As Dr. Amir Shirazi worked to complete his PhD studies in Pharmaceutical Sciences, he was on course for a certain kind of immediate success.
He and his team at the University of Rhode Island had done research leading to the discovery and development of different types of drug delivery systems for which he received numerous recognitions, including the University of Rhode Island’s Research Excellence Award. For some, this could be the beginning of a lucrative path, but Dr. Shirazi has a different view of what constitutes wealth. “I was always in love with applied science,” he says. “Specifically, the application of science to solve real-life issues and tackle real problems we face. What brings me satisfaction is knowing that I can have an impact that will be here after I am gone, like leaving a footprint.”
The Privilege of Mentorship
As a pharmaceutical scientist, pharmacist and educator, Dr. Shirazi is leaving many footprints. When his PhD didn’t necessarily give him the access to clinical settings such as hospitals, he went to Chapman University to earn a PharmD, where he received the School of Pharmacy’s Distinguished Alumni Award. This, combined with multiple postdocs, gave him a connection with nearly every aspect of the pharmacy profession, from hospitals and community pharmacies, to research labs and the classroom. It is in the classrooms of MBKU’s College of Pharmacy that Dr. Shirazi is able to find another facet of satisfaction. The privilege to impart to his students a whole approach to what they learn – rather than simply enormous quantities of information – is a consistent motivator. “You actually teach your students or whoever is working with you a way to think,” says Dr. Shirazi. “They absorb a culture and an attitude. You plant the seed, they work to the best of their capacity, and become a different person. And that’s in part due to the mentorship you have provided.”
The ability to closely mentor students is one of the advantages of MBKU’s small size that Dr. Shirazi enjoys, and it goes both ways. “Unlike at bigger schools where you have to go through layers of red tape whenever you want to do something, here you can talk to the chair, to the dean and even to the president directly. They know you, and have a relationship with you. This is the same concept we have with our students. We know who they are, we learn about them, and they have access to us.”
Navigating the Shutdown
This level of relationship surely helped Dr. Shirazi, his students, and the rest of the College of Pharmacy with the huge changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Shirazi was hit hard by the shutdown right away. He had spent six months preparing the poster presentation research showcase at the College of Pharmacy – pulling together vendors, judges, and other schools – and two days before the event was to take place, the University had to follow the state’s orders to cancel all the events. On top of that setback was the immediate challenge of converting all classes online.
“I knew the technology to do a lot of our teaching online would come one day, maybe in 5-10 years, but I didn’t expect that it would all happen in a weekend. But, we were like a swarm of ants! Every problem that arose, everybody, from the Multimedia department, Faculty, IT, to the administration, just attacked it and solved it.” Dr. Shirazi believes that the level of communication and teamwork at MBKU is unique compared to other schools, and was one of its major strengths during the pandemic.
At the Forefont
Dr. Shirazi planned an online version of the research showcase in late November while surveying a landscape where educating good pharmacists is more important than ever. As one of the most accessible health care providers in many communities, pharmacists are on the frontlines of the pandemic. “Along with doctors, pharmacists were able to administer diagnostic tests for the virus,” says Dr. Shirazi. “When the vaccine is safely tested and manufactured by pharmaceutical scientists, we will be able to give it to patients anywhere, whether it’s a pharmacy or other community settings like churches. Once again, this pandemic showed that pharmacists can be at the forefront of public health and research, which will truly be the most important element of combatting COVID-19.” Already Dr. Shirazi is proving this notion. Earlier this year, he coauthored an article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health titled “Understanding COVID-19: From Origin to Potential Therapeutics.” This collaboration with other pharmaceutical scientists is just one more example of how Dr. Shirazi has embodied his early love for the practical and deeply essential outcomes of applied science.