Best Wishes to Dr. Varsha Bhatt-Mehta
Congratulations to Dr. Varsha Bhatt-Mehta, Clinical Professor of Pharmacy, College of Pharmacy, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, Medical School; and Clinical Pharmacist, Michigan Medicine, who has announced her retirement from the University of Michigan after 31.5 years of service to pursue a new job opportunity.
As Dr. Bhatt-Mehta begins her new role in a national leadership position with the US Food and Drug Administration, she describes her educational and professional journey from clinical practitioner and academician to clinical researcher in her own words.
U-M: How did you find your specialty, pediatric clinical pharmacy?
VBM: I was born in Kampala, Uganda, East Africa (a British Colony at the time), the youngest and only girl in a family of six older brothers. I completed my schooling in Kampala and moved to India with a couple of my siblings for college, as there were no institutions of higher education in Uganda at the time and the country had become politically unstable after a brutal coup. In India, I pursued a BS in Pharmacy, followed by MS in Medicinal Chemistry at the LM College of Pharmacy, in Gujarat University, India. I was inspired to study pharmacy from a young age, due to watching my mother suffer from chronic asthma for most of her life until her demise. I wanted to learn more about medicines, how they work and how one decides which ones to use.
Our family reunited in the United Kingdom following the completion of my education in India. I then completed a one-year course of equivalence study in pharmacy at Sunderland Polytechnic in England, which allowed me to register as a pharmacist in the UK and practice as a hospital pharmacist. While working as a hospital pharmacist at Charing Cross Hospital, London, I often read the American journals that the hospital subscribed to and learned about an emerging pharmacy specialty called “clinical pharmacy.” It sounded cool and motivated me to apply for admission to a PharmD program in the USA. I succeeded and completed a two-year Doctor of Pharmacy degree at the University of Cincinnati. After completing my PharmD, I was still looking for a challenging specialty to focus on.
My PharmD investigations project happened to be in pediatrics, which I enjoyed greatly. I learned how challenging it was to study medicines in children. Since I love challenges, I decided to focus my career path on pediatric pharmacotherapy research and practice. I pursued my mission through a two-year postgraduate research fellowship in Pediatric Pharmacotherapy at The Ohio State University and Children’s Hospital, Columbus, OH. Here, I researched drug therapy in newborn infants, highly encouraged by my very supportive, knowledgeable and passionate pediatric pharmacotherapy specialized mentor to take on this challenge.
U-M: How has your time at U-M further shaped your career?
VBM: I joined the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy as my first professional career opportunity as a neonatal intensive care clinician and faculty and devoted 31.5 years. My clinical services are dedicated to the care of full-term and premature newborn infants. It is still hard to believe that over three decades have gone by already, as I still feel so inspired to come into work at Mott every morning, wondering how I can help those tiny tots, and how their complications are going to challenge me in devising their treatments.
During this time, I also retooled myself with another Master of Science degree in Clinical Research Design and Statistical Analysis at the University of Michigan School of Public Health as part of a Research Scholar’s Program sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. I completed this degree while I was working full-time as a clinician, academician and a clinical researcher (plus as a wife and mother to two middle-school age sons). This on-job-on-campus educational experience has contributed significantly to my clinical research program, which includes the study of safe and effective drug therapies in pediatric and neonatal patients with a special emphasis on clinical trials and pragmatic study designs evaluating pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, and clinical outcomes using population methods. I have been fortunate to work collaboratively with many inspiring and reputable collaborators at U-M and around the world. I am a site principal investigator for the Pediatric Trials Network (funded by NICHD) and also involved in collaborative clinical research that uses complex national network data. My international collaborations in neonatal research include membership and participation in the International Neonatal Consortium (a Critical Path Institute entity).
U-M: What role has networking and professional development played in your career evolution?
VBM: My active participation in national organizations including membership in the American College of Clinical Pharmacy and American Association of Pharmaceutical Sciences has been a great experience and inspiration to take on challenging issues in pediatric pharmacotherapy. The collegiality and the opportunities arising from networking have been invaluable.
In October 2020, I was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Pediatrics Practice and Research Network of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy. This award recognizes outstanding and sustained contributions to practice, education, research, service, and advocacy in pediatric pharmacy. I also serve on the editorial boards of Annals of Pharmacotherapy, Journal of Drug Development and Research and have been the associate editor of the AAPSOpen, an open access journal of AAPS. I am a peer reviewer for many national and international pediatric scientific journals. I have traveled to deliver scientific presentations in the UK, Europe, India and Singapore. I have published over 100 scientific papers, abstracts and book chapters in peer- reviewed scientific journals. Many of these opportunities arose from volunteering at the national leveI. I am a strong believer in networking and collaborations in research and practice as they are opportunities to open one’s thinking to new practices, perspectives and complementary relationships.
U-M: What is next for you after your retirement?
VBM: The wonderful journey of over three decades at the University of Michigan has greatly enabled me to pursue yet another opportunity on the national stage. I am joining the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research’s Office of Clinical Pharmacology to work on pediatric drug development programs including regulatory research, pediatric study designs to advance pediatric and neonatal drug development, pediatric educational programs for student and fellowship training and work with other clinical pharmacology constituencies to advance pediatric pharmacotherapeutics.
While my retirement from U-M is bittersweet and I shall miss my colleagues, I am forever grateful to University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, the Medical School and the U-M Health System for providing such amazing growth opportunities and for their support to shape my professional career aspirations. Go Blue!
The University of Michigan College of Pharmacy wishes Dr. Varsha Bhatt-Mehta all the best as she takes this exciting next step in her career.