Pamela Roberto is a current student in the Pharmaceutical Health Services Research (PHSR) PhD Program at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.
Originally from Glocester, Rhode Island, Pam earned her bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Brown University and a master’s degree in public policy with a concentration in health policy from Georgetown University. Following completion of her master’s degree, she took a job as a health policy analyst with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, reporting to Congress on issues related to private health insurance. For the last eight years, she has worked in the Policy and Research Department at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), where she continues to work part-time while pursuing a PhD in the PHSR program. Her past research has demonstrated the important role medicines play in improving patient outcomes and reducing costs associated with avoidable hospitalizations and emergency department visits. Her current research is aimed at quantifying the impact of benefit design, cost-sharing, and utilization management on access to care, use of medicines, and health care utilization and spending.
What inspired your interest in the field of pharmaceutical health services research?
My family owns and operates an independent pharmacy, and I worked there as a pharmacy technician during high school and college. Many changes in prescription drug benefits took place during this time, such as the introduction of three-tier formularies, increased patient cost-sharing, and the growing use of utilization management. I saw first-hand how these policies impacted patients’ decisions to fill their prescriptions, with many patients abandoning prescriptions at the counter or delaying refills because of affordability or access issues. I became curious as to why some patients had significantly more generous drug coverage than others and wanted to understand how differences in access to medicines impacted patient outcomes over time, particularly for those with chronic or progressively disabling illnesses.
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 piqued my interest because it offers a multi-disciplinary curriculum emphasizing research and quantitative methods, which are skill sets that are highly valued by employers in government, academia, and the private sector. My research interests were aligned closely with the work being done by several faculty members, all of whom are well respected in the health services research field and have great reputations for mentoring students. The quality of the faculty and students at the PHSR PhD program was also evident based on the rigor of the student work I had seen presented at health services research conferences such as ISPOR and the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting.
How would you describe your experience since being admitted to the program?
My experience in the PHSR PhD program continues to be an outstanding one, and I feel very lucky to have Bruce Stuart, PhD, as my mentor. Balancing coursework and research with a part-time job is challenging, but can be done as long as your schedule is flexible and you manage your time well. The PHSR PhD program helps make my schedule flexible. Since being admitted to the program, I have had the opportunity to participate in numerous research projects using Medicare claims and survey data, resulting in several poster presentations at health policy conferences and publications in peer-reviewed journals. My research experiences have greatly enhanced my ability to design and conduct rigorous statistical analyses, analyze and interpret data, and manipulate and manage large datasets.
What are your thoughts about the coursework offered through the program?
The courses are rigorous, but they provide a strong foundation in research methods, quantitative and qualitative analysis, and statistical programming. Students have the opportunity to take courses at other University of Maryland campuses and can design special courses conducting research with individual faculty to gain more in-depth training. The PHSR PhD curriculum provides students with broad exposure to the various disciplines that comprise pharmaceutical health services research, including epidemiology, health economics, public policy, and health behavior, while giving students the opportunity to obtain expertise in a specific area of interest, such as pharmacoeconomics or pharmacoepidemiology.
What is your advice to prospective students who might be considering whether or not to apply to this program?
I would highly recommend that prospective students reach out to faculty and current students for more information about the different areas of research that the PHSR program has to offer. My classmates and I are happy to talk to prospective students about our experiences, provide insight about life as a PhD student, and answer questions about program requirements, coursework, research opportunities, and career options.