Pharmacy alumnus encourages students to embrace hands-on education

A career in pharmacy had never crossed Selmir Mahmutovic’s mind until he attended New Student Orientation at Wayne State University in 2011. During an activity that helped incoming freshmen match their strengths and interests with vocations, Mahmutovic discovered that his math and science skills could help him make a difference in people’s lives “without getting into blood and guts.” Now, nearly a decade later, Mahmutovic is making a difference in people’s lives daily as a board-certified pediatric pharmacist for Children’s Hospital of Michigan.Selmir Mahmutovic

The 2015 PharmD graduate says that the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Doctor of Pharmacy program prepared him well for the real world — which is one reason he chose to give back this past June by making a contribution to the Hanley N. and Young Hee Abramson Endowed Scholarship in honor of the revered professor’s 80th birthday.

Mahmutovic himself benefited from the scholarship as a student in 2014, and counts Abramson’s courses among his favorites. “He was very inspirational and focused on students,” Mahmutovic said. “He made learning so much more accessible and fun.”

Paying tribute to an influential instructor was not the only driving force behind Mahmutovic’s philanthropy. “When my brother passed away in 2014, the college generously provided financial support to help ease my burden,” Mahmutovic said, noting that funds came from both his PharmD program and the Physical Therapy program, where his brother Selim had been a student. “My goal is to give that full amount back over time — eventually I’d like to set up a PT scholarship. I feel that it’s a good way to pay it forward.”

Practice makes perfect

Because Mahmutovic works closely with a range of health care professionals at Children’s Hospital, he relies on collaboration skills he sharpened during the years he spent volunteering at Wayne State’s interdisciplinary Diabetes Education Wellness clinic.

Beginning as a freshman, Mahmutovic devoted time each month to serving Detroit community members who might otherwise not have access to crucial information and support, eventually taking on a leadership role in the pro bono DEW clinic, a student-run effort supported by seven disciplines across five schools and colleges. It launched in 2011 and within seven years won a WSU Spirit of Community Award.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the DEW clinic was open for two hours on the first Monday of each month, offering information, services and supplies to empower individuals with diabetes to have more autonomy in the management of their condition. Patients moved from station to station to talk with WSU Applebaum pharmacy, physical therapy and occupational therapy students, as well as those from the School of Medicine, Wayne Law, the School of Social Work and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ dietetics program.

In order to safely operate during the pandemic, the DEW clinic transitioned to telemedicine care. Now on the first Monday of each month, students from each program call patients, talking with them not just about their own area of expertise but also covering the other disciplines, using a questionnaire template with answer prompts and resource details. Clinic supervisors and students then meet to discuss progress, share additional resources and improve upon the template, with special care taken to ensure the coronavirus is addressed with current best practices. For example, in addition to checking in with patients on their latest blood glucose levels, students ask questions that would reveal early signs of COVID-19, make sure there aren’t any issues with medication access, encourage healthy daily routines during periods of isolation and self-quarantine, discuss safe shopping and handling of groceries, provide location-specific information about free food programs, offer mental health resources, and provide contact information for legal issues.

Selmir Mahmutovic, Hanley Abramson and Insaf Mohammad
Selmir Mahmutovic (left) with Hanley Abramson and Insaf Mohammad in 2014.

“Students have gained a deeper understanding of each discipline’s role in diabetes management,” said Assistant Clinical Professor of Pharmacy Practice Insaf Mohammad, who serves as DEW clinic faculty advisor and also was a member of Mahmutovic’s 2015 graduating class. “They’ve gained a deeper appreciation for interdisciplinary teamwork required for patient care.”

In addition to the DEW clinic, Mahmutovic was involved in Rho Chi, the nationally recognized pharmaceutical honor society, tutoring fellow students in the program’s most rigorous modules.

His altruism did not go unnoticed. In 2014, Mahmutovic was among three WSU Applebaum students honored by the Michigan Campus Compact for outstanding community service.

Lloyd Y. Young, who was dean of the college at that time, said, “Community service is woven into our pharmacy and health science programs. [Selmir exemplifies] the volunteerism that our students, preparing for careers in the health professions, unselfishly extend into neighboring communities.”

Now, five years after graduation, Mahmutovic is grateful for the way these experiences prepared him for his career, noting that his time at the DEW clinic helped him confidently counsel diabetes patients when he was working in community pharmacy at Meijer, in addition to solidifying the collaboration skills he relies upon at Children’s Hospital.

As he reflects on his journey, Mahmutovic encourages current students to volunteer and build connections with everyone they come into contact with along the way. His advice to up-and-coming pharmacists? “You need to be willing to hustle,” Mahmutovic said. “Work hard to network and keep communicating with your connections.”

The Doctor of Pharmacy program at the Wayne State University Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences cultivates intellectual innovation and leadership to advance the practice and science of pharmacy and transform and enhance the lives of people and their communities. Give online to directly support these efforts, or contact Jon Goldstein to learn more about setting up your own scholarship fund.

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