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Pharmacy student Racheal Kendrick took time out from her studies last fall to work in a rural hospital in Cameroon, Africa.

The road to a career in research

School of Pharmacy senior lands prestigious fellowship opportunity

While the economy has some upcoming college grads scratching their heads wondering what they are going to do, School of Pharmacy senior Racheal Kendrick knows exactly what she is going to do and she is itching to get started.

And even though she hasn’t officially graduated yet, Kendrick’s career is already off to a pretty good start.

This July, Kendrick will head to North Carolina to begin a two-year fellowship at the renowned Eshelman School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she will join an elite team of academic and corporate researchers. This highly competitive fellowship is awarded to a select group of young scientists who plan to pursue careers in pharmacology research. The fellowship is funded by Quintiles, Inc., one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical services and research companies.

“When the opportunity came up and I was reading about the details of the fellowship, it was like reading the description for my dream job,” Kendrick said. “I’ll spend a year at North Carolina and then a year back here in the Kansas City area working directly with the Quintiles pharmacology research group. After that, my goal would be to work for Quintiles, continue to do research and conduct clinical trials.”

Choosing the right path

As certain as she seems about her future, one might assume that Kendrick is one of those rare prodigies who has known what she wanted to do since kindergarten. Not so, she is quick to point out.

“My dad is an engineer and I always had a passion for math,” she said. “When I was a kid, I think I just kind of assumed that I was going to be an engineer, too.”

Indeed, that assumption led her to the engineering program at UM-Columbia for her freshman year of college. Along with her passion for math, though, Kendrick had long harbored another academic passion—chemistry—and the path she was on did not include much opportunity in that area of study.

“During that year in Columbia, I decided that a career in one of the health care professions would probably fit in better with the goals I had for my life,” she said. “In fact, it was one of the engineering faculty at MU who suggested that pharmacy might offer the best marriage of my passions for math and chemistry.”

That led her to the UMKC School of Pharmacy.

As she settled onto her new path here at UMKC, each step of the way, Kendrick became more and more certain that she had found her calling.

“I still wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to wind up,” she said. “I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to become a retail pharmacist. I was immediately drawn to research, but was leaning more toward a career in clinical pharmacology, probably working in a hospital and being part of a health care team.”

The angle of that leaning began to lessen a bit when Kendrick was assigned to a new clinical rotation at Shawnee Mission Medical Center as part of her academic requirements. During one of those rotations, she happened to be invited to sit in on a meeting involving Quintiles and research going on at the hospital. The discussion at the meeting revolved around clinical trials being conducted in the areas of pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics.

The discipline of pharmacokinetics uses mathematical models to predict how a drug is absorbed, distributed, metabolized and eliminated by the body. Pharmacodynamics is the study of the actions or effects of the drug. In other words, math and chemistry.

“I think a light bulb kind of went off in my head,” Kendrick said. “That started leaning me back toward research.”

Sealing the deal

For Kendrick, it all became crystal clear last fall when she took time off from her studies to take part in a medical mission at Mbingo Baptist Hospital in Cameroon, Africa. The hospital serves a predominately rural population in Cameroon and other parts of the West African sub-region. What she saw there and the lessons she brought back with her provided the final emphasis in determining Kendrick’s career path.

“To say it was eye-opening is an understatement,” she said. “The people the hospital serves are so poor and so unprotected from diseases and ailments that are barely an issue in other parts of the world. I watched people die there from things that would be easily treatable here.”

Kendrick said she treated many patients suffering from diseases such as malaria, leprosy and tuberculosis — diseases that could be managed if those patients had access to the right drugs at the right times. That is when she decided where she wanted to fit in the chain of health care delivery — at the starting line. Research.

“I realized that choosing a career in health care meant choosing a career that would best allow me to use my skills to help people,” she said. “I’ve seen firsthand the importance of pharmaceutical research and of getting the right drugs to places in the world where people need help. I want to be part of that.”

Posted: May 04, 2009

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"I realized that choosing a career in health care meant choosing a career that would best allow me to use my skills to help people."

Racheal Kendrick
Senior pharmacy student

Following graduation, Racheal Kendrick will head to North Carolina to begin a two-year fellowship

Commencement 2009