Classmates blaze a new trail with dual pharmacy, health informatics master’s degree

May 15, 2024
A young man and a young woman wearing white lab coats smile while standing outside of a building.
Chad Harle and Victoria Brooks say their decision to complete the Pharm.D.-MSHI program will give them more professional options and allow them to bring special skills to their work. Photo by Sarah Pack

This story has a happy ending. Even if Victoria Brooks has a dog named Marley. 

Brooks and classmate Chad Harle have reached the end of their academic journeys at MUSC with a Pharm.D., a Master of Science in Health Informatics and a slice of history. They are the first students ever to complete the Pharm.D.-MSHI concurrent degree program. 

And this ending comes with a healthy dog, unlike the – spoiler alert – doomed Labrador in the film “Marley and Me.” 

Brooks, Harle and the fledgling concurrent degree program all began together in 2020. By the spring, the MUSC College of Pharmacy students felt comfortable taking on the additional work of the master’s program.

“I saw the master’s as something I could do on the side to make myself more marketable after graduation,” Harle said. “And because of COVID, I was already acclimated to online school, so that helped with time management. We could focus on the MSHI on the weekends and stay focused on the Pharm.D. during the week.”

Brooks, who will be doing a residency next year with the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, also felt like informatics would enhance an already versatile pharmacy degree. 

“It’s an up-and-coming field that I wanted to learn more about,” she said. “It’s really useful to have a background in informatics, especially dealing with the science and data behind electronic health records and other hospital systems.”

Brooks has seen it firsthand, having done a rotation with a pharmacist informatician. She saw the value of coupling a pharmacy background, which helped with understanding clinical terms of requisitions, and an informatics background, which helped with optimizations and making changes for the EHR.

Harle had a similar experience in pharmacy informatics in which he worked through patient EHRs, highlighting medicines or diseases and sending the data to a machine that used a learning algorithm to interpret the EHR for prior authorizations, dissect and interpret patients’ charts and facilitate clinical decisions. 

Both students found pharmacy and informatics complementary. They also enjoyed having classes with people outside of health care.

“The Pharm.D.-MSHI program offers a unique opportunity for students to learn concurrently in two disciplines,” said Abby Swanson Kazley, professor and division director in the College of Health Professions, which houses the MSHI program. “From day one, Chad and Victoria were exemplary students and representatives of both fields. They offered great perspective in class discussions, and both completed excellent capstone projects related to pharmacy informatics. I am so proud of both of them.”

The two MUSC College of Pharmacy students arrived in Charleston sporting pharmacy pedigrees. Brooks’ mother is a long-term care pharmacist with Neil Medical Group in North Carolina, and Harle’s parents are MUSC pharmacy alumni Chris (’94) and Lisa (’92) Harle. He also grew up playing baseball with Nate Shirley, son of MUSC faculty member David Shirley, (’02).

Brooks earned a BS in biological sciences with minors in chemistry and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2020. She decided she wanted a different experience for pharmacy school and was attracted to MUSC by the combination of a small and personal pharmacy school with the opportunities of an academic medical center. 

“It’s been a very different experience from those 300-person lecture halls,” she said. “Having a relationship with your professors was different for me, and I really appreciated it. I loved being comfortable going to their offices and asking them questions.”

While doing his undergraduate work at the University of South Carolina, Charleston native Harle considered getting a degree in dentistry. But the siren song of entering pharmacy school after just two years of pre-pharm lured him back home to MUSC.

“I was born and raised in Charleston,” he said. “Plus, there’s great weather year-round here, and I love the beach.”

He has spent the last four years working in retail pharmacy at Costco and, in the immediate future, plans to stay in retail. His earliest associations with pharmacy are visits with his dad in the Bi-Lo, where his dad practiced retail pharmacy, though his dad is now back at MUSC in Pharmacy Services.

One of Harle’s lasting memories of MUSC was working on a capstone project for his MSHI program while on a pharmacy rotation. The project included working on an MUSC phone application called “Rover,” which expedited the vaccine workflow, helped to monitor inventory and limited errors. It neatly tied together his concurrent degrees.

“Informatics gives me a good tool set, and I recommend being familiar with informatics to any practitioner,” Harle said. “It helps you know the background of how a lot of technology works and how to optimize those things.”

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