Nicole Cartwright Kwiek, PhD, is Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Studies and Clinical Associate Professor of Pharmacology at the Ohio State University (OSU) College of Pharmacy. Additionally, she is the co-founder and director of a national medication safety outreach project called Generation Rx. She completed her PhD in Pharmacology and post-doctoral training in Pharmacology Education Research and Outreach from Duke University. Dr. Kwiek was inducted into ASPET’s Academy of Pharmacology Educators in 2016, and she and the Generation Rx team received the inaugural award for Excellence in Community Partner Engagement in 2018 from the Engagement Scholarship Consortium.
Can you tell us about Generation Rx? Is it implemented widely across the community?
Generation Rx is an educational outreach project that teaches audiences of all ages about safe medication-taking practices and the dangers of prescription drug misuse. With our main programmatic and funding partner, the Cardinal Health Foundation, we create free, ready-to-use materials based in best practices in educational delivery and drug prevention. We then partner with local, state, and national organizations to disseminate these tools to audiences in every U.S. state. For example, in a robust partnership with the American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists, this outreach work has been implemented in almost 120 Colleges of Pharmacy around the country, reaching millions of people directly in educational sessions and engaging over 60,000 student pharmacists.
What motivated you to develop Generation Rx? What were some major challenges you faced during early development of Generation Rx?
My colleague Dr. Ken Hale and I started Generation Rx in 2007 as we were just beginning to see troubling data about prescription opioid misuse. We knew that a significant percentage of the general public had misconceptions about the safety, legality, and addiction potential of medicine misuse – yet there existed a dearth of evidence-informed educational resources to promote good medication-taking behaviors. We were and are both educators at heart, and with an engaged pool of amazing students and colleagues, we were able to fill an important need with our program resources.
Thinking retrospective in terms of career, would you have done anything differently?
I have absolutely loved the non-traditional academic career path that I have pursued, and the Ohio State University has been very progressive in valuing my work and its alignment to the institution’s mission. However, I think that is always useful to make an indisputable case for yourself through scholarship. If I had unlimited hours in the day, I would write up and submit more of our innovative work for publication in peer-reviewed journals.
What are some key strategies/skills that helped you succeed in your career?
Keep an open mind about where your career path may take you. Sometimes it may seem that there are only a couple paths to take with a pharmacology PhD – classic academia or industry. However, I always followed my own personal interests instead of trying to figure out to fit myself in a preconceived “box”. I carved out my own expertise and trajectory, and I was so happy to find that my colleagues and institution fully supported me to do so. Additionally, I pass along some sage advice that I once received: “Lead from where you stand.” No matter what position I occupy – as a parent, teacher, researcher, or administrator – I have always strived to be as exceptional as I could be. Over time, I have found that this commitment to excellence has created more opportunity for me and my teams.
Based on your research experience, do you suggest any changes in high school curriculum to attract more students towards pharmacology education?
Every kid starts out as a discovery scientist – asking questions, exploring, making inferences, and then testing those conclusions. I would love to see science teaching in K-12 schools focus on building on that natural curiosity and the scientific process.
What do you see as the best opportunities for young people entering the field of pharmacology education?
I am very excited about where the field is going. Each year, our society consumes more and more medications; as such, the need for people – patients and clinicians - to know how these medicines work is more important than ever. Additionally, academic institutions are increasingly recognizing that teaching (like any discipline) should be implemented according to best practices. Young people entering this field who are committed and practiced in evidence-based instructional techniques are likely to be very successful.
Do you have any advice for post-docs, those who are interested in teaching based opportunities, but getting limited exposure to mentor undergrad or grad students?
Make the opportunities! If you want to be a good teacher, you need to practice teaching. If your institution does not require or offer these type of experiences, reach out to other higher education institutions (including 2-year colleges) near you. If that is not an option, be creative. My first (and perhaps most formative) teaching experience came in the form of a high school summer science enrichment camp. If you can successfully teach a group of teenagers all-day everyday for 2 weeks, you can teach in any setting!
Have you ever had an experience in your career, where you did all the right things and still didn’t reach the goal. What strategies you generally use during stressful situation in your career?
Missing the mark is a normal part of every successful career, especially a scientific one. I am a perfectionist by nature (unfortunately), so I have had to develop skills in setting realistic expectations and dealing with setbacks. This has taken time and experience, but it’s been very important. In general though, when things get stressful, I make lists, prioritize, and lean on my outstanding team members.
You do a lot of volunteering work with ASPET and other organizations along with your academic responsibilities. How do you manage a good balance between them?
My work with ASPET, which has been tremendously rewarding, actually complements my academic responsibilities. The most important aspect of this connection has been networking with leaders in my field. As a self-identified introvert, I am not one who easily makes connections at scientific conferences and events; however, working closely with ASPET Division members and the Program Committee flexes my relational strengths and expands my colleague pool. Not only has this been helpful in thinking about my work at OSU, but it has been hugely important to have colleagues around the country who know and understand my expertise. As such, I view the two efforts (at OSU and ASPET) as being synergistic, and that facilitates prioritizing both.