Joe Vandigo, MBA, is a PhD candidate in the Pharmaceutical Health Services Research (PHSR) graduate program at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.
Originally from Louisiana, Joe graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University where he majored in finance. He later received his Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM), concentrating on healthcare administration. He is the current President of the University of Maryland International Society of Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research (ISPOR) student chapter. Before returning to school for his PhD, he worked in mortgage operations for JP Morgan Chase and briefly taught macroeconomics as an adjunct instructor at ULM. Learn more about Joe’s experience in the interview below.
What inspired your interest in pharmaceutical health services research?
My interest in healthcare began while I was studying business administration at ULM. I decided it would be interesting to take an elective course in hospital management, which led to my completion of the remaining courses for a concentration in healthcare administration. However, it was not until I experienced access to care issues as an uninsured job-seeker following graduation that I truly became sensitive to the disparities that exist within our healthcare system. I began to explore how I could use my non-clinical background to improve healthcare delivery. The relationship between the College of Business and the College of Pharmacy at ULM made my search a short one, and I began contacting Pharmacoeconomics programs shortly after.
How would you describe your experience since being admitted to the program?
In respects to my classroom experience, the core coursework offered in the department is excellent. Thanks to the small class sizes within the department, students are encouraged to participate in class discussions, to develop strong mentorship with faculty members, and to form camaraderie with fellows. The department is also willing to act upon the feedback students provide regarding the curriculum. This policy led to the creation of an advanced comparative effectiveness course that my cohort enrolled in last fall. In addition to the departmental offerings, many classes may be taken through the School of Medicine’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and at the University of Baltimore. This external component has exposed me to experts in epidemiology, biostatistical methods, and health economics. It also offered me the opportunity to interact with students who have varied backgrounds and career interests.
Outside of the classroom, I have had the opportunity to work on all stages of the research process: from meeting planning with community partners to manuscript submission and dissemination of research findings. In addition, my mentor, the department, and the university have all provided opportunities, such as personal and professional growth training through formal seminars provided by an expert coach in personal and professional development, as well as opportunities to represent the graduate school on the University Student Government Association.
Are there any unique experiences in which you have been able to participate as a result of coming to the University Of Maryland School Of Pharmacy?
In the beginning of my first year as a Graduate Research Assistant (GRA), I helped write a proposal for one of the very first Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) contracts designed to provide a methodology that would support the inclusion of “hard-to-reach” patients in future studies and clinical trials. Over the six months of the contract, I served as the lead GRA on the project. I recruited patients with vision, hearing and mobility impairment, co-facilitated three focus group interviews, helped create recommended standards for the final report to PCORI, and designed a brief lay summary for distribution to our community. This contract also served as a real-world example of the power of interdisciplinary research; our success was only made possible through collaboration with faculty from the schools of Medicine and Nursing, professional qualitative researchers from Westat, and community leaders from partnering organizations. This experience was so unique for me as it was an opportunity to take ownership for components of a project that was somewhat of a deviance from traditional pharmacoeconomic research.
What is your advice to prospective students who might be considering whether or not to apply to this program?
The first stage would be to review the program website and the works of faculty members and their students who are doing research in your area of interest. After doing your homework, take the next step and reach out to a faculty member or current student via email, phone call, or even a campus visit if you are in the area. My own personal journey as a potential student began almost a year before I applied to the program when a faculty member at the University of Louisiana at Monroe provided me with an introduction to Dr. Mullins. Over the next several months, Dr. Mullins took the time to discuss my background and helped me work through how my business background would fit into the department. After I made my initial visit to Baltimore, I was put in touch with 4-5 graduate students who impressed me with their willingness to quickly respond to questions about the program and living in Baltimore. In the end, it was this high level of engagement that convinced me that this program was the one for me.