’s support, wisdom, and coaching have been a great driving force in developing my skills as a future health services researcher. The PHSR PhD Program is geared towards preparing students for today’s competitive job market.
What are your thoughts about the coursework offered through the program?
While the program can be quite demanding, I think it’s necessary in order to help students build strong intellectual and analytical skills. The classes offered during the first two years help students develop a strong foundation in statistics and epidemiology, and are particularly useful for those students who are transitioning to the program from another field of study. Students can enroll in a wide range of courses offered at other schools within the University System of Maryland, and are also encouraged to take additional courses within their unique area of interest to improve their understanding of the subject matter.
What is your advice to prospective students who might be considering whether or not to apply to this program?
I would encourage prospective students to reach out to faculty and current students to learn more about the program and the diverse areas of research available within the department. Students who are looking for interdisciplinary collaboration or those who are planning to transition from basic science to a career in applied health services research are likely to find this program a perfect fit.